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The Oriental Complexity of Superior Watches (II)

The Oriental Complexity of Superior Watches (II)

Friday, 19 December 2008
By David Chang
David Chang

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3 min read

Chinese architecture and ancient relics, but famous historical figures and symbols are inspirations for the designs of western watches.

In 1405, the legendary Chinese navigator Zheng He (1371-1435) embarked on a great voyage to the western oceans. In remembrance of the Chinese contribution to world maritime history, Vacheron Constantin designed a Métiers d’Art watch called Zheng He in 2004, based on this theme. The enamelled dial depicted the ship and the route that Zheng He took. This time-piece has become one of the watches that best represents Chinese culture, together with other Vacheron Constantin watches based on Chinese cultural themes. In the same year, Cartier launched the Tank Cintrée watch as a gift for the Year of Friendship between China and France.

The dragon is a symbol that is highly respected by the Chinese, and 2000 was the year of dragon in Chinese tradition. Many watchmakers in Switzerland launched watches based on the theme of the dragon, as a token of respect for the Chinese and their culture. The dial of the Classical Pearl Dragon watch manufactured by Corum depicts a red dragon ploughing through the sea. Bovet Fleurier, a brand deeply connected with China, painted the pattern of the dragon using a traditional enamelling technique, and the images on many of these Fleurier watches are already familiar to the Chinese people.

Tank Cintrée © Cartier
Tank Cintrée © Cartier
The twelve animals of the zodiac

The limited-edition Dragon watch designed by Patek Philippe is made from a piece of jade inscribed with a dragon pattern from the Western Han dynasty in China. The elegant, rustic design of the dial moves away from the traditional grandeur of the dragon, and the set of four enamelled dials in white, blue, black and red originate from the theory of the Five Elements – metal, wood, water, fire and earth (earth is the yellow colour on the dial). This collection shows the effort Patek Philippe made to integrate Chinese and western cultures. Panerai and Glashütte Original also included dragon patterns on their watches with engravings and ceramics respectively.

Chinese astrology has a long history. According to archaeological information and literature sources, the arrangement of the twelve animals of the zodiac can be traced back to the Spring and Autumn Warring States period, and even back to the Western Zhou Dynasty. According to Ri Shu (a script from the Qin Dynasty and before), people in the Qin Dynasty had already apprehended the connection between the twelve Earthly Branches and the twelve animals of the zodiac. Lunheng by Wang Chong from the Eastern Han Dynasty tells us that the concepts of the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and pig have already been well perceived by people at that time. Chopard launched the Happy Sport watch with Chinese zodiac characters in the year of monkey in 2004. 2009 will be the year of ox. Which brand(s) will launch watches relating to similar themes? This will soon be answered on the opening of SIHH and Baselworld.

*Author of the book Watch and China to be published by the end of 2008.

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