Usher in this Lunar New Year with special-edition zodiac watches commemorating the Year of the Tiger.
Taking over the ox, the majestic beast has long been revered as a symbol of strength, courage, ambition and power. Here are some exquisite timepieces that been crafted to perfection just in time for Chinese New Year 2022.
The Swiss manufacture enriches its Métiers d’Art – The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac line with this limited edition Year of the Tiger watch. A limited series of 12 pieces for each reference, two new 40mm creations – in platinum or pink gold (pictured) – combine technical excellence with the beauty of traditional artistic crafts. For this timepiece, master engravers and enamellers reinterpreted the German art of paper cutting or scherenschnitt, which is similar to the traditional Chinese folk art of jianzhi. Floral motifs based on classic Chinese iconography are etched directly into the dial’s metal. The semi-embedded pattern stands out with varying degrees of relief that create depth.
Next comes the grand feu enamelling, in which the intensity of the bronze-toned dial is enhanced as an artisan applies a vitreous glaze in successive layers and fires it in temperatures between 800 and 900 deg C. Crafted in pink gold, the big cat is hand-engraved and delicately applied to the dial centre. Thanks to the Calibre 2460 G4, the central dial becomes a backdrop for the artwork as the hands-free time display is achieved via four apertures showing the hours, minutes, days and dates. These indications on the Hallmark of Geneva-certified timepiece embody the maison’s long-standing savoir faire in designing and developing original displays.
The luxury watchmaker rings in this Chinese New Year with an Altiplano timepiece showcasing a ferocious tiger in cloisonné grand feu enamel. Impeccably crafted by master enameller Anita Porchet, this limited edition of 38 watches depicts the magnificent cat in all its glory. The cloisonné technique used for this creation is a 4,000-year-old decorative art that uses gold ribbons to trace the motif outline and its details on the dial’s surface. This creates miniature cells, or cloisons, in which different enamel pigments are applied before the dial is fired in the kiln multiple times at temperatures between 820 and 850 deg C. The dial is then varnished after the laborious process to permanently seal the final image. Housed in a 38mm white gold case with a bezel set with 78 brilliant-cut diamonds, the timepiece is powered by Piaget’s ultra-slim, manual-winding 430P movement.
The maison has dedicated a collector’s timepiece to each animal of the Chinese zodiac since 2013. This year’s L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Tiger boasts a dial with a motif of the majestic feline created with the urushi maki-e technique, which combines gold dust with lacquering. Every dial of the 88 limited-edition watches is produced at the century-old Yamada Heiando workshops and crafted by its master lacquer artist Minori Koizumi, who devotes about 160 hours to each piece. In the maki-e technique, gold flakes – placed between layers of lacquer made from Chinese lacquer tree sap – light up a background featuring a tiger perched above a bay surrounded by mountains against a starlit sky.
As if in mid-roar, the powerful beast appears to be flaunting its strength and majesty. The 39.5mm watch case is carved from rose gold sourced from an ethical supply chain pioneered by Chopard. In addition to its elegant design and refined ornamental execution, the slender timepiece is driven by the thin 3.3mm in-house L.U.C 96.17-L self-winding movement with a 65-hour power reserve.
The Swiss manufacture’s new platinum edition of the Traditional Chinese Calendar invites fine watchmaking enthusiasts to consider different approaches to the concept of time as complementary. Issued in a 50-piece limited edition, it flaunts indications of the lunisolar calendar on a white grand feu enamel dial and an oscillating weight engraved with a ferocious tiger. However, what’s most remarkable with this timepiece is its complication exclusively developed by Blancpain, which is based on fundamental principles established for millennia and rooted in Chinese tradition.
The hours, minutes and the Gregorian calendar rub shoulders with the main indications of the Chinese calendar on the dial, including traditional double-hours, day, month with indication of leap months, signs of the zodiac, as well as the five elements and the ten celestial stems. The moon phases – defining traditional Chinese months and a key element in all Blancpain complete calendars – are also featured.
Faithful to the aesthetic signature elements of the Villeret collection, the 45mm double-stepped case is equipped with under-lug correctors to enable easy function adjustments. Connoisseurs will notice the artisanal savoir faire of the watch display. Its chapter ring is composed of gold appliques, while the other indications are enamel-painted. Main hands resemble slightly hollowed leaves, while the blued serpentine hand that sweeps over the Gregorian date numerals is reminiscent of the shape used in 18th-century watchmaking.
At the heart of this exquisite zodiac watch is the self-winding 3638 movement, which took five years of research and development to be realised. One must note that its complexity not only includes the number of the indications displayed, but also the irregular nature of their cycles.
The maison joins in the Lunar New Year revelry with a stunning, special-edition Classico in rose gold. Produced in a limited-edition series of 88 pieces, the Classico “Tiger” is brought to life with the use of two centuries-old methods of enamelling – champlevé and paillonné enamelling.
A rare art form mastered by only a few, the champlevé technique involves carving directly onto the dial to create individual cells that are then filled with enamel. The colours come from a careful blending of different metallic oxides. The dial is fired until the enamel melts before being smoothed and polished. The final and most delicate step involves enhancing the motif by chiselling metal elements onto the surface.
However, it is the ancient decorative technique of paillonné enamelling that makes this timepiece extraordinary. After motifs are cut from a thin gold or silver leaf, the paillons or strips, are individually placed by hand in their desired position. Once the design is done, the figures are coated with another layer of enamel and fired in the oven. This translucent coat protects the paillonné motif for centuries to come, as if freezing it for all eternity. Here, the moon is created with silver strips, while the stars are made of three distinctive gold strips.
The technique of creating enamelled faces is one that is delicate and difficult to master – an artisanal competence requiring over 90 per cent of the process to be done by hand. There is no available modern technology that can enhance the process. A leader in this field, Donzé Cadrans workshops from Le Locle, Switzerland, were integrated to the Ulysse Nardin manufacture in 2011. Although all enamel processes may appear to be similar, each of them is different and requires exceptional precision and skills. Complexity, fine details, realistic decorations and a magical ensemble effect explain the desire of collectors to own enamelled watches.
Powered by the self-winding UN-815 movement, the 40mm Classico Tiger boasts a 42-hour power reserve, black alligator strap with a rose-gold buckle and an open sapphire caseback.
Art direction: Aaron Lee
This story first appeared in Prestige Singapore.