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Year of the Dragon: The Fiery Timepieces Giving Life to The Watchmaking World 

Year of the Dragon: The Fiery Timepieces Giving Life to The Watchmaking World 

12. March 2024

The Dragon is the fifth of the 12-year cycle of animals appearing in the Chinese calendar’s zodiac. It’s an important one, too. The Year of the Dragon is largely seen as one of the most powerful, lucky years in the Chinese zodiac, symbolising strength, fortune and success. From Shanghai to London’s Chinatown, people around the world recently celebrated the Lunar New Year. The watch world, too, geared up for the Year of the Dragon, with countless horology houses, from TAG Heuer to Vacheron Constantin, launching their own interpretations to honour the occasion –and let’s be honest, what better way to capture the ever more important Asian market? After scrutinising everything from artistic finesse to technical ingenuity, here are Swisswatches’ fiery top picks coming in hot for dragon-related horological fun.

Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Grisaille High Jewellery Dragon

A maestro of enamel painting, manufacture Vacheron Constantin and its Les Cabinotiers Grisaille High Jewellery Dragon demonstrate the finest traditional craftsmanship found in the luxury Swiss watch industry today. The watch is one of several models comprising the Les Cabinotiers – Récits de Voyages collection, which aims to ‘discover the world and its wonders in the spirit of openness that has characterised Vacheron Constantin since its origins’. China and its ancestral culture play a role in several of the Les Cabinotiers – Récits de Voyages models – with this Dragon edition being one of them. Indeed, the first commercial contacts between Vacheron Constantin and China were already forged in the mid-19th century, making it a long-important destination for the manufacture. Accordingly, this high jewellery piece pays tribute to China’s mythical five-clawed imperial dragon, representing power, nobility, and fortune.

For this special watch, Vacheron Constantin’s master artisan devised a new grisaille enamelling technique to enhance the dial. The unique art of grisaille involves applying layers of a rare white enamel powder, known as Limoges whiteto a dark enamel base. Usually, the process concludes with the enameller applying a final layer of lapped translucent enamel – but Vacheron’s enameller went down a new route, adding a final layer of green tint to the translucent enamel in order to add a more ethereal aesthetic to this artistic watch. 

Another first for Vacheron is the combination of grisaille and gem-setting, with the watch and strap buckle flaunting no less than 146 (or 7.1 carats) of diamonds in total. In a final feat, the 40 x 8.9 mm white-gold timepiece integrates the ultra-thin calibre 1120, respectively realising a height of only 2.45 mm. First introduced way back in 1968, the movement was reintroduced in 2010 to feature the brand’s distinctive 18-carat gold oscillating weight in the shape of the emblematic Maltese cross, in turn achieving the higher 40-hour power reserve. Bearing the prestigious Hallmark of Geneva, the calibre 1120 is highly decorated with Geneva stripes, circular graining, chamfering, and straight-grained flanks. A true emblem of high watchmaking.

Speake Marin Dragon Art Series

Alas, every version appears to be already sold out – but that doesn’t mean one cannot thoroughly appreciate Speake Marin’s edgy Dragon edition watches, which comprise part of the horology house’s Art Series. Speake Marin created three 42 mm models with variously coloured dials (grey, red, or gold) housed in a titanium grade 5 case. Honing in on the horology house’s penchant for engraving techniques and design, a carefully crafted golden dragon sits atop each of the dials, while a heart-shaped hour hand adds to the storybook feel of these rather alternative yet majestic titanium timepieces. As can be seen via the sapphire crystal caseback, the watch is powered by the finely decorated calibre SMA03 with micro-rotor. It offers a solid power reserve of 52 hours and beats at a frequency of 4 Hz. 

Longines Flagship Heritage Year of the Dragon

Working alongside renowned Chinese artist Zinan Lam, Longines has dreamt up a special Flagship Heritage Year of the Dragon edition. It features a handsome red gradient domed dial that harmonises beautifully with the golden moonphase – and it’s really the colour scheme that makes this watch so outstanding. Nonetheless, this dragon watch is certainly a more restrained tribute to the Year of the Dragon than many of the lively pieces out there, with the only overt visual reference appearing in the form of a dragon engraving on the solid caseback. With 888 pieces available, its limitation reflects Chinese numerology’s notion of 8 signifying great fortune, wealth, and spiritual enlightenment, while 888 symbolises triple fortune. Powering this auspicious timepiece is the Longines calibre L899.5, a magnetic-resistant movement that prides itself on its precision and solid 72-hour power reserve.

Breguet Classique 5345

Alongside a gorgeous Classique 7145 (well worth looking up, by the way), Breguet marked the Lunar New Year with the launch of a phenomenal complicated timepiece, the platinum Classique 5345. Featuring a double tourbillon mounted onto a rotating mainplate indicating the hours, the two tourbillons work independently of each other with their own gear train and barrel. These two-barrel bridges connect the star of the show: the dragon. Eagle-eyed aesthetes will notice that its claws hold a pearl, which in turn symbolises the pursuit of wisdom and power.

The stunning level of craftsmanship and horological savoir-faire continues onto the open caseback and the movement, where Breguet flexes its famed artisanal muscles in the field of finishing. The plate of the hand-wound calibre 588N1, consisting of a whopping 749 components, is decorated with guilloché and hand-engraved motifs, reminiscent of features found in traditional Chinese landscape paintings.

IWC Portugieser Chronograph Year of the Dragon

At first glance, this limited-edition’s seductive burgundy colour coupled with gold hour markers and slim, elongated hands obviously steals the show. Its colour combination, by the way, is frequently used at weddings and various festivals to represent joy, passion, and – you guessed it – luck. However, the real highlight of the IWC Portugieser Ref. IW371626 is nestled away beneath the sapphire crystal caseback: a gold-plated rotor, specially metamorphosed into the shape of a dragon for this limited edition.

Inside the sporty yet elegant timepiece ticks the calibre 69355, an automatic chronograph movement with column wheel, offering hours, minutes, and chronograph with a 30-minute counter and small hacking seconds. Thanks to the commemorative rotor, this is surely the most handsome variant of the calibre in existence – hence its limitation to 1,000 pieces.   

Hublot Spirit of the Big Bang Titanium Dragon 

As one might well expect, Hublot went for a rather contemporary spin to mark the Year of the Dragon. Featuring a masculine 42 mm Big Bang titanium case in combination with a playful pink, blue and grey colour palette, the watch draws its inspiration from the work of Chinese paper artist Chen Fenwan. A graduate of the printmaking department of Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, Fenwan’s works ‘lie in the language of paper, bringing imagination of narrative on flexible materials, usually with a large scale and multi-dimensional pieces.’ Accordingly, the dial on Hublot’s Spirit of the Big Bang Titanium Dragon watch applies individually cut pieces, in combination with cleverly integrated movement components, on top of each other to bring the dragon to life. 

The movement inside is the simple yet reliable HUB1710, offering hours, minutes, seconds, and typically date – although the latter has been omitted in this model to avoid cluttering the artistic dial. Of equal note is the fabulous strap, which takes a full eight hours to create, and consists of colourful layers evoking dragon scales. The Hublot watch is the perfect example of how to espouse modern art and traditional watchmaking in the 21stcentury. 

TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph 

This tempting limited edition of only 50 pieces comes in 18-carat 5N rose gold, showcasing a handsome colour palette that includes a matching rose gold-plated sunray dial, red ‘azuré’ subdial counters, and a red central seconds hand. The small seconds perch at 6 o’clock, as does a neatly integrated date window. A beige dragon motif features on the sapphire crystal caseback. Powering this highly aesthetic piece is the trusty in-house calibre Heuer 02 Automatic, commonly found in the main Carrera Chronograph collection and offering an excellent 80-hour power reserve and frequency of 4 Hz. 

Blancpain Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar 

Back in 2012, Blancpain debuted its first Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar watch, spanning from East to West with its complex Chinese Calendar, Gregorian date, and moonphase. Now, twelve years later, Blancpain is treating us to a new limited edition with the same grand complication. 

A visual feast for the eyes comprised of a green grand feu enamel dial, red-gold case, and Chinese characters, this 2024 edition is a wonderful feat in the realm of horological design. Limited to 50 pieces, the watch displays the Chinese calendar using four dedicated hands, a window for the Zodiac, and a window for the leap month. Together these set out the Chinese hours (120 minutes in length); the 60-year cycle of the elements and Yin/Yang; the 12-year cycle of the Zodiac; the Chinese days, month and leap months. The Gregorian date is indicated via a traditional serpentine hand, while the classic moonphase sits at six o’clock.

Powering the watch is the automatic calibre 3638, which was no less than five years in the making. Comprising of 464 individual components arranged over six layers, the ultra-complicated three-mainspring barrel movement achieves a seven-day power reserve. Given its complexity, it comes as no surprise that this magnificent watch has a substantial 45.2 mm diameter and height of 15.1 mm. What an absolute masterpiece. 

Piaget Altiplano High Jewellery Dragon

In recent months, the Year of the Dragon took central stage (at least until the introduction of the phenomenal Polo 79) at Piaget  in the form of dragon and phoenix-themed brooches, ear cuffs, and a pair of cloisonné enamel watches. All of these stunning pieces were created in collaboration with the world’s most famous enameller, Anita Porchet. Amongst them, the watch that concerns us: the 41 mm Altiplano High Jewellery Dragon watch.

Porchet has lent her expertise to Piaget to mark several Lunar Years. This particular ‘dragon’ model, however, stands out for its fine paillonné enamelwork complemented by a gold-engraved, highly detailed dragon. A limited edition of a mere eight pieces (the symbolism of the limitation number won’t be lost on you by this point), the dragon is surrounded by stunning sunburst engraving. The dragon itself is highly detailed, featuring red lacquered eyes and clasping a mystical black opal fireball in its claws. 

Ever one to impress, Piaget tops off this fantastical 46.5 mm watch with an equally impressive calibre: the historic inhouse, ultra-thin, hand-wound 830P movement. With Piaget long specialising and triumphing in the field of ultra-thin watches, it comes at no surprise that despite its mere 2.5 mm height, the calibre offers a concrete 60-hour power reserve while beating at a frequency of 3 Hz. As is to be expected, it also flaunts beautiful traditional finishing, from blued screws, circular Côtes de Genève, a circular-grained mainplate and bevelled bridges to an engraved Piaget coat-of-arms. 

I cannot resist also briefly mentioning the exquisite and every-inch-Piaget Emperador piece, showcasing a design that flows from the dial onto the case with a gold-engraved dragon alongside snow-set sapphires and diamonds, each painstakingly set in graduation, evoking a twinkling, starry blue sky. Equally extraordinary from a technical perspective, this timepiece integrates a flying tourbillon which, alongside the micro-rotor, is visible via the dial. Not an everyday piece, of course, but certainly a piece of art for the wrist that should go down in horological history. 

JLC Reverso Tribute Enamel Dragon

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso Tribute models have long served a secondary purpose as the canvas for the fully integrated manufacture’s enamel artists, with its most stunning examples recreating the likes of Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa,  Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait as a Painter, and even a part of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch [De Nachtwacht]

Jaeger-LeCoultre recently released the Reverso Tribute Enamel ‘Dragon’ in honour of the Zodiac sign, marking our final piece on this journey through the most exquisite pieces dedicated to this special Lunar Year. Created in the integrated manufacture’s esteemed Métiers Rares, home to five enamellers, JLC’s master enameller employed a technique called ‘modelled engraving’ to create the dragon, which is surrounded by clouds.

This involves using ten differently sized chisels to sculpt the rose-gold case material – a craft that requires talent, practice, and, of course, the utmost dexterity. The golden dragon glows against a glossy black Grand Feu enamel background, requiring five layers of enamel and eight hours of work. The dragon’s body catches the light with polished surfaces, while its scales are hand-drawn with black rhodium. Meanwhile, the texture of the clouds is sandblasted in order to enhance an illusion of movement, power, and light.

This final Swiss mechanical timepiece paying homage to the Year of the Dragon is proof of the manufacture’s passionate belief that craftsmanship and artistry go hand in hand – and perhaps more importantly, embodies the ongoing cultural exchange that has existed between Asia and Europe for over 2,000 years. 

Chopard L.U.C. XP Urushi Year of the Dragon

The L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Dragon from Chopard is yet another emblem of a horology house’s artisanal prowess. Limited to a mere 88 pieces, each watch bears a unique dial produced in the workshops of the Yamada Heiando company and crafted by master artist Minori Koizumi. Koizumi’s mastery of the delicate 1,200-year-old ‘Maki-e’ technique, meaning ‘sprinkled picture’, breathes life into the dragon that adorns the dial. The harmonious aesthetic is achieved through an interplay of urushi gold lacquer, gold powder, and mother-of-pearl inlays.

Housed in ethical 18-carat rose gold, the 39.5 mm watch houses the in-house L.U.C 96.17-L calibre, which is well-regarded thanks to its precision and reliability. Additionally, the watch boasts a slender 6.80mm height thanks to the slim 3.30 mm-high movement, which is adorned with intricate Cotes de Genève and perlage finishes visible via the sapphire crystal caseback. With a power reserve of 65 hours and a micro-rotor adorned with the iconic L.U.C logo, the L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Dragon embodies Chopard’s expertise in not only the horological field, but also its command of artistry and craftsmanship.

Glashütte Original Panolnverse “Dragon”

The Saxon precision watchmaker Glashütte Original stands for exquisite timepieces made in Germany. It was therefore almost natural for them to take up the challenge of creating a particularly elaborately hand-decorated and strictly limited work of art for the Year of the Dragon. The caseback of the special edition of the Panolnverse is adorned with a hand-engraved dragon, whose scaled dragon’s tail elegantly winds around the hours, minutes, small seconds and power reserve displays on the dial side. The fiery red eyes shimmer in the form of rubies.

The manufacture hand-wound calibre 66-13 is mounted in an inverted position, allowing the pulsating balance wheel to be admired on the front. The hand-engraved butterfly bridge appears to float freely in the 42 mm red gold case. Only 25 pieces will be available worldwide exclusively in Glashütte Original boutiques.