Extraordinary Objects from Van Cleef & Arpels

The spellbinding Automate Fee Ondine showcases the best of the jewellery house's skill and imagination

Van Cleef & Arpels' whimsical creations are the stuff of dreams; the jeweller deftly weaves the finest stones and precious metals into pieces that catch the eye and capture the imagination. Its timepieces in particular convey magical stories like no others, featuring clever use of movement on the dial to tell tales of star-crossed lovers, shared romance and missed connections.

The new jewel in its crown is the first of its aptly named Extraordinary Objects series: a clock that captivatingly combines automata with timekeeping. When activated, the highly complex mechanism brings to life an otherworldly scene: perched atop a fluttering lily leaf sits a white-gold fairy, Ondine, admiring a fluttering butterfly hidden in the centre of a slowly unfurling flower.


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Years in the making, the Automate Fee Ondine is a true tour de force of jewellery and watchmaking traditions, with the maison utilising the services of 20 workshops in France and Switzerland to add to its own considerable expertise. Every element of the unique piece was carefully handcrafted, with each displaying a different decorative technique.

At its centre is the Fee Ondine herself, resplendent in sapphire and aquamarine and crowned with a headdress of diamonds. Her ethereal, translucent wings were achieved with the delicate plique-a-jour method, in which enamel is applied in the gaps of a metal frame. One of the biggest technical challenges, however, was creating the water lilies. It was imperative that the flowers were as lightweight as possible, making the firing of the exceptionally thin enamel on the petals all the more precarious.


The brand's haute joaillerie know-how is most evident in the butterfly: a lacy openwork of rose-cut diamonds enables the stones to be appreciated from above and below, while the body of the insect has been specially designed to house the hidden mechanism that facilitates its movement. Elsewhere, the adornments of the ladybird – which discreetly keeps guard of the time – are achieved using Van Cleef & Arpels' Mystery Set, an intricate technique that enables the setting of stones without any visible metal prongs.


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