Van Cleef & Arpels : The butterfly effect

Lady Arpels Papillon Automate

CASE : diamond-set 18K white gold, crown set with a diamond, engraved gold caseback and sapphire crystal revealing an oscillating weight, waterresistant to 30m


MOVEMENT : mechanical self-winding (exclusively developed for VCA with a random module), twin barrels (one for the automaton)

DIAL : in gold set with round and pear-cut diamonds, blue and mauve sapphires, champlevé and paillonné enamel, mother-of-pearl, plique-àjour

STRAP : blue alligator leather, diamond-set white gold pin buckle

While champlevé and paillonné enamel, plique-à-jour, a flurry of round and pear-cut diamonds, as well as the blue and mauve sapphire diamonds cleverly arranged around the butterfly all instantly draw the gaze to this fixed image, things are entirely different once the Lady Arpels Papillon Automate is on the wrist, as its gold and enamel butterfly perched on the flower begins to beat its wings ! The aesthetic and technical prowess becomes all the more remarkable when one realizes that the wings beat in a random and irregular fashion according to the wearer’s activity, and on demand. Each hour, when the watch is in rest mode, Van Cleef & Arpel’s favorite butterfly motif will beat its wings 19 times at irregular intervals, amounting to around 100 flutters in all – or twice that much if it is worn in a dynamic manner. The state of the power reserve determines the number of successive flutters (between two if it is low and five at the most). Short on inspiration or keen for a mesmerizing sight ? The pushbutton unleashes five successive flutters at a single press, and the show can last as long as 40 minutes if the pushbutton is kept pushed in until the barrel devoted to the automaton has released all its energy. During the crown winding operation, the butterfly also beats its wings so long as the barrel is not fully rewound, and then allows them to settle to indicate that no more winding is required. The technical analysis and the videos illustrating this unusual sight are available on

Brice Lechevalier is editor-in-chief of GMT and Skippers, which he co-founded in 2000 and 2001 respectively. He has also been CEO of WorldTempus since it joined the GMT Publishing stable, of which he is director and joint shareholder. In 2012 he created the Geneva Watch Tour, and he has been an advisor to the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève since 2011. Also closely involved in sailing, he has published the magazine of the Société Nautique de Genève since 2003, and was one of the founders of the SUI Sailing Awards in 2009 and the Concours d’Elégance for motor boats at the Cannes Yachting Festival in 2015.

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