February 16, 2018, marks the start of the new year on the traditional Chinese calendar, this one designated the Year of the Dog, the 11th animal sign in the Chinese zodiac. As in past years, a handful of luxury watch companies are celebrating — and reaching out to affluent Asian collectors — with limited-edition timepieces prominently featuring this year’s animal on their artistically ambitious dials. Here are five we discovered.
Blancpain offers a new limited-edition of its Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar — first introduced in 2012, the Year of the Dragon — whose intriguing array of complications includes signs of the Zodiac, indications of the five elements and celestial stems, and leap months, along with Gregorian calendar indications and moon-phases (Click here for a detailed description of the watch and its many functions). The 2018 version features a 45-mm case made of platinum, a white grand feu enamel dial with white-gold appliqués, hollowed-leaf-style hour and minute hands and blued serpentine date pointer hands, and all of the model’s distinctive indicators topped off by the 12 o’clock aperture displaying the year’s Zodiac sign — which will, of course, be a dog throughout the coming year. Inside the watch is Blancpain’s automatic Caliber 3638, boasting a seven-day power reserve in addition to its array of Gregorian and Chinese calendar functions. Visible through a sapphire caseback, it features a sculpted gold rotor with an engraved dog figure, marking this watch as one of only 50 pieces that will be issued in 2018. The price is 64,010 British pounds, or about $89,000.
From Breguet comes the Classique 7145 Chow-Chow, fronted by a hand-engraved, engine-turned, silvered-gold dial with the image of a chow-chow, one of the most ancient and beloved dog breeds in China. The engraver used a bas-relief technique that involves using various chisels and graving tools under a microscope to bring the original sketched image to 3D life on the dial before it is meticulously polished and finished. Inside the 40-mm 18k white gold case, with its fluted caseband and welded screw-bar lugs, beats the self-winding manufacture Caliber 502.3, which is elegantly thin (2.4 mm) and stores a 45-hour power reserve; it’s got a silicon balance spring and silicon pallets in its Swiss lever escapement. Open-tipped Breguet hands sweep over the chow-chow on the dial and the guilloché background. The watch, on a leather strap with a gold folding clasp, is limited to only eight pieces, priced at $42,000.
Chopard adheres to its recent tradition of putting out a special edition with a decorative animal dial executed in Urushi lacquer, an ancient Japanese technique. The L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Dog features another revered Asian canine breed, the Akita, posed in a colorful nature setting with wild orchids and accompanied by a fluttering dragonfly, which is regarded as a symbol of luck and good omens.
Urushi, which originates from the sap of a certain Japanese tree and is aged three to five years after being collected, is a transparent lacquer that is applied in a series of extremely fine layers that imprison the tiny iridescent gold particles used to form the image. To create this dial, Chopard once again enlisted master Urushi artist Minori Koizumi — overseen by Japan’s “national human treasure,” Master Kilchiro Masumura, and the firm Yamada Heiando, official purveyor to the Japanese imperial family — to create the dials.
The slim, 39.5-mm rose gold case contains Chopard’s self-winding LUC 96.17-L caliber, visible through a clear caseback and wound by a 22k gold microrotor that amasses a 65-hour power reserve in twin mainspring barrels. The movement offers a host of high-end horological decorations, including beveled and polished chamfers, polished screws, and côtes de Genève on the bridges. The price is $25,600.
Jaquet Droz, the third Swatch Group-owned brand represented here (along with Blancpain and Breguet) is one with longstanding ties to the Chinese market, and is not surprisingly a mainstay in the world of Chinese New Year-themed timepieces. Among this year’s releases is the Petite Heure Minute Relief Dog, which spotlights yet another treasured Chinese canine breed, the Pekingese. The red-tinted dial (red represents good fortune to the Chinese) is made of Mexican “Sonora Sunrise” cuprite, a copper oxide-rich ore; in its foreground is an intricate yellow gold relief engraving of a Pekingese dog surrounded by billowing clouds and a landscape of flowers, rocks, and other details. Hours and minutes are displayed on the off-center subdial made of black onyx. Powered by a self-winding mechanical movement with a gold-and-cuprite rotor engraved with another dog image, the watch is limited to 28 pieces and priced at $68,300.
Finally, Ulysse Nardin offers the Classico Dog, whose canine-themed dial combines grand feu enamel with one of the brand’s decorative specialties, champlevé enameling. The latter style, used by UN on previous Chinese New Year editions, is a rare, centuries-old art form in which cells are carved directly onto the dial with a chisel and filled with enamel, with different colors generated by different metallic oxides. The dial is then fired until the enamel melts. This piece, like others in Ulysse Nardin’s Classico series, was executed in-house at Donze Cadrans, the brand’s own dialmaking firm.
The Classico Dog, a limited edition of 88 pieces (you’re beginning to get that eight is considered the luckiest number in China, right?), and priced at $39,800, comes in a 40-mm round case made of 18k rose gold and is powered by the automatic UN-815 caliber, a COSC-certified chronometer with a 42-hour power reserve.