The ultimate luxury, for anyone, is getting something made custom for you. This can come in many forms but custom art is the best, in my opinion. Custom watches have been around for as long as there has been a watch industry. The idea is that a client goes to “their brand” and says “make this for me.” Then the brand decides if one, they can do it, and two, making it doesn’t degrade the brand.
Today, the idea of custom work from a major brand doesn’t often cross the minds many. I think Westerners aren’t as used to it as Easterners. In fact, in the watch world, most customization is done for Asian people. Yes, it is a cultural thing, but I think people there are more used to the concept that they can ask. Would you, for instance, assume that you can go into a Vacheron Constantin boutique and ask for a totally custom watch? Well, you can.
From an artistic standpoint, one of my favorite watch and jewelry houses is Van Cleef & Arpels. I sat down with them and they shared with me details about a new program they have recently launched to help in getting that custom watch as easy a process as possible. Not that Van Cleef & Arpels hasn’t offered this before, it is simply that the new program aims to make it clear to everyone that the service is offered, as well as create a more streamlined system for getting it done.
Their diamond configurations and brightly colored enamel dials are just breathtaking, and have sometimes made me jealous they aren’t created for guys. (For proof of this, Google image search my name and look for a picture of Ariel and I sporting a pair of Ladies Zodiac watches, so it will not be hard to find!) With the Van Cleef & Arpels Heure d’Ici & Heure d’Ailleurs, the newest introduces a brand new spin on timepieces for men to great impact. At $39,200, the timepiece comes in at almost twice the cost of their average Pierre Arpels version, but the extra cost is without question warranted by its own enhanced complication and remarkable, simultaneous, instantly jumping hour displays.With this real mechanical validity paired with historically motivated mid-century design and just the correct amount of luxury, it’s a conversation piece for sure, and while it would stick out in my group as an oddball, I think I could be just fine with that.In other words, while the bulk of the Pierre Arpels collection may be geared for the well-heeled fashionable gentleman, the Van Cleef & Arpels Heure d’Ici & Heure d’Ailleurs is a timepiece designed for the horology enthusiast. A welcome surprise in the sphere of Korean luxury. The Charms watch is extremely charming indeed however, it takes its title from the Alhambra charm that dangles seductively in the circumstance. Van Cleef & Arpels turned the Alhambra motif they created in 1968 to a talisman of sorts (the proverbial lucky charm) and set it off from the event of this model, creating the Charms watch. Now in a 25mm diameter version, it is available in white gold and pink stone, both variations with two diamond setting choices — 2 rows of diamonds, separated by a bigger group of precious metal, or two rows of diamonds, separated by another larger row of diamonds. Needless to say, the Alhambra theme is itself decorated with diamonds.
The program is called “Art On The Dial” and it consists of a multi-step process that has you working with a Van Cleef & Arpels’s designer to create a custom, absolutely unique, hand-made watch dial. Want something even more customized? Of course, they will do it, but the program is designed to work around a simple framework to make it less confusing for clients. The service isn’t cheap – nor is it particularly fast – but it is reasonable and you’ll get something cool in the end.
To get started, you just need to contact a Van Cleef & Arpels boutique near you – there are actually a lot of them around -to make an appointment to meet with their designer to get the process started. Once or twice a year you might get the chance to sit down with an enameler or micro-painter. These are the people who will actually do the work though, in most instances, you’ll be meeting with an artist that interfaces with the enameler or the micro-painter.
The first step is choosing a case; there are currently four options and each comes only in 18k white gold. One is the 38mm wide women’s case (Lady) , and the other three are in the 42mm wide men’s case (Midnight). From the men’s cases you have the choice between a plain white gold case or two options with diamonds. Once the case has been chosen, next you pick out a movement. All the movements for these are going to be made by Piaget. You can have a manually would movement, an automatic movement (with optional power reserve display), or a manually wound tourbillon movement. To keep the dials clean, they show just the hours and minutes. The hands are those slick-looking Van Cleef & Arpels ones featuring a polished finish on one side and a satin finish on the other (this is for legibility against the painted dials).
After you have chosen the case and movement, the real work begins: You must to decide what you want on the dial. Either you have a really specific idea, or Van Cleef & Arpels will quiz you about important events, symbols, and places in your life. You will also need to choose whether you want your dial to be done in enamel or as a miniature painting. There are other dial techniques, of course, but they are going to cost more and require more time – just look at the more artsy Van Cleef & Arpels pieces to realize what their people are capable of.
An issue you might run into here is dealing with the “Van Cleef & Arpels DNA.” They will stick to their theme of fantasy/uplifting imagery. They didn’t like my Darth Vader playing with butterflies idea. Basically, if your idea might infringe upon someone’s IP rights, is sexual, political, religious, or just doesn’t jive with the French – they won’t do it (and then you start shopping your idea at other brands). One thing they are working hard on is taking their DNA and making it more masculine. The majority of the custom dials they make that I looked at are highly feminine. They expressed to me the desire to be a bit more masculine moving forward. So, press forward with those testosterone-rich ideas sprinkled in pink and mother of pearl with fairies and flowers.
If you go through the process with Van Cleef, the designer you’ll most likely be working with will exchange some ideas and images with you until you can finally agree on something. You can’t rush the artistic process but their people are known to be very good. After you have decided everything, the wait is 6-8 months to get your watch. Yea – that is a long time but they usually have a backlog and there is a lot of work that goes into each piece. How much does it cost? If you stick within the options I shared with you, the price ranges from $70,000 – $300,000. $70,000 will get you an enamel or micro-painted 42mm white 18k gold case specially made for you. Van Cleef & Arpels will never use the exact same design twice. The more expensive options include the addition of diamonds. If diamonds are your thing, then great, but you only (in relative terms) need to spend $70,000 to get what you came for.
Once you’ve bought all the pretty things in life that are available to everyone, you start looking for custom items or ones made just for you. This is a real luxury and, for those who enjoy Van Cleef & Arpel’s famously ornate and refined style, the process of getting a watch with your own art on the dial has never been easier.