This year, the house has used that signature motif for Lady Arpels Ballerines Musicales, a watch in three colorways inspired by the George Balanchine ballet “Jewels.” (In a 1967 interview, Balanchine said the idea of a gem-themed ballet came from Claude Arpels, head of the company’s U.S. operations at the time and the choreographer’s friend.)
The watch face was designed to look like a theater, with a diamond-studded chandelier above stage, curtains hand-painted in emerald green, ruby red or an azure blue, matching the ballet’s Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds movements.
Press a button below the crown and the curtain dial begins to rotate, revealing the graceful figures of ballerinas, as music plays from a four-gong carillon and a musical box, both concealed within the case.
Owners who simply want to tell the time, however, can follow a golden star that moves on a 12-hour scale just below the upper bezel.
Nicolas Bos, Van Cleef & Arpels’ chief executive and president, said work on the watch began 10 years ago. “At first,” he said, “it was just an idea and we had to find the technical mechanisms to bring it to life. The development work for the manual-winding mechanical movement and the on-demand animation required seven years.”
Michel Tirabosco, a concert musician who plays the pan flute, arranged parts of the music used for Balanchine’s ballet.
The clarity of the music, Mr. Bos said, can be best appreciated by detaching the case from the crocodile strap and placing it into its birchwood and walnut marquetry case, which includes an amplifier.
“The idea to amplify the sound appeared early in the creation process,” Mr. Bos said. “We worked with luthiers and acoustics experts to conceive the marquetry case that would naturally amplify the sound. Then, we added an electronic amplifier to enable the owners to enjoy the music even more.”
An engraved bas-relief on the reverse side of each watch shows a ballerina dancing before the Van Cleef & Arpels Fifth Avenue boutique, where Mr. Arpels treated Balanchine to a private tour in 1966.
The watches are being produced as numbered editions, and prices are available on request.