The Chinese zodiac inspires some of this year’s most intriguing timepieces.
By William George Shuster
Feeling impish and innovative, clever and creative? Then 2016 — the Year of the Monkey, according to the Chinese zodiac — may be your year. People born during years that fall under this sign, which occurs every 12 years, are said to have these traits. One of the most popular Chinese zodiac symbols, the monkey also represents prosperity and good health.
A number of luxury watch brands are celebrating with exquisitely handcrafted “Year of the Monkey” timepieces, most of them limited editions. The intended market isn’t just watch aficionados in China and among overseas Chinese, but all watch collectors and enthusiasts, worldwide. The attraction, in addition to the year’s theme, is the haute horlogerie skills which watchmakers use — such as enameling, engraving, painting, precious gems and metals, and even ancient Asian crafts like “jianzhi” (paper cutting) and Urushi (lacquer) — to create these watches.
Just as fascinating are the dials’ artwork, several based on the beloved Chinese folktale of Sun Wu-Kong, the mischievous and clever Monkey King.
Blancpain’s Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar displays both the Chinese lunisolar calendar and the West’s Gregorian one and has a monkey’s image on its caseback. Its grand feu enamel dial shows hours, minutes, and the Gregorian calendar on the outer ring, and elements of the Chinese calendar in the center — double-hour numerals and symbols (24-hour cycle) at 12; the five elements and 10 celestial stems (10-year cycle) at 3; month (12-month cycle), date (30-day cycle), and leap month at 9. Moon phases are at 6.
The automatic 45mm platinum watch has a seven-day power reserve. Its white-gold oscillating weight — which winds the mainspring — is set with a Madagascar ruby. Also available in a non-limited red gold version, the 36-piece edition is US$87,800. blancpain.com
Bovet 1822’s Year of the Monkey timepiece is one-of-a-kind. Its mother-of-pearl dial shows a hand-painted enamel monkey sitting by a waterfall, a meisterwerk that took Bovet artisans months to create. Its in-house mechanical movement can be seen though the back of a hand-chiseled 18k white-gold case. With the brand’s patented Amadeo system, the watch can be converted to a pocket watch, table clock, or reversible-twist timepiece, wiBovetthout using tools. Price upon request. bovet.com
Chopard’s Year of the Monkey watch is part of its L.U.C XP Urushi timepieces, with artistic dials created using a traditional Japanese lacquer made from sap of the rare Urushi (“varnish”) tree. The lacquer is sprinkled with gold dust,using a 1,300-year-old technique, and meticulously applied by an Urushi master onto the dial to form sharply defined images and brilliant colors.
A red-coated monkey is depicted on a branch gathering peaches, based on a story of the Monkey King folktale. The39.5mm, 18k pink-gold watch has a 65-hour power reserve. It is a special edition, not a limited one. US$24,290. chopard.com.
Girard-Perregaux’s first-ever special edition is for the Year of Monkey. There are three designs: the Squirrel Monkey, the Papionini Monkey and the Golden Monkey, each in a playful pose. The contemporary artwork is made with mosaic enamelling techniques —small, hued triangles and diamonds —against a royal-blue dial. Each 40mm, 18k pink-gold watch has an automatic movement with a pink-gold oscillating weight, 46-hour power reserve, black alligator strap, and pink pin buckle. There are eight of each design. US$37,200. girard-perregaux.com
Harry Winston’s 36mm automatic Year of the Monkey timepiece is a lady’s watch in the brand’s Premier Collection. The design of the yellow-gold,open-work monkey scaling the sides of the watch is based on the ancient Chinese craft “jianzhi.”Its tail entwines a single emerald-cut diamond at 12—usually the site of the HW logo. The background is pink mother-of-pearl, speckled with hand-set 24k gold flecks. The bezel is encircled with 57 diamonds. Limited edition of eight watches. US$46,500. harrywinston.com
Hublot’s Fusion Monkey watch, a contemporary artwork by famous Chinese artist Yue Minjun, uses sharp color contrasts and exaggerated expressions. It depicts the Chinese folk hero, the Monkey King, with Minjun’s own laughing face. There are three limited-edition versions of the 41mm watch, each with case and bezel of a different material and matching rubber-lined alligator skin strap. They are rose-pink with black ceramic, blue with titanium, and Chinese red with yellow gold. Minjun’s signature is on the casebacks. The rose-pink (US$14,600) and blue editions (US$13,600) each have 72 watches —for the Monkey King’s 72 metamorphoses. The red ($22,400) has 12 for the Chinese calendar’s 12 years. Hublot.com
Jaquet Droz has sold timepieces in China since the 1700s. For this Year of the Monkey, it has two series. The Petite-Heure-Minute-Relief Monkey watch shows the Monkey King, sculpted in gold, as guardian of the Garden of Celestial Peaches—carefully-cut, lacquered, and hand-painted foliage on a mother-of-pearl dial—just before he eats the peaches to obtain immortality. It comes in an 18k case (red-gold or white with diamonds). The Petite Heure Minute Relief Monkey watch shows the monkey leaping onto a branch to pick a peach —a miniature grand feu enamel painting on an ivory dial.
Perrelet combines its iconic Turbine design with the Chinese zodiac in its Turbine Monkey watch. Its dials’12 blades are decorated with the 12 Chinese zodiac symbols, with the Monkey’s in red at 6. The black under-dial has the Monkey’s iconography written in red. The 44mm stainless-case has black PVD coating, an anti-reflective crystal, and a black-rubber strap with steel-black PVD clasp. Its automatic movement, seen through the sapphire-crystal caseback, has a 42-hour power reserve. 100 watches available.
Ulysse Nardin’s Classico “Year of the Monkey” watch uses champlevé enamelling to create the dial’s impish, cartoon-like, leaping monkey. Cells carved from gold directly onto the dial were filled with enamel. The layering and coloring of the enamel comes from various metallic oxides carefully arranged and fired until melted. The 40mm, 18k red-gold COSC-certified automatic chronometer has a 42-hour power reserve. 88 watches available. US$39,800. ulysse-nardin.com