Just like the Western zodiac, the Chinese zodiac follows a cycle of 12, but is counted in years rather than months. Each of these years corresponds to one of 12 animals: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. In China, these symbolic animals are still used to identify a person’s age and to define some of their personality traits.
Most Chinese like to buy items relating to their birth animal that not only have significance but are also unique. A number of watch brands tap into this consumption habit by releasing zodiac animal-themed watches to coincide with Chinese New Year. Swatch was first off the mark in 2006 – the Year of the Dog – and last year launched its second consecutive series. Since 2009, even some Haute Horlogerie brands have joined the party.
The annual cycle of the Chinese zodiac means that watchmakers can create new models with something special each year. Usually presented as limited editions, these watches aim to portray these symbolic animals in a style that aligns with Chinese tastes, despite the challenge of combining Western watchmaking art with Eastern zodiac culture. Fortunately, the theme lends itself perfectly to the métiers d’art, hence the animals are often depicted through techniques such as engraving or enamelling. Still, the point is always to capture the spirit of the Chinese zodiac.
Honest and cheerful
Representing the twelfth and last year in the Chinese zodiac cycle, the pig is a tricky animal. After all, in both the Chinese and English languages, the word “pig” conveys a lot of negative meanings. On the other hand, people born in a year of the pig are regarded as honest, reliable, tolerant, kind and cheerful. Let’s look at some of the watches that set out to bring these qualities to life on the dial.
In China, people born in a year of the pig are regarded as honest, reliable, tolerant, kind and cheerful.
Since starting its Chinese zodiac theme in 2009, Panerai has used the same technique – sparsello engraving from ancient Italy – to depict the animals. This year’s pig stands not on the dial but on the cover, surrounded by a floral garden. The Chinese character for pig – 豬 – has also been added (limited to 88 pieces). Similarly, Vacheron Constantin has been using hand-engraved motifs since 2013. The brand’s unique four-aperture display frees up ample space for the decorative design. An etched foliage motif has been added around the platinum or pink gold pig, against the blue or bronze-toned Grand Feu enamel dial (each version limited to 12 pieces). Piaget has been focusing on enamelling since 2012. Delicately drawn by Anita Porchet, one of the most celebrated enamel artists, this cute piglet is outlined in gold threads (limited to 38 pieces).
More than Chinese
Rather than a farmyard pig, both Breguet and Blancpain have chosen a wild boar à la Pumbaa in The Lion King movie. Mixing the arts of hand-engraving, guilloché and champlevé enamel, the Breguet watch features a boar with a blue “tattoo” (limited to 8 pieces). At Blancpain, the boar might not be so obvious in the window at 12 o’clock, but is also engraved on the oscillating weight. Combining the fundamental principles of the Chinese traditional lunisolar calendar with the date of the Gregorian calendar, this watch has the most “Chinese” functions of any. Apart from the 50-piece limited version in platinum, there is also an unlimited red gold version. Jaquet Droz presented not one but four pig-inspired models. The first pair shows a wild boar, engraved in white or red gold in front of eight oak trees (limited to 8 pieces each). The boar is also relief engraved on the oscillating weight with an onyx background. The second pair of his/hers watches features a miniature-painted piglet surrounded by wheat (limited to 28 pieces each).
As for the Chopard watch, it shows a golden pig in a multicolored forest, executed in Japanese urushi lacquer (limited to 88 pieces). Using a Japanese technique for a Chinese-themed design isn’t as incongruous as it may seem, as the same 12 zodiac animals also exist in Japanese culture, and in some other Asian countries too, including North Korea, South Korea, Thailand and Cambodia. Elsewhere, in Vietnam, India and even Mexico, the list of zodiac animals is only slightly different. Like its capacity for consumption, the cultural influence of China should not be overlooked. While these watches may have been created in reference to the Chinese New Year, the brands’ target markets are certainly not limited to China.