Tank Louis Cartier, Patek Philippe Calatrava, Piaget Altiplano; just three classic gentlemen’s dress watches most people have heard of. Van Cleef & Arpels, as a brand, is equally famous, but often linked to their refined jewelry for ladies, rather then their gentlemen watches and that while they are home to an icon; the Pierre Arpels.
An often overused term
I don’t use the term icon lightly. At least a quarter of all the press releases I get contains this word. When you are talking about watches like the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, or Patek Philippe Nautilus, they are rightfully earned. In most other cases, it more phrases an ambition rather than an actual accomplishment. In my opinion, the Pierre Arpels deserves this title too, as, for over half a century, it has been the greatest gentlemen’s watch you probably never heard of.
An interesting history
It all started in 1949 when Pierre Arpels decided to make a watch for himself. For this, he used a design to connect the strap to the case made by Louis Cartier in 1934, of which the patent has just expired. The watch was quite sober and small, but it soon caught his clients’ eye, and a few years later, it became part of the Van Cleef & Arpels collection. Over the years, it has been introduced in quite a few varieties. While quartz was available, mechanical movements supplied by Piaget and Jaeger-LeCoultre can also be found. Its dials are usually silver, but some black, gold, stone, and even logo-dials were introduced as well.
Can a watch that never became a mainstream success be an icon? I profoundly think it can. Just because a lot of people want it, or the company decides to make them in a substantial amount doesn’t make anything an icon. While it may not be a model that is widely regarded as such, the Pierre Arpels has always been a choice for people who knew. Honestly, such exclusivity is a rarity these days, especially with a watch from such a renowned brand as Van Cleef & Arpels.
Still very much alive
That legacy is continued today, as Van Cleef & Arpels still offers quite an extensive collection. When you avoid the diamond-covered models, there are a few that stand out. The most understated is the 38mm version, which combines a platinum case with a black dial. It still has the clean design of the very first models, with just four Roman numerals, combined with very thin hour indices and hands.
However, some subtle details are different, with most prominently the subtle honeycomb motif in the center of the black lacquered dial. It is powered by caliber 830P, a movement supplied by Piaget. This manual wind caliber is only 2.5mm thick yet still offers a power reserve of around 60-hours.
Some men might find 38mm too small in this day and age. For them, does Van Cleef & Arpels also offer the Pierre Arpels in 42mm. This watch is quite a statement, as I would call it pleasantly oversized. The fact that it has a silver dial also plays a vital role in this, as it makes the watch look larger than a darker colored dial would. The case is made from either pink or white gold, housing the same movement as the 38mm model, as is the pin buckle. One could argue that a folding clasp might be in order for such a precious watch, but they have a tendency to become bulky. I consider a pin buckle, therefore far more appropriate for this watch.
Boiling it all down
A classic with character that is perfect for testing the watch knowledge of your fellow men. A watch that will, without a doubt, be skipped by the nouveau riche. This allows you to wear it with the peace of mind that it will never be on the wrist hanging out of the window of a Mansory tuned Lamborghini Urus (if you don’t know what that is, don’t Google it, it will be burned in your retina forever). A true understatement that is even amplified when you go for the smaller, vintage models.