The Lady Arpels Planétarium by Van Cleef & Arpels does something ambitious. It reduces the vast expanses of space into a women’s watch 38 mm in diameter. To be more specific, the 149,600,000 million kilometres – which is also known as 1 AU, Astronomical Unit – separating the earth and the sun are scaled down to about 15 mm. Without doubt it is one of the most spectacular watches presented at SIHH and for the whole of 2018, even though it is simply a new version of the existing Midnight Planetarium, the larger men’s version released in 2014.
Three planets and the moon
Lady Arpels Planétarium is different to Midnight Planetarium, because it shows the orbits of just the planets closest to the sun, Mercury, Venus and Earth. Also differently to Midnight Planetarium, which features the sun and six planets, the Lady Arpels Planétarium also shows the moon orbiting the earth. Each of the celestial bodies orbits in the real solar system time, so that the Earth takes 365 days to go once around the dial, the moon orbits the earth in 29.5 days, Mercury completes its orbit in 88 days, and Venus does it in 224 days. The video below (courtesy Van Cleef & Arpels) shows the scene speeded up a lot. From the video you can see that the sun rotates at the same speed as Mercury. It would have been nice to add a bit of movement to the dial and have the sun rotating visibly, for example at the same speed as a conventional seconds hand.
Time shown at the edge of the dial
On this lengthy time scale, the time of day is a minor consideration, and Van Cleef & Arpels rightly say, we have our smartphones that tell us the time. But Lady Arpels Planétarium still shows the time, in the form of a shooting star at the edge of the dial, on a 12-hour scale with quarter-hour markings.
The materials used for this watch are all precious and semi-precious. The case is in white gold with diamonds on the bezel, the concentric rings on the dial are made in aventurine, Mercury is in pink mother-of-pearl, Venus is in green enamel, the Earth is in turquoise, the moon is a diamond, and the sun is in pink gold. The watch is provided with a blue alligator strap or a white gold bracelet. There are different degrees of diamond-setting.
The caseback provides a key to the planets. There are two windows showing day, month and year, with magnifying lenses. You can also see the diamond-set oscillating weight, with areas in turquoise and black PVD, that powers the movement.
Planetary module by Christiaan van der Klaauw
The movement is based on a module designed by Christiaan van der Klaauw, a specialist in astronomical movements, and it is based on the similar design that he made for Midnight Planétarium. The movement is self-winding and has 40 hours power reserve. The calendar indications on the caseback facilitates adjusting the watch should it stop. The movement is presumably built by the Manufacture Genevoise de Haute Horlogerie, while the dial I would guess is is by Stern. Both companies are part of the Richemont Group and their Campus Genevois de Haute Horlogerie in Geneva.
Other astronomical watches
In addition to Midnight Planetarium also by Van Cleef & Arpels, the only other comparable contemporary watch I can think of is the Orrery by Graham, which has the earth with the moon, along with the sun and Mars, on the dial. These are all scientific, astronomical concepts, albeit with a pinch of poetry in the case of Van Cleef & Arpels, and perhaps one day someone will build an astrological watch, because I imagine that a mechanism such as Midnight Planetarium could be used to identify those conjunctions called square, trine, opposition and sextile, based on the positions of the planets. The other thing that the concentric discs reminds me of Fred Hoyle’s interpretation of Stonehenge as an eclipse-predictor, and some years ago I sketched a concept for a watch based on the idea, with four concentric rings moving at different speeds with markers that, when they all coincide, correspond to an eclipse.
Price and availability
Lady Arpels Planétarium is not a limited edition, but production numbers are limited by the complexity of the piece. Prices start from $245,000 with alligator strap and reach $330,000 for a more extensively diamond-set piece including the white gold bracelet. Read more on the Van Cleef & Arpels website.