Next Monday, February 8, marks the start of the New Year on the traditional Chinese calendar, the Year of the Monkey. As in the past, several luxury watch brands — particularly those with a large following in Asia — have produced special timepieces to commemorate it. Here we look at nine new models from six brands.
The Chopard L.U.C. XP Urushi “Year of the Monkey” features a decorative, Urushi lacquered dial, hand-crafted in Japan by a renowned master of that ancient art. The dial depicts a red-coated monkey perched on a branch gathering peaches, eight of them in all. (Peaches symbolize good health in Chinese culture and the number eight symbolizes luck.) Below the monkey in the tree is a warm scene of a golden valley that echoes the tones of the rose-gold case.
Urushi, which originates from the sap of a certain Japanese tree, is a transparent lacquer that is applied in a series of extremely fine layers that imprison the gold dust used in the Maki-e decoarative technique. To create this dial, Chopard selected master Urushi artist Minori Koizumi; to supervise the extremely small series, the brand enlisted the services of Master Kilchiro Masumura, widely acknowledged as the finest exponent of his art, and the firm Yamada Heiando, official purveyor to the Japanese imperial family.
The watch, at 39.50 mm in diameter and a slender 6.8 mm thick, contains the ultra-thin L.U.C. Caliber 96.17-L, with automatic winding from a 22k gold micro-rotor and a 65-hour power reserve stored in two barrels. It comes on a hand-sewn alligator leather strap, with Alvasel lining and a rose-gold pin buckle, and is presented in a special octagon-shaped box decorated with Urushi and Maki-e techniques.
For its Jaquet Droz Petite Heure Minute Monkey and Petite Heure Minute Relief Monkey models, the brand named for timepiece visionary Pierre Jaquet-Droz turned to the legend of Sun Wakong, the so-called Monkey King. One of the most enduring characters in Chinese culture, Sun Wakong was appointed to watch over the Garden of Celestial Peaches but instead ate the sacred peaches to attain immortality (leading to the Chinese tradition of giving peaches as a symbols of eternal life). Beneath its off-center subdial, the Petite Heure Monkey depicts on its white grand feu enamel dial a monkey leaping onto a branch to pick a peach. This watch, with a rose-gold case, is available in two sizes, 35 mm or 39 mm in diameter (the smaller model has a bezel set with brilliant-cut diamonds). Both are equipped with automatic movements, visible through clear casebacks, with meticulously sculpted rotors also visually depicting the Monkey King legend.
The Petite Heure Minute Relief Monkey is available with either a rose gold or white gold case (both 41 mm in diameter; inset diamonds on the bezel of the white gold version) and has a striking dial that combines lacquer, gold and mother-of-pearl. Beneath the hours-and-minutes subdial at 12 o’clock, a gold-sculpted monkey perches on a peach-tree branch against a background of delicate foliage. As with the other watch, the automatic mechanical movement (with a 68-hour power reserve) features a rotor depicting a monkey, combining gold that has been engraved and then patinated with black onyx. The domed sapphire crystals add depth to the miniaturized 3-D artwork on the dial. Each of Jaquet Droz’s four “Year of the Monkey” models is offered in a limited edition of only 28 pieces.
The Ulysse Nardin Classico “Year of the Monkey” takes a different approach on its decorative dial, with its more cartoon-like depiction of an impishly grinning monkey leaping through a brush of palm fronds. The technique used here (as in last year’s “Year of the Goat” Classico edition) is champlevé enameling, 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 watch, which is limited to a “lucky” 88 pieces, has a 40-mm rose-gold dial with an exhibition caseback to display the movement, the COSC-chronometer certified Caliber UN-815, with automatic winding and a 42-hour power reserve. The strap is black leather, with a rose-gold tang buckle.
Blancpain has issued a Year of the Monkey edition of one of its most fascinating watches, the Blancpain Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar, whose array of complications include signs of the Zodiac, indications of the five elements and celestial stems, and leap months, along with Gregorian calendar indications and moon-phases (For a detailed description of the watch and its functions, click here). The new version of the Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar features a winding rotor adorned with a monkey, visible through a sapphire window in the back of the 45-mm case. On the other side is a grand feu Enamel dial.
Continuing a tradition it began in 2012, Piaget has released a limited-edition timepiece in its Altiplano “Art and Excellence” collection, honoring the Chinese New Year and featuring the intricate artwork of grand feu cloissoné enamelling master Anita Porchet. The dial of the Piaget Altiplano 38 mm celebrating the Year of the Monkey displays a seated monkey with a glistening coat of fur holding a peach against a soft, cottony-cloud background. The subtle shades of gray in the image are the result of the painstaking cloisonné enamel process, in which the artist forms the base of the image from hollow partitions created by strips of gold, the crushing and mixing pigments by hand before applying the colors inside the partitions with an fine brush. The watch (limited to 38 pieces) comes in a 38-mm, ultra-thin white gold case with 78 brilliant-cut diamonds on the bezel. Beneath the dial is Piaget’s manual-winding Caliber 430P.
On the more avant-garde side is the Perrelet Turbine Monkey, a limited edition of 100 pieces from the brand’s flagship Turbine collection. On the dial side, the 12 “blades” of the rotating turbine are decorated with the 12 Chinese horoscope signs, with the monkey highlighted in red at the 6 o’clock position. The black under-dial repeats the motif, with another red image of the monkey sign. Center-mounted hour and minute hands indicate the time on the outer ring, and the seconds hand, also in red, harmonizes with the red monkey elements. The 44-mm round case is in stainless steel with black PVD; the sapphire caseback provides a view of the automatic movement, Perrelet Caliber P-331. The watch comes on a black rubber strap with a folding clasp in black PVD-treated steel.