Seven Journeys of Admiral Cheng Ho (Zheng He)
Referencing the enchanting sphere of Chinese maritime history, Ulysse Nardin honours the Zheng He Treasure Boat in its new Classic Collection limited-edition enamel cloisonné timepiece.
The Chinese Treasure Boat (Bao-Chuan) was a large wooden ship in the fleet of Admiral Zheng He, the renowned explorer and mariner, who led seven incredible voyages during the early 15th-century Ming Dynasty. Between 1405 and 1433, Zheng made a total of seven voyages, visiting 37 countries. The massive ships were 137 m long and 55 m wide, with nine masts and four decks for up to 500 crew as well as cargo. Zheng He’s voyages covered extensive territory, travelling through Southeast Asia to distant Africa and Arabia.
With a fleet numbering hundreds of ships, and crews of around 30,000 men, his was easily the biggest maritime expedition of the era. It all came to a halt with the succession of the Hongxi Emperor in 1424, who cancelled Zheng He’s maritime expeditions permanently, burned down the fleet, and abolished frontier trade.
Zheng He made one more voyage during the reign of Hongxi’s son, the Xuande Emperor (reign 1426–1435) but, after that, the voyages of the Chinese treasure ship fleets were ended. Xuande believed his father’s decision to halt the voyages had been meritorious and thus “there would be no need to make a detailed description of his grandfather (Yongle Emperor) sending Zheng He to the Western Ocean.”
Officially, the journeys were not recorded in subsequent government records but the peoples of Malacca, Penang, Jawa, Ceylon, Siam, Burma, Maldives, Goa, Arabian Peninsula, Mogadishu and Mombasa all have traces of Chinese technology, architecture, culture and of course, genetics…..
Enamel cloisonné by Donzé Cadrans
To accurately portray the appearance of the Zheng He Treasure Boat, Ulysse Nardin called upon its enamel specialists subsidiary, Donzé Cadrans, for the intricate enamel cloisonné technique. In this very ancient art form, which dates back to the early 4th century, craftsmen employ fine gold wire to create the compartments, within which the enamel is carefully deposited.
Every cloisonné dial involves immense effort and patience, requiring 50 hours of artisanal expertise and 26 separate processes to bring a scene to vivid life.
The enamels are painted into the cloisonné cells and fired in an oven.
The palette of enamel colours and textures is wide and attractive.
The watch is handcrafted from 18-karat rose gold and powered by the self-winding UN-815 COSC-certified movement. It has a 42-hour power reserve and a 40mm dial that is water resistant to 50 meters.
Case material: 18ct rose gold with sapphire crystal case-back
Movement: In-house mechanical calibre UN-815
Power: Approximately 42 hours with self-winding
Water resistance: 50 meter / 5 ATM
Dial: Cloisonné Enamel
Strap: Leather strap
Ulysse Nardin Zheng He Treasure Boat Price € 39,800 or CHF 39,800
Ulysse Nardin produced a range of dial patterns in the Classico Enamel Cloisonné collection over the years.
The enamel cloisonné dial is one of the enamelling techniques aligned with watchmaking that almost died out were it not for a few artisans who survived the industry crises and trained newcomers in the resurgence of the noble art. By buying Donze Cadrans, Ulysse Nardin has ensured a reliable supply of grand feu (fired) enamel dials to continue in this specialised product.
Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)
Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web-zine.
He is also a moderator on PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelogue ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.
Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).