In Conversation With Rainer Bernard, Head Of R&D At Van Cleef & Arpels On Bringing Poetic Complications To Life

From fiber optics to luxury watchmaking, Rainer Bernard has followed his passions to become a leader in innovative design and engineering. As Head of Research And Development for Watchmaking at Van Cleef & Arpels, Bernard oversees the creation of the Maison’s unique timepieces that blend high jewelry, poetry, and complex mechanics. We caught up with him to discuss this and more! 

Van Cleef & Arpels Ludo timepiece
Van Cleef & Arpels Ludo timepiece

THM: You have an extensive background in engineering and research. What drew you to specialize in mechanical engineering and watchmaking?

Rainer: Naturally, I always felt attracted to mechanical engineering wonders, from simple toys to later technically more sophisticated ones, and the fun of repairing bicycles and later cars and all types of mechanical elements. The choice to study mechanical engineering was an easy and natural one for me, absolutely logical. Wall clocks, cuckoo clocks, and watches were always present in my home during my early childhood and they still passionate me a lot.

The making behind the timepieces
The making behind the timepieces

THM: You worked in the fiber optics industry in the US before moving to France. What prompted the transition to the luxury watch industry in Europe?

Rainer: It was a love story, like on Van Cleef & Arpels’ watches, which drew me back from the US to Europe. 

THM: At Van Cleef & Arpels, you oversee research and development for watchmaking. What are some of the most exciting innovations or technical achievements you’ve been involved in?

Rainer: The development team created, for example, the Papillon Automate watch, based on four patents that emerged during the development of the project. The number of patents shows the innovative character of the technical functions created. The watch integrates a sophisticated automaton module which has never been done: a random fluttering of a butterfly as well as its symbiotic mode with the person wearing the watch, triggering random fluttering of its wings.

Extraordinary objects
Extraordinary objects

THM: Automata are a specialty at Van Cleef & Arpels, as seen in the Rêveries de Berylline, Floraison du Nénuphar, and more. How does your engineering background inform the creative development process for those intricate automata clocks?

Rainer: The development team’s engineering background is very large and is nourished by different persons, on different levels and with different specializations. We are able to invent new mechanical wonders with a lot of creativity and with no fear of failure, because we test, try, and learn during the development of a timepiece. 

Van Cleef Extraordinary objects making

THM: What unique challenges or opportunities does watchmaking research and development present? 

Rainer: It is a great opportunity for us to work on our defined challenges. These are that we always start with the story, and then try to realize it technically; that our watches are always a blending of high jewelry, jewelry, and watchmaking within the inspirations dear to our Maison: poetic astronomy, nature, love stories, luck and so on; and finally, the challenges to unify all these aspects while we develop a new creation. The technique supports creativity and allows the poetry to stand and the story to be brought to life by the movement. The aim is to instill emotion in each of our timepieces. 

Van Cleef Lady Arpels Ballerine Enchantée or RoseWatch

THM: What have been some of the most technically challenging watch projects you’ve worked on for Van Cleef? How did you overcome those challenges? 

Rainer: Every project we worked on had some challenges. Common challenges are that the techniques must always be in the background, in order to leave space to the story. There is also the small size of the room available to create sophisticated movements and automatons animating our stories and to marry high-tech watchmaking with handmade crafts in order to design this perfect blending of watchmaking and jewelry. We overcome these challenges, through the fact that we give and have enough time to develop the projects to perfection, to which we add a good portion of humor, which makes it fun to create our watches. The challenge is also always to go further in our quest for excellence and the quality we expect from our products, and always to outdo ourselves.

Van Cleef Poetry of Time
Poetry of Time

Well, we all love Van Cleef & Arpels, and with Dubai Watch Week around the corner, don’t miss out on the Poetry of Time Exhibit happening in Dubai this month!