SINGAPORE - If not for its dreamy Parisian setting and absence of scimitar-wielding bandits, one would probably mistake the Van Cleef & Arpels' A Journey Through The Poetry Of Time exhibition for the cave from Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves.
Staged at Marina Bay Sands Expo Hall B, the travelling exhibition features 198 watches and high jewellery, including some of the rarest and most expensive heritage pieces that have been flown in from around the world, and is the first of its kind - at least in scale and grandeur - in South-east Asia.
"Singapore is the most sophisticated watch market in Asia with numerous very important watch collectors. Before Covid-19, our clients usually travelled to our boutiques in New York and Paris, but now that they've stopped travelling, we're hoping to bring Paris to them instead," said Van Cleef & Arpels' president of Asia-Pacific, Mr Nicolas Luchsinger.
Clients, he added, can also discover new models and meet watch specialists who have travelled here from Switzerland at the exhibition.
Born out of the marriage between Estelle Arpels, daughter of a precious stone dealer, and Alfred Van Cleef, son of a stonecutter, Van Cleef & Arpels has been paying tribute to love stories through fine watches and jewellery since its first creation in 1906.
Today, the maison's most iconic watch, the Pont des Amoureux (French for Lovers Bridge), is also the exhibition's piece de resistance.
It is easy to see why: When the hour and minute hands meet on the watch - either at noon or midnight - a pair of lovers lean in for a kiss atop a Parisian bridge.
The maison has recreated a similar scene - featuring a life-size bridge, no less - at the exhibition so visitors can have their very own Pont des Amoureux moment among the surreal streetscapes of Paris.
At the heart of the exhibition is the four limited-edition models of Pont des Amoureux, representing Paris in four different seasons. These watches have also been updated and you can now make the lovers kiss at the push of a button.
Other whimsical creations on display include a vintage diamond wristwatch from 1921 and the Etincelles d'Emeraudes, a shimmering emerald necklace worth an estimated $9 million.
These incredibly feminine pieces have earned the maison some die-hard fans, including the late opera legend Maria Callas and actress-turned-princess Grace Kelly. Late Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor also amassed dozens of pieces by Van Cleef & Arpels over the course of her illustrious life.
Mr Luchsinger's personal favourites, however, is the Ballerine Musicale collection, launched to celebrate the friendship between Claude Arpels, a second-generation member of the founding family, and George Balanchine, the famous American choreographer and co-founder of the New York City Ballet. The timepieces represent Balanchine's ballet Jewels, first performed in New York in April 1967.
"The ballet is in three parts - Rubies, Emeralds and Diamonds - and each watch represents one of the three parts and an incredible carillon reproduces extracts from the music of the ballet - Faure for emeralds, Stravinsky for rubies and Tchaikovsky for diamonds," he said.
All the watches and jewellery on display - with the exception of the patrimonial pieces - are for sale.
Mr Luchsinger's tip? One should always listen to his or her heart when making a purchase.
"The buyer must want to wear it as often as possible," he said. "That being said, I would advise every potential purchaser to do his or her homework, buy signed pieces, natural stones with certificates and, of course, look carefully at the craftsmanship at the front and back of the piece."
A Journey Through The Poetry Of Time exhibition will be open to the public from Feb 12 to 20 at Marina Bay Sands Expo Hall B. Admission is free and strictly by appointment, in accordance with safe management measures. Book your slot at this website.
Five fascinating facts
1. A Journey Through The Poetry Of Time exhibition features 198 creations, 39 of which are heritage pieces.
2. The most expensive models in the exhibition are the Etincelles d'Emeraudes necklace (estimated at $9 million) and Alleanza necklace (estimated at $6 million).
3. The oldest piece at the exhibition is a 1921 diamond wristwatch.
4. The maison has captivated prominent fashion icons and members of royal families from all over the world. Grace Kelly loved Van Cleef & Arpels so much that the maison became the patented supplier of the Principality of Monaco from 1956, the year of her wedding to Prince Rainier III of Monaco.
5. Van Cleef & Arpels invented the Mystery Setting, a jewellery-setting technique that is so complex, it can take up to eight hours of work. Patented in 1933, the technique makes it possible to set precious stones with no visible metal holding them in place.
This story has been edited for clarity.