In this watch by Van Cleef & Arpels presented at SIHH in January 2017, a butterfly on the dial flaps its wings automatically every so often, and on demand using a pusher. There is a long tradition of automaton clocks and watches – principally by Jaquet Droz – but Van Cleef & Arpels can claim that this is the first time that the user has a direct relationship with what goes on in the watch. The frequency and duration of the wing-flaps depends on how fast the oscillating weight is moving, and this depends on how active you are. So you could say that, in our age of wearable technology, this is the very first entirely mechanical activity tracker. See more butterfly watches here.
Action based on your activity
There are three modes. When the watch is wound and placed on a table, it will flap its wings from one to four times, depending on the power reserve, for a total of 19 times per hour. The trigger wheel has 19 teeth that are positioned irregularly, so that the interval between each flapping session varies from one to three minutes. If you put the watch on and move around, the number of flapping sessions per hour increases, because there is a link between the oscillating weight and the trigger wheel. So the butterfly lives at your pace. The oscillating weight therefore has two functions: it winds the movement, and also modifies the frequency of the automation.
Complex engineering, four patents pending
At any time, you can watch the butterfly flapping its wings using the pusher. It’s a complex piece of engineering, with 437 components comprising the complication, and another 147 parts in the base movement. There are four patents pending on the movement. One of these is possibly for a circular joint between the rod attached to the butterfly wing and the driving arm. It is a spherical joint, with a 0.3-millimetre hole drilled for the wing rod, so that the rod can slide up and down during the flapping process.
The watch is in a 40 mm white gold case, with a diamond-set bezel and crown, and more diamonds forming the backdrop for the animation on the dial. The dial decoration includes blue, mauve and violet sapphires, mother-of-pearl, and a range of enamel techniques including plique-à-jour in which the enamel is applied to a curved surface in mid-air. The caseback is in sapphire glass revealing a bas-relief decoration and the decorated oscillating weight. The movement is automatic.
This piece is a numbered edition, and part of the permanent collection, so that it’s not limited except by the fact that not many pieces will be produced every year. Van Cleef & Arpels don’t communicate prices for pieces costing in excess of €15,000 so I don’t know the price of this one.
Automate Fée Ondine Extraordinary Object
Van Cleef & Arpels also presented a much larger automaton piece, Automate Fée Ondine Extraordinary Object, a table clock that required a large team of artisans and a vast amount of working. The automation takes place every 15 minutes. The nicest part is the lily itself, which undulates gradually with a wave working around the radial segments. Here it is in a video.