we must assign blame, then it should indisputably go to the year 2012, the year of the Black Water Dragon and the year where this whole business of Chinese zodiac animals invaded luxury watchmaking. For who could resist a beautiful handcrafted watch adorned with the most powerful mythical creature, sometimes accompanied by a little ball of fire?
The Chinese loved them and also believe that dragon years are the best years. So to boost sales and keep their shareholders happy, Swiss brands went to town on this auspicious symbol of strength and good luck. Many were rather beautifully done while some looked awfully comical, like an Eddy Murphy-voiced Mushu–not a good thing.
Indeed, depicting oriental motifs like a Chinese dragon is a specialty unto itself because it’s all about the details, which are sometimes easily missed by Western artists. A picture of a dragon taken from the Internet that looks attractive to a Caucasian can be taboo to an Asian because everything from its posture and its gaze to its mouth and the number of claws on each foot symbolises something. With Swiss culture so diametrically opposed to Chinese traditional beliefs, one wonders if this is anything more than a well-timed PR exercise to woo the Chinese buyers.
After the dragon came the snake, followed by the horse, and it became imminently clear that this fascination with zodiac animals isn’t going away. But the brands have thus far worked with animals that are relatively easy to paint or sculpt in a naturally beautiful way. What’s going to happen when the year of the Boar comes around? Or the Rat? As it were, the Goat, Monkey and Rooster year ones hardly caused a stir. It’s beginning to feel like brands were simply going through the motions, just finishing what they started and trying to ignore the drag that’s setting in.
So that’s six animals down, and six more to go. 2018 is the Year of the Dog and the usual suspects have each come up with a new rendition of man’s best friend on a watch, although there were a couple of interesting surprises. Casio offers an auspicious take on its standard DW-6900 series. The DW-6900CB1CNY18 is clothed in black and gold with a celestial dog motif emblazoned on the strap. Inspiration came from the mythical Komainu in Japanese folklore, which are similar to Chinese Fu dogs, which funnily aren’t dogs but lions.
Another watch that’s specially created for the Chinese Lunar New Year is the Graham Chronofighter Vintage Nose Art Kelly Watch, and it surely cannot be anything more than a tonguein-cheek jape at oriental stereotypes. Juxtaposed with the overtly sporty design of the case, our pin-up gal Kelly peeks coquettishly behind a paper fan while showing a little (a lot of ) skin in that figure-hugging cheongsam– red of course, the auspicious colour, to go with the season’s best lanterns and couplets. We almost missed the little white dog, name and breed unknown, but what’s certain is this watch will bring about fun and laughter wherever it goes. Take it with good humour.
Brands like Jaquet Droz, Vacheron Constantin, Ulysse Nardin, Panerai and Chopard continue to add on to their Chinese zodiac collection. Most are beautiful in the way they’re intended, however unsurprisingly, only the handsome breeds were considered–not a single pug (no offence to pugs). We can’t wait for 2019.