The rat race: 8 zodiac watches to celebrate the Chinese New Year
Welcome a little more prosperity this Chinese New Year with this mischief of rat-themed timepieces.
We’ve barely begun to recover from the glut of merrymaking that follows Christmas and the advent of 2020, but there’s more coming for those celebrating the Chinese New Year — particularly for collectors who want to add a zodiac rat watch to their collection because of the animal’s association with intelligence, wealth, vitality and surplus. Even if you don’t buy into the mythology, you have to admit these festive watches are wonderful examples of metiers d’art, and they’re pretty cute to boot.
BLANCPAIN YEAR OF THE RAT
It’s possible that Blancpain has waited for the year of the rat, which is the first of the 12-year cycle of animals, to debut its first porcelain-dialled watch. Or it could be that the brand simply needed time to perfect the craft, because porcelain dials are just as laborious to make as enamel ones.
A pulp of quartz, feldspar, kaolin and water is first filtered for impurities and then cast in dial-shaped moulds. Once dry, they are fired at 1,000ºC for 24 hours, applied to the dials, and fired again for the same amount of time at 1,300ºC.
The enameler then gets to work painting the rats and trees onto each dial, after which it is given a final 24-hour firing at 1,200ºC. Since enamel dials can’t survive this much heat, it’s exciting to think of the possibilities that porcelain ones will bring in terms of colour and intensity.
In the mean time, you can enjoy this 33mm white gold model, powered by the 1154 automatic calibre with hours, minutes, seconds and a generous 100 hours of power reserve. The bezel is set with 48 brilliant-cut diamonds to add a little sparkle. Limited to just eight pieces.
CHOPARD L.U.C XP URUSHI YEAR OF THE RAT
Chopard’s yearly zodiac-themed watches are an interesting mashup of cultures. Swiss watchmaking techniques are combined with the ancient Japanese art of urushi to celebrate a Chinese holiday.
The result is often harmonious, and while the dials often wind up looking neither very Asian nor strictly European, they’re still lovely to behold. This year’s 88-piece edition shows a rat posing with an ear of corn (for abundance), a persimmon (for longevity) and a blue flowering plant (for optimism).
Urushi grand master Yamada Heinado also combined the Urushi lacquer with gold dust to create a starry backdrop. Each dial is painted by hand, thus making each one unique.
Obviously a dress watch, Chopard has chosen the ultra-thin L.U.C 96.17-L to power the 40mm piece, and the 3.3mm automatic movement can be seen through the sapphire crystal case back. It provides 65 hours of autonomy, and is cased in 18K rose gold.
HARRY WINSTON PREMIER CHINESE NEW YEAR AUTOMATIC 36MM
Let Harry Winston’s festive offering bear all the weight of prosperous dressing, because there’s enough red and gold on there to carry even the most inauspicious outfit through the holidays.
The timepiece is decked out in brightly hued mother-of-pearl and a delicate rose gold outline inspired by the Chinese art of paper cutting. Cutting gold instead of paper is clearly not an issue for a jewellery house of Harry Winston’s renown, which is why the pattern is heightened with gem setting.
Eight marquise-cut diamonds surrounding a brilliant-cut stone creates a flower inside the rat’s body, while the remaining diamonds serve as hour markers on the off-set sub-dial, and additional floral motifs.
Beating inside the 36.2mm rose gold case is the automatic HW2014 calibre, which has been constructed with a silicon balance spring, a 68-hour power reserve, water resistance of 30m, and decorated with Geneva stripes and circular graining.
Typical of watches from Harry Winston’s Premier collection, the case is set with brilliant-cut diamonds – 57 of them for this case size – with more to be found on the crown, lugs and buckle. Only eight pieces have been made.
JAQUET DROZ PETITE HEURE MINUTE YEAR OF THE RAT
Along with the rat, pomegranates are the motif of the year for Jaquet Droz. According to the brand, the fruit symbolises prosperity and abundance, and are featured in two styles presented in four models alongside the rodent.
The first two models are based in the Petite Heure Minute 35mm and 39mm, depicting two hand-painted rats enjoying some pomegranate seeds on a canvas of Grand Feu enamel. Both are crafted in red gold, with the smaller model featuring a diamond-set bezel. The rotor, also red gold, has been engraved with with a similar scene. Each version is limited to 28 pieces.
A second, more exclusive style is housed in a 41mm case in either white or red gold with a deep black onyx dial. It contrasts beautifully with the matching gold relief engraved rat and leaves. On this dial the rat holds an especially large ruby seed, with the whole fruit depicted in the background using snow-set rubies. Only the white gold version comes with diamonds however, with two rings of them on the dial’s periphery, as well as the lugs. The rotor also follows the theme, and both references are limited to eight pieces each.
PANERAI LUMINOR SEALAND YEAR OF THE RAT
Vacheron Constantin still has a few years left for its current series of zodiac watches but its Richemont sibling Panerai is concluding theirs this year, having started in 2009 with the Year of the Ox edition.
Once again, the cover of this Luminor Sealand is decorated with the Italian art of sparsello. It’s a technique that involves engraving the design into a metal base using a tool the process is named after. The grooves are then inlaid with gold threads and hammered flat so the grooves are completely filled.
The brushed stainless steel cover can be opened to reveal a modern grey dial with both Arabic numerals and bars for the hours. The P.9010 calibre gives the 44mm watch its small seconds sub-dial at 9 o’clock, a date window at 3 o’clock and a good three days of reserve power.
Those who want to score one of the eight pieces made will have to wait till they are officially launched on January 25, the start of this lunar year.
PERRELET TURBINE RAT
Perrelet’s signature Turbine watches, distinguished by a front-facing rotor made up of 12 blades, are the perfect base for a Chinese zodiac-inspired watch. As it has done in the past, Perrelet has dedicated one blade to each of the 12 animals and, since this is the year of the rat, the rat blade is highlighted in auspicious red.
Beneath the blades – which are able to move with the slightest wrist movement thanks to five tungsten counterweights applied beneath them – is a red dial with an image of a rat printed in gold.
It’s a refreshingly sporty take on a zodiac watch thanks to its sizeable 44mm black PVD-coated steel case, black rubber strap and overall industrial design of the Turbine. A limited edition of 100 pieces.
PIAGET ALTIPLANO CHINESE ZODIAC YEAR OF THE RAT
You can always count on seeing an Anita Porchet masterpiece this festive season. Piaget has once again teamed up with the master enameler for an elegant depiction of the year’s zodiac animal.
The 38-piece limited edition Altiplano features two white rats realised in cloisonne enamel, a technique that involves filling cells made of gold wire with vitreous enamel before firing in a kiln. The effect is subtle here, which makes Porchet’s skilful use of the palest grey pigments achieve light and shadow all the more striking.
The watch houses the 430P calibre, an ultra-thin, manual-winding movement measuring just 2.1mm thick and offering only hours and minutes. The simplicity is appreciated, since the art should be front and centre in such pieces, which is why the only other decorations are the 78 brilliant-cut diamonds that encircle the dial (totalling approximately 0.7 carats) on a white gold case. It is paired with a black alligator strap with a white gold buckle.
VACHERON CONSTANTIN METIERS D’ART THE LEGEND OF THE CHINESE ZODIAC – YEAR OF THE RAT
Vacheron Constantin has been making commemorative watches for Chinese New Year since the year of the snake in 2013, and every model since has followed the same template, presumably for consistency’s sake.
Some of you may know exactly what to expect this year: A realistically engraved rat applied to the centre of a Grand Feu enamel dial and familiar floral motifs borrowed from Chinese iconography that continue to decorate the watch.
These motifs appear almost to float above the dial thanks to relief engraving, and was inspired by Chinese and Swiss paper-cutting traditions. There are two versions, one in platinum and one in pink gold, and have corresponding dials and straps to match.
The collection cleverly uses a digital display so as not to obstruct the wearer’s view of the elaborate dial. The four apertures show the hours, minutes, days and dates with the first two using dragging discs and the other two using jumping ones. Limited to 12 pieces in each metal.