time unlocked, Van Cleef & Arpels Cadenas

Lara Mansour   |   11-05-2016


Created in 1935, the Cadenas watch marks the birth of one of the Maison’s most emblematic pieces. It is one of the few watches that has seen history and has now been reworked for the 21st century, ramped up with cabochon rubies, snow set diamonds and pink sapphires.


Originally inspired by Wallis Simpson, the extravagant yet elegant woman who’s love affair with Edward VIII brought about his 1936 abdication, the Cadenas, whose name means padlock in French, was made like a bracelet with a concealed dial that only the wearer can see. It was at a time when it wasn’t deemed polite for a lady to look at the time, resulting in the creation of secret watches inspired by the avant garde movement, although they were designed during the midst of the art-deco period.

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The reworked version of the iconic watch remains faithful to the original bold lines, although now combines an improved clasp with an enlarged dial, which still remains upright and discreet, for better time readability.


We caught up with exhibition curator Catherine Cariou for a chat while she displays a showcase of exclusive creations in Dubai.

When curating these heritage pieces, do you have a preference of era?

I love pieces from the 70s, and their hippie inspirations, especially those with an Indian feel. Even the Cadenas was reworked for this era, interpreted with the use of wood, coral and turquoise.

Where do you think the focus lies with watches, on the jewels or the time?

The focus has always remained on the jewels. As Van Cleef & Arpels say, a watch is a bracelet that tells the time. The Cadenas particularly is a bracelet with a hidden watch, and this shows how the importance really is in the jewellery aspect.

Working with heritage pieces, how do you feel they differ from current collections?

I think the design and the way they are made is still in the same original Van Cleef & Arpels style, however today the jewels are bigger than in the past. Stones which are now used offer more colour combinations as we have branched away from only using precious jewels, to introducing semi-precious stones and their vivid rainbow of colours.

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Clearly all of the pieces are extraordinary at every level. But how do you ensure that they all remain truly special and individual?

Because of the stories, and because they epitomise style, craftsmanship and personality. Also because our iconic Cadenas and zip design are patented, they remain especially individual.

by Eliza Scarborough