The great advantage of dials with an animal theme is that they lend themselves to any number of interpretations. A monkey may be a figure of fun, but he is also clever. The pig, while associated with dirt in Europe, has other connotations in Asia. Animals are symbols, totems. And if they belong to a certain brand then that brand also, in a way, starts to belong to them. This is how some creatures, whether fierce or furtive, have become indissociably linked with the world of watches. Perhaps the most famous of these symbiotic relationships is the one that binds Cartier to its panther. It should therefore come as no surprise that the jeweller should have chosen the panther as its theme of the year. The panther may be astral, playful or Arctic, but it always retains its inscrutable demeanour: silent, mysterious and serene.
Cvstos is venturing into the domain of women’s watches. The Re-Belle Papillon Diamond features a sculpted butterfly delicately alighting on a white mother-of-pearl background, with three more butterflies scattered around the dial.
Van Cleef & Arpels also give pride of place to the butterfly. In the Lady Arpels Papillon Automate, an animated butterfly takes the starring role. The same creature also features in a second piece that is much more than a simple scene on a dial.
The Automate Fée Ondine is a composition that takes the concept of animated figures on a watch dial, a feature of watchmaking since the 19th century, to a new level. A ladybird indicates the hour, and a butterfly sips nectar from a lotus flower, watched by a large fairy made of gold and precious stones, which wakes up and moves. This fantastical creature required an equally fantastical amount of work behind the scenes. Its fluid movements are governed by the kind of cutting-edge mechanical techniques that have long been a feature of artistic crafts watches.
But if there is one theme that continues to fascinate watchmakers, it’s the zodiac. The Chinese zodiac, with its rich symbolism, holds a mirror to Chinese culture. In this year of the Rooster, Ulysse Nardin has unveiled a cockerel in engraved cloisonné enamel, in a Classico case. Ulysse Nardin’s rooster is by no means alone in the watchmaking farmyard, and more than one cock fight can be expected.
>Cartier was attentive to how guys, interested in, let’s call them, ‘the better watches’, were educated about timepieces, than the average Cartier customer was and these men were also more interested in the quality of the moves. That led to 1998 at the launch of the, in the male consumer targeted, ‘Collection Privée, Cartier Paris’ series. An assortment of limited edition and restricted produced watches, housed in Cartier’s classic cases such as the Santos, Tank, Tortue, but more significant, powered by high end mechanical calibers made by famous watch brands, such as Cartier.Piaget, JLC, Frederique Piguet, Gerald Genta and many others all delivered these quality calibers with this top of the line series. The excellent finishing of the moves, was done by Cartier and has been visible through the back, since many of the models had a glass to find the movement. A characteristic that has been pretty unusual at that time. Collection Privée was too limited in quantities to be a real achievement, because many of the models were only produced in 100 pieces, while Cartier had finished 200 brand Boutiques at that moment. An individual would expect that my WIS (View Idiot Savant) buddies at the GTG meetings would be exited about the pieces I showed, but that was only partly true, since another trend was popular among those men; ‘in-house movements’. A grail watch needed to have an in-house movement to be the real thing (deal).During that the Collection Privée interval, 1998 — 2008, Cartier frequently faced problems in getting all the parts in their providers and it often happened that a watch has been released later than planned, because of the fact that some parts were not available in time, to complete the watch.
The zodiac of western astrology is equally popular, although astrology carries far less weight in this part of the world. In a purely horological context, however, it represents an amazing complication. In astronomical watches – and there are plenty to choose from this year – the challenge of depicting the night sky is an invitation to any number of artistic representations of the zodiac. Vacheron Constantin has tackled the challenge with aplomb. The Métiers d’Art Copernic Sphères Célestes uses an engraved sapphire disc coated with a luminescent substance to represent the twelve signs in the form of fantastical animals. These large translucent figures – crab, scorpion, lion, centaur, etc. – fill almost the entire dial.