Chopard Celebrates 2019 Lunar Year of the Pig with Japanese Lacquer Dial
Each year since 2013, Chopard issues a new ultra-thin L.U.C XP Urushi watch. The Japanese urushi lacquer zodiac series is an established anticipated collection with refinement, elegance, technique and aesthetic excellence. partnering with the Japanese imperial purveyors of lacquerware – Yamada Heian-Do – they are inspired by Oriental astrology to offer a fresh interpretation of Urushi art.
The latest addition to the L.U.C XP Urushi family – the L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Pig. To celebrate the upcoming Lunar New Year, Chopard has reimagined an enticing timepiece honouring next year’s East Asian zodiac animal – the Pig – headlining on the dial courtesy of the time proven Japanese art of Urushi. The East Asian zodiac is followed by Chinese, Korean and Japanese adherents.
Generosity Exalted by Artistic Crafts
The Pig in the 12-year Eastern Zodiac cycle is the 12th animal numbered by their order of arrival at Buddha’s deathbed before his departure from the world. The 12 animals that attended in the order: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.
Once again, Master Minori Koizumi has employed the Japanese art of Urushi to help construct the watch that marks the start of the traditional East Asian calendar’s Year of the Pig. Regarded as generous, perspicacious and fun-loving, this symbolic animal lends its cheerful face to an exceptional dress watch empowered by an ultra-thin L.U.C movement: Calibre 96.17-L.
The dial of this new 88-piece limited edition watch is entirely hand-crafted. It honours Asian culture by using the traditional Japanese lacquer technique known as Urushi.
The artwork depicts a golden pig (symbol of abundance) with a rotund belly (sign of joviality) appearing against a multicoloured forest background. As characterised in traditional East Asian zodiac, the pig is regarded as generous, sincere, hard-working and considerate. A Year of the Pig heralds expectations of successful exertions, as well as festivities.
- Urushi: Lacquer from the sap of the lacquer tree.
- Maki-e: “Sprinkled picture” artwork of painted lacquer, sprinkled with other substances like gold or silver or charcoal ash powder.
- Raden: mother-of-pearl chips or powder that is inlaid onto wet lacquer.
History of Urushi
Urushi is the sap of the urushi or lacquer tree that is native to Japan, China, and Korea. Some forms of lacquer sap also originate from Burma and Thailand. Lacquer sap contains a resin that polymerises and becomes a very hard, durable, plastic-like substance when it is exposed to moisture and air. Some people are sensitised and highly allergic to lacquer sap with skin reactions.
Tradition has it that urushi lacquer technology was introduced from China to Korea, and from there to Japan. There is evidence that Japan and other Asians used lacquer in ancient times as adhesive but the systematic multilayer application process is said to have developed in China. However, Japanese lacquerware has been discovered from the Jomon period (ca 10,500 – 300 BCE), as far back as the Stone Age, affording evidence that lacquer technology also developed independently in Japan.
Stone-age people used urushi sap to mount points on spears and arrows. The Japanese of the Jomon period discovered the durability and lustre of urushi for coating wood, pottery, baskets and bone objects. The introduction of Buddhism in Japan increased the importance of lacquer production because it was used on cloth for Buddhist images
As Japanese culture developed, lacquer techniques were applied to bowls, plates, trays, sake cups, boxes, combs and other objects. As Japanese civilization developed, lacquerware techniques incorporated increasingly refined styles. The Nara period (710 – 794 AD) saw the onset of maki-e decoration technique in which gold “dust” is sprinkled on the lacquer surface. Maki-e means “sprinkled picture”.
Urushi was used in Japanese craft and culture forms. Urushi bowls or plates are an essential part of formal Japanese haute cuisine – “kaiseki”. Maki-e and raden (mother-of-pearl inlay) techniques were used to decorate toys, furniture, writing implements and make-up accessories. Urushi is also used to make tools and utensils for the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
During the Heian Period (794 – 1185 AD), urushi appeared on Buddhist temple altars and for constructing armour, helmets, swords, and other military implements.
In the Muromachi period (1333 – 1573 AD), urushi was employed for making stationery such as ink-stone cases for court nobles.
During the Momoyama period (1573 – 1600 AD), maki-e was admired by one of the greatest unifiers of Japan – Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Maki-e started appearing in everyday objects for military commanders and the elite.
In the Edo period (1600-1868), personal accessories were decorated with urushi such as combs, bridal furniture, hair clips, pillboxes and medicine cases. This was the peak of development of maki-e technique.
Urushi in Europe
In 1549, Jesuit missionaries from Portugal arrived in Kagoshima Prefecture on the island of Kyushu. The Jesuits wanted to spread religion and establish trade. They were fascinated by Japanese lacquerware and commissioned craftsmen to make lacquer ritualistic utensils.
In 1609, the first Tokugawa shogun – Ieyasu – granted exclusive Japanese Lacquerware trading rights to the Dutch East India Company. In 1610, the first shipment of lacquer (boxes, chests and tables) arrived in Amsterdam. The Dutch were enthralled by the quality and beauty of Japanese lacquerware; they called it ‘japan’ like Chinese porcelain was called ‘china’.
Europeans attempted to unravel the secret behind Japanese lacquer technology. This led to a new word – “japanning”: to reproduce the amazing lustre of Japanese lacquer. The production of Japanese lacquerware for export was very limited and thus the cost in Europe was extremely high. Thus, “japanning” was tried in Europe. Willem Kick started Europe’s first japanning atelier in Amsterdam.
Techniques of Maki-e
Maki-e technique is exactly what it means literally: sprinkling gold and silver powders to make pictures – “maki” means ‘sprinkle’ and “e” means ‘picture’ – “sprinkled picture”.
A pre-drawn pattern is transferred to the dial base by reversing the paper and sketching the main lines with lacquer. This is then transferred to the dial by gentle, even pressure onto the surface of the paper.
The dial is painted with lacquer and then sprinkling metallic powders on top. Powders will stick to lacquer and grow hard. Metallic powders used include gold and silver, but also doré bullion (unrefined silver), brass and tin.
Another layer of lacquer seals the dial. After that, polishing and burnishing repeatedly done. The lacquers on the top and bottom layers fix the powders like a sandwich; the process is called “powder hardening”.
Maki-e, whether low, medium, or high relief, follows the abovementioned basic technique. Using cat and rat hair for fine brushes, any sector down to a hair-thin line can be painted. The best brush is a single rat hair…
Sometimes pigmented lacquer is applied as contrast or highlight to the overall design. This painstaking and repetitive procedure of application, curing, and polishing extended over weeks or even months.
At first glance, one is simply taken by the sheer beauty and exquisite finishing of this watch. The case is ‘eXtra Plat’ or extra flat at only 6.80mm thin with a diameter of 39.5mm for sheer elegance.
That alone justifies the US $26,500 (£19,900) price, notwithstanding the inherent value of its relevance to 1/12th of the world’s population who are born in the Year of the Pig. Or perhaps to that rare collector of zodiac watches who needs the full set!
Then, I come along to tell you that Yamada Heian-Do could produce about 20 dials a month, on average. The actual time depends on the complexity of design difficulty e.g. for an easy design: 30 pieces a month and for a difficult one: it may be 15 pieces a month! Thus, it would take nearly 5 months to complete 88 dials of this edition.
The full 12-year Zodiac cycle would take nearly 5 years of work, 365 days per year without stopping. Luckily, they have 12 years to spread out the work!
Guess what? My Zodiac animal is coming up soon in the L.U.C cycle and I’m all-a-quiver……
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Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)
Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web-zine.
He was former CEO of 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).