The Chinese zodiac calendar is represented by 12 different animals and for years, top Swiss watch brands have seized Chinese New Year as a lucrative opportunity to showcase its savoir-faire in rare crafts, from miniature painting, to engraving, enamelling and more.
2020 doesn’t just signify the turn of a new decade, it’s also the Year of the Rat, which is the first sign of the zodiac. These special edition zodiac watches are highly collectible and treasured by connoisseurs in many Asian communities, who often look forward to completing a full set of the 12 signs. Let’s take a look at this year’s offerings.
Vacheron Constantin Metiers d’Art The Legend of Chinese Zodiac Year of the Rat
The start of the Chinese new year gives watch maisons the chance to showcase their expertise in the artistic crafts. For Vacheron Constantin, it also presents an opportunity for its craftsman to unleash their creativity in finding new design approaches.
This year, inspired by the popular Chinese art of jianzhi, or paper-cutting, Vacheron Constantin’s master engravers and enamellers have created a floral motif that is etched directly onto the dial. Grand Feu enamelling is applied to the dial in blue or a bronze-tone in successive layers, before an engraving of the Rat, made in platinum or pink gold, is delicately placed onto the centre of the dial.
Inside the timepiece beats the Calibre 2460 G4, which shows the time (hours, minutes, days and dates) through four apertures on the edge of the dial, giving the artistic crafts a chance to shine right in the centre.
Breguet Reine De Naples 8955 Cammea
Breguet’s Year of the Rat watch is envisioned on the Reine de Naples watch, which comes with an exceptionally realistic cameo engraving of the Rat, perched on top of the planet Venus, in shades of white and brown set in a rose gold case.
The art of cameo is one that Breguet has utilised in its other timepieces, an ancient art form where the designs are raised in relief from hand-engraved conch shells. Once the design is cut out from the shell, the surface is smoothed and flattened to reveal the white surface where the main image will appear. The final shell thickness is no more than two millimetres, but the detailed grooves in the shell reveal deeper coloured shades, giving rise to a striking image of the little rodent in ivory over a darker brown background.
In a rose gold case with a bezel set with 40 diamonds, the crown at 4 o’clock is also decorated with a briolette-cut diamond as a cabochon. The self-winding manufacture calibre 537/3 is visible through the sapphire caseback, with a power reserve of 45 hours and an engine-turned platinum rotor. The special series is limited to eight timepieces numbered from 1/8 to 8/8.
Piaget Altiplano Zodiac Watch
To paint a picture, you need a simple, classic canvas, and Piaget’s Altiplano does the trick perfectly. The two intelligent and resourceful critters are crafted in Grand Feu cloisonné enamel; an elaborate process that involves creating the miniature artwork using gold thread, forming tiny partitions, or cloisons, in which the enamel pigment is then painstakingly placed. The enamel is then fired multiple times between between 820°C and 850°C in the kiln before it is varnished to give it an even shine.
Anita Porchet, possibly the most widely recognised enamel artist today, is the master behind the work, bringing the two little rats to life on the Altiplano dial. The white gold case houses the 430P ultra-thin hand-wound Piaget movement, and the bezel is set with 78 diamonds.
Chopard L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Rat
Once again, Chopard calls on the ancestral Japanese art of Urushi to create the dial of the L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Rat watch. Urushi is an ancient Japanese lacquer art that uses the sap of the Urushi tree found in Japan and China. The resin is harvested only once a year in extremely small quantities and has to be kept for three to five years before it can be used, making Urushi lacquer an extremely rare art form.
The 88 dials of the limited edition watch were created through the collaboration between Chopard and Yamada Heinado. On the dial is a golden rat, standing on an ear of corn to symbolise abundance and a khaki fruit, representing longevity. A plant in blue, green and gold is also painted on the dial, all lucky colours for the Year of the Rat.
The L.U.C XP is powered by the L.U.C 96.17-L Calibre, which can be admired through the transparent sapphire caseback.
Jacquet Droz Ateliers D’Art Petite Heure Minute Relief Rat
To celebrate this very special Year of the Rat, which makes the start of a new cycle in the Chinese calendar, Jaquet Droz has not one, but four limited series watches created for the occasion. The timepieces shine a light on Jaquet Droz’s Ateliers d’Art, and brings its expertise in enamelling and relief engraving to the fore.
The 41mm Petite Heure Minute features an onyx dial as the backdrop for the Rat holding a pomegranate in its hands, a fruit that has long been a symbol for life and fertility. Hand-engraved and hand-painted, the Rat is depicted in 18K red gold appliqué in relief, holding a ruby pomegranate seed in its hands. The bigger pomegranate fruit can be seen at 9 o’clock, depicted by rubies arranged in a snow setting.
Limited to eight pieces, the watch is powered by a self-winding mechanical movement with a power reserve of 68 hours.
Panerai Luminor Sealand — 44mm
Panerai first began making Chinese calendar watches back in 2009 to celebrate the Year of the Ox. The Sealand collection comes with a decorated cover, hinged at 12 o’clock, which opens up to reveal the dial. The decoration on the cover depicts the Rat this year, engraved by hand by Italian master craftsmen using the ancient art of sparsello.
The technique is named after the tool, a little scalpel that is used to make incisions in the metal. These are then inlayed with gold threads that are hammered in to fill the recesses. Up to 50 hours is required to complete the design on the watch.
The mechanical movement powering the Luminor Sealand is the P.9010 calibre with a power reserve of three days. The watch, water resistant to 100 metres, is fitted with a semi-matte calf strap and comes with a second rubber strap. Only 88 pieces are made.
Blancpain Villeret Calendrier Chinois Traditionnel
For a more subtle take, Blancpain’s Traditions Chinese Calendar doesn’t showcase the image of the Rat quite as literally. Instead, the manufacture has taken up the mechanical challenge of combining the two different interpretations of time — the lunar Chinese calendar and the Gregorian calendar, to bring us a timepiece that can give the main indications of the Chinese calendar based on the Gregorian calendar.
On the white Grand Feu enamel dial, the animal of the year, the Rat, appears in a window at 12 o’clock. The double hours counter displayed in numbers and symbols are right underneath it. At 3 o’clock, the ten celestial pillars and five elements are displayed, while the two hands at 9 o’clock serve to read the month and date. The moon phase indication is positioned at 6 o’clock. And of course, you can still read the Gregorian calendar, pointed out around the rim of the chapter ring by a blued steel serpentine hand.
The 45mm platinum watch is driven by the self-winding 3638 movement, which comes with a seven-day power reserve, made possible by the use of three series-coupled barrels and high-performance springs. The movement, visible from the transparent caseback, comes with a white gold oscillating weight engraved with the Rat. Only 50 pieces are made.
TAG Heuer CNY 2020 Year of the Rat Special Edition
In time for Chinese New Year, TAG Heuer also launched a new Autavia Year of the Rat Special Edition. The Chinese character for Rat, “鼠,” replaces the traditional index at 1 o’clock to form a subtle tribute to the first animal of the 12-year Zodiac cycle. The dial is in a festive and vibrant red, enclosed by a black ceramic bezel in a brushed bronze case.
Instead, the silhouette of the furry creature is immortalised on the case back. The fun cartoon rat is portrayed with traditional pilot googles and holds a steering wheel between its paws, a fitting image that echoes TAG Heuer’s motor racing roots.
Inside the 42mm three-hand timepiece is the COSC-certified Calibre 5 automatic movement, with a 38-hour power reserve.
Swatch Chinese New Year Special Cheese Watch
This watch is really more for fun than anything else, but did somebody say cheese? Silvery and sophisticated, the Swatch Cheese watch comes in a trendy monochromatic strap with ears and a matching dial with the face of the Rat, nose, whiskers, eyes and all.
What completes the package is the metal box — shaped like a slab of cheese