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Introducing The Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight And Lady Arpels Zodiac Lumineux (Live Pics & Pricing)

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I'm going to preface this post by stating what might seem obvious. The watches we have here, ornate, enamel-dialed timepieces with an unusual electro-mechanical lighting feature, are not first and foremost made to appeal to watch guys. Still, I've long admired the company that makes them, Van Cleef & Arpels, for its understanding of how storytelling is essential to selling a highly emotional –  even irrational – product, which is of course what high-end mechanical watches are.

A tourbillon is far from a rational product. Nobody needs one, and for that matter, your own wrist is a tourbillon, as Philippe Dufour told Jack on HODINKEE Radio recently. Neither is a minute repeater, a chronograph, or a watch with hacking seconds. Even a chronometer-rated GMT, a totem of the traveler's kit, is a superfluous and superannuated technology when you think about it. On a recent flight to a certain Asian city whose number of time zones away from New York I didn't know off hand, I had to consult my iPhone to know how many clicks forward to set my Grand Seiko GMT's local hand. The act of neatly setting that watch and using its namesake complication gave me great satisfaction, as it always does, but all I really needed was my smart phone.

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The Midnight Zodiac Lumineux

I think that good businesspeople looking to succeed selling mechanical watches know that to do so they will need a story to tell, and that sometimes mere prose will not suffice. And that is why I think the decision of Van Cleef & Arpels to make this fact explicit with its Poetic Complications is well worth examining.

What we have here today are two new collections from Van Cleef & Arpels, the Midnight Zodiac Lumineux, a men's line that actually debuted back during SIHH in January, and the Lady Arpels Zodiac Lumineux, which was unveiled yesterday at the Sharjah Center for Astronomy and Space Sciences, in the United Arab Emirates.

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Each of these lines comprises 12 models – one for each sign of the Western Zodiac.  On the men's side, they feature white gold cases and rich blue enamel dials with sculpted white gold framing to form the shape of the signs of the Zodiac. The women's watches are bit more ornate. The cases are also white gold, but they're fully set with diamonds of varying sizes and come with dials featuring much more elaborate multi-colored enamel work that corresponds to a specific sign of the Zodiac. The gold colored Leo and emerald-hued Taurus are particularly beautiful expressions of the kind of enameling that Van Cleef & Arpels has become very well known for with their watches. 

But where both of these collections make their mark is with an electro-mechanical complication that lights up the dials through the principle of piezoelectricity, which we first saw in the company's 2016 Midnight Nuit Lumineuse, and for which Van Cleef & Arpels holds a patent. If you press the pusher on the lower left-hand side of one of these watches' cases, you'll feel it begin to vibrate and it will emit light through four to six delicate enamel beads on the dial's surface. It all lasts just three or four seconds, and toward the very end of that time, the beads will begin to flicker before going dark. There is no capacitor, there is no battery. The electricity used to power a few small LEDs within each watch is derived from the vibration of a a small ceramic strip within each watch. The energy used for each lighting of the dial comes purely from the pressing of the button, so there is no drain on the watch's power reserve. You can even light it up over an over again with the watch unwound and the time left unset.

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Initial Thoughts
Even though these are watches that I myself would find challenging to wear on a daily basis – the men's pieces are 42mm in diameter, toward the high-end of what I myself tend to wear, and a little more over-the-top – I found them really fun to experience. I can definitely see a number of people I know getting behind the technology and the craftsmanship on display here, even if they might not initially expect to enjoy these pieces. 

One thing to note is that in a low-light setting, I didn't think either collection provided quite enough light to help read the time better. These are watches whose complication is about storytelling and appealing to emotion, not about mundane functionality. But I do wonder if this technology might eventually be applied to a watch in order to provide an added measure of legibility in the dark, and from a purely mechanical energy source at that – a kind of high-end mechanical take on Timex's Indiglo.

The Basics
Brand: Van Cleef & Arpels
Model: Midnight Zodiac Lumineux (men's) and Lady Arpels Zodiac Lumineux (women's)

Diameter: 42mm (Midnight Zodiac Lumineux); 38mm (Lady Arpels Zodiac Lumineux)
Thickness: 12.55mm (Midnight Zodiac Lumineux); 13.8mm (Lady Arpels Zodiac Lumineux)
Case Material: White gold
Dial Color: Deep blue enamel with white gold sculpting, some with colored enamel accents
Lume: Four to six enamel dots that light up on demand
Water Resistance: 30 meters
Strap/Bracelet: Black alligator strap with white gold pin buckle (Midnight Zodiac Lumineux); Blue alligator strap with white gold pin buckle with diamonds (Lady Arpels Zodiac Lumineux)

 

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The Movement
Caliber: Valfleurier Q020
Functions: Hours, minutes, piezoelectric lights
Power Reserve: 36 hours
Winding: Automatic
Frequency: 4 Hz (28,800 vph)
Jewels: 43
Additional Details: Pushing a button on the lower left-hand side of the case activates a vibrating piezoelectric blade, which supplies electric power to LEDs positioned under the dial.

Pricing & Availability
Price: $113,000 (Midnight Zodiac Lumineux); $148,000 (Lady Arpels Zodiac Lumineux)
Availability: Permanent collection, but numbered editions

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