Actually, the rat is not a rat: 鼠 can mean rat, but can also mean mouse, and this is how it is understood in the Far East: the resourceful mouse, who used the buffalo as a taxi on the way to the Buddha and jumped off his nose to arrive as the first animal. So it is not the plague-carrying rat that is worshiped, but the clever little animal which, in its position at the beginning of the horoscope, also stands for renewal.
Not without economic ulterior motives – after all, in recent years many Chinese consumers have enjoyed an abundance of discretionary funds – every year the big and small luxury brands of the world seek inspiration from the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Unlike China, we didn’t have a holiday for the Chinese New Year, so we have used that time to look at the most beautiful and interesting specimens and present them to you. Of course we chose exactly 8 watches because this is the absolute lucky number, as every Sinophile knows.
It doesn’t always have to be Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet or Rolex – the cheese from the dairy cases can also taste good. This year Swatch has pulled out of the cooler a very simple model in gray, tinkered with ears and brushed eyes, nose and whiskers on it, resulting in certainly the most minimalist, if not the most elegant, watch created for the occasion. Indeed, the most extravagant part of this offering is the gold-colored metal box, shaped like a little wedge of cheese, which with its decorative red tassels is almost more interesting than the watch itself.
Many brands succumb to the temptation to produce elaborately figured or extravagantly decorated watches, but TAG Heuer took a different approach. They started with an Autavia in an attractive and fashionable bronze housing and, in keeping with Chinese tradition, dipped deeply into the paint bucket of the lucky color red. The only obvious allusion to the zodiac is at one o’clock, the number 1 having been replaced by the symbol 鼠 for rat / mouse.
Chopard has opted for something at once more traditional and more international. In cooperation with Yamada Heinado, 88 dials were created and elaborately decorated using Japanese Urushi lacquer. Old and exclusive stuff, this lacquer is obtained from the sap of a tree growing in Japan and China, and its preparation takes three to five years. It is clearly worth the wait, though, given the wonderful harmony between the subtly shimmering background and the golden mouse. The corn cob symbolizes abundance and the persimmon stands for long life. Bordered in a red gold case, this watch offers a fairly successful balancing act between decoration and understatement.
“Understatement” is a word one is not likely to use in describing the Breguet Reine de Naples. With this exclusive edition, limited to just 8 copies, Breguet impressively demonstrates their atelier’s skills. A mouse, only 2 mm thick, was carved out of a scallop shell using cameo engraving and sits atop the planet Venus. The brown and white tones are perfectly complemented by a rose gold case, the bezel of which is set with 40 diamonds. But this watch is not just about appearances; inside ticks an automatic 537/3 caliber, with a platinum rotor and 45-hour power reserve, all of which can be admired through a sapphire crystal back.
The second ladies watch on our list also brightens its bezel with diamonds, and is also limited to 8 pieces, but that’s where the similarities end. Porcelain, the production of which was actually a Chinese invention, was chosen for the dial. The three playful rats may not be as impressive as the Breguet cameo, but the presentation is refreshingly understated and elegant.
A fancy design is not always called for; one can also approach the matter from a technical point of view. Blancpain has taken on the difficult task of integrating the traditional Chinese lunar calendar into the Villeret, without allowing the “regular” calendar to fall by the wayside. 50 cases were crafted of platinum and installed with the truly impressive automatic caliber 3638, which shows the current Chinese year, the 10 heavenly stems and the 5 elements, the month, date and moon phase, as well as the Gregorian calendar. The subtle enamel dial and the blued hands ensure unassuming elegance. This watch certainly deserves more attention than the simple design would suggest.
Naturally, Vacheron Constantin should not be missing from this list. The haute horologist clearly knows who their customers are and what they want, and have offered them a watch inspired by Jianzhi, the time-honored art of Chinese paper cutting. Traditional foliage motifs taken from Chinese art were etched directly into the metal dial and then coated with enamel using the Grand Feu technique. The centerpiece is a well-fed mouse made of platinum. There is no pointer, with all information displayed in four windows along the edge of the dial.
In addition to the blue version shown here in a platinum case, this watch is also available with a brown dial in rose gold.
Panerai is the most consistent contributor to the trend of zodiac watches, and has released a new Sealand variant every year since 2009, the last Year of the Ox. The Sealand is characterized by its ornate lid, which must be lifted to read the time. The rather playful rat on this year’s lid is etched into the material with a small scalpel using the Sparsello technique, and then gold threads are hammered in, taking up to 50 hours per watch. Otherwise, the Sealand is a classic Panerai: caliber P.9010, three days power reserve, 100 m waterproof and, of course, including a spare rubber strap. With this watch, 88 owners can show that they no longer have to watch every minute.