Watches & Jewellery

Fanciful Practicality: Van Cleef & Arpels' Frivole Secrète Watch

Van Cleef & Arpels shows that a stunning jewellery watch is much more than the number of diamonds in play, or the mechanical complexity for that matter. Discover the frivole secrète watch, fresh from its win at the grand prix in Geneva.
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Image: Courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

There’s nothing quite like jewellery for a mouthwatering dollop of whimsy. In fact, whimsy is often the raison d’etre of entire collections, forming a counterpoint to other pillars such as flamboyance and grace. Obviously, the Frivole collection from Van Cleef & Arpels goes all-in on flights of fancy; after all, the name itself is a provocation. One thing that is not at all frivolous about the Frivole Secrete watch is its win at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve (GPHG) last year in the Jewellery Watch category. To be sure, the watch does its level best to avoid looking like a wristwatch. As far as jewellery watches go, that might be considered a virtue.

Secret watches are timekeepers that keep their indications of time hidden from casual observation, reserving this for the wearer. When the leisure class, a la Bridgerton, was a thing, wearing and checking the time might have come across as a little rude. Only people who had to work needed to religiously track the hours and minutes. In particular, refined ladies of society certainly did not need such obnoxious devices. On the other hand, watchmakers and jewellers were very skilled at managing the zeitgeist – otherwise known as reading the room these days – and found ways to entice the monied classes into their stores. One such horological morsel was the secret watch, which was a natural extension of the pocket watch.

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Image: Courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

Well, those days are long gone, and the world is better for it, but the secret watch has survived. In fact, it has even outlived the once-mighty pocket watch. Of course, it goes without saying – because you can see the watch right here – that the yellow gold Frivole Secrete Watch makes an impression. It just might not come across as a watch at first sight. The delicate floral motif of the watch marks it as part of the Frivole collection, as does the mirror-polish of the yellow gold petals here. Just as the watch hides its full diamond pave dial with a bouquet of yellow gold flowers, it also hides the fact that the polish on each heart-shaped petal was done by hand.

To borrow from Van Cleef & Arpels’ own motif playbook here, this quartz watch is no shrinking violet. It is roughly 31mm across, which is modest enough, yet almost 13mm thick at its maximum. The Frivole Secrete Watch also does not wear like a typical watch – it is designed as a bangle of sorts, without a clasp of any sort. If you know your Van Cleef & Arpels styles, then you might see a parallel here with the Between the Fingers Ring. Given the social distancing situation, we have not examined this piece in person, but we have examined other such bangle watches and the fit is typically quite good. It won’t come off your wrist without a deliberate effort, basically.

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Image: Courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

The effect, thanks to proportions of the watch head and end-piece versus the width of the bangle, is that of a golden flower, with its stem wound around the wrist. Now, this is not a high jewellery show-stopper – look elsewhere in the Van Cleef & Arpels lineup for that, including the Lady Arpels Soleil Féerique. That particular beauty won the Artistic Crafts Watch Prize at the GPHG. Indeed, that brings up the matter of the competition at the GPHG that the Frivole model rose above. Those were all high jewellery pieces, which makes Van Cleef & Arpels’ win here all the more impressive.

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