New from Chopard L.U. C, using the traditional Chinese timekeeping system of Shí Chen, where a parade of zodiac animals is displayed across an aperture of the urushi dial. We review this new 88 piece limited edition watch, with a new complication in the L.U.C 96.29-L movement.
Along side the traditional zodiac sign urushi number which Chopard usually releases for the Chinese New Year, for 2021, they also released a new complication to keep the traditional Chinese timekeeping system of Shí Chen.
The traditional Chinese day is made up of 12 divisions called Shí Chen (时辰), each equaling our modern time interval of 2 hours. Each Shí Chen is given a name corresponding to the typical activity of that time. Each Shí is also associated with a corresponding Chinese zodiac animal. The first Shí Chen starts at 11pm and ends at 1am, and is known as Yè bān (夜班, literally night shift), corresponding to midnight is also represented by the rat, the first animal of the Chinese Zodiac. This stems from the belief that rats are most active during this period. Each subsequent Shí follows the 12 zodiac animals. The time scheme ends with the Pig at 9pm to 11pm, and the Horse is right in the middle at mid-day.
Retail price of the Chopard L.U.C XP Urushi Spirit of Shí Chen Ref. 161-5001 is SGD 52,400 inclusive of GST or USD 38,000 before taxes.
Review: Chopard L.U.C XP Urushi Spirit of Shí Chen
It may seem to most outside of the greater Chinese community that many horology maisons offer an increasing array of Chinese themed watches. Of course, this is just in response to the increasing demand of the Chinese market and the popularity of these themes.
As Chinese themed watches go, the L.U.C XP Urushi Spirit of Shí Chen is quite restrained in its visual design, with key elements being the urushi dial, and the rather large fan shaped aperture showing the Chinese zodiac animals.
The case, dial and hands
The case is a massive block of ethical 18kt rose gold, and is intended to be a talisman timepiece. The Chopard literature called it an allegory of beliefs related to the Chinese zodiac and luck. The case is a typical Chopard three piece case, with a polished bezel which is convex. The case middle is finished with a vertical satin-brush, including inter-horn space. The back bezel are also highly polished. The lugs seamlessly extend from the case middle, and probably soldered on.
The dial is where the entire aesthetic of this watch hangs. And on the Spirit of Shí Chen, the Japanese urushi lacquer is sprinkled with gold dust in a distinctive Maki-e technique, gold flakes sprinkled between the layers of lacquer. The effect is reminiscent of looking at the night sky, with the multitudes of stars shining over a dark background. The urushi is made in the workshops of the century-old Yamada Heiando company and crafted by Master lacquer specialist Minori Koizumi. This is the same urushi manufacture as with the one used by Chopard for the Year of the Ox and other zodiacs.
Polished applique markers – arrow shaped for 4, 5, 7, 8 and Arabic numerals for 3, 6, 9 balances the upper part which is a huge fan shaped frame with the aperture to display the zodiac animals. The frame sprouts from the center of the dial showing the embossed emblem of the god Lu Ying, who is one of the three deities – together with Fu Xing and Shou Xing – respectively dedicated to prosperity, happiness and longevity, symbolically summing up the characteristics of a full life. The entire dial remains rather simple and clean in design, despite that it is full of the symbolism.
Legibility in good light is excellent, but the lack of any luminous material on the dial elements mean that the dial is not visible in poor lighting. This is not a bad thing, as the L.U.C XP Urushi Spirit of Shí Chen is intended as a dress watch. The case at 40mm, with a thickness of 8.28 mm fits this purpose, as does the 30m water resistant rating.
The movement: L.U.C 96.29-L
The movement used is a new L.U.C 96.29-L calibre, which is an exclusive variation of the 96 family. Though new, the movement is a simple modification of the base in-house caliber 96. The modification is an additional element in the form of a disc which completes a full rotation in 24 hours, which is marked with the zodiac animals.
The movement is just 3.97 mm thick, and features the standard caliber 96 micro-rotor, now made with ethical 22k gold. The movement features two stacked barrels offering 65 hours of power autonomy when fully wound.
Movement finishing is typical of Chopard L.U.C series, which is to say its very good. All the standard haute horlogerie elements are well developed, though it certainly not the best we have seen in high end watches. As a comparison, Chopard’s sister Ferdinand Berthoud offers significant better finishing than any L.U.C movements, but also at a significant impact to the target pricing.
At SGD 52,400, the L.U.C XP Urushi Spirit of Shí Chen is set at a premium over the regular L.U.C Urushi series watches. As a comparison the Year of the Ox is retailing at SGD 34,000 which feature more intricate maki-e techniques, though the Ox does not feature the additional dial to show the Shí Chen timing, and is also not limited.
Blancpain Villeret Year of the Ox with the Traditional Chinese Calendar is perhaps the closest in spirit to this Chopard. It too features the Shí Chen in a sub-dial, but offers a far more complicated mechanism which also indicates the month of the Chinese calendar (12-month cycle), its date (30-day cycle) and the leap month indicator appear at 9 o’clock, while a 12 o’clock aperture reveals the zodiac sign of the year in progress (12-year cycle); and the moon phases are displayed at 6 o’clock.
The pricing initially seems to be a bit on the steep side, but compared to the only other piece to feature the Shí Chen – the Blancpain, it comes out looking at a bargain. Though to be fair, the Blancpain does include a whole load of additional complications.
We think this L.U.C XP Urushi Spirit of Shí Chen is a very attractive looking watch. The Chinese elements are well defined, but restrained in its implementation, so the overall aesthetic is still very sober and elegant.
The use of the Shí Chen timekeeping elements is a nice touch, and not one which is common. Which in our books is a good thing. A really good one. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
All photographs, except for two (noted as Chopard official press) of the L.U.C XP Urushi Spirit of Shí Chen was photographed at the Chopard Marina Bay Sands boutique with the Hasselblad H3D-39 with HC 4/120 Macro, HC 2.8/80 with and without H28 extension tube with Profoto strobes. Also, please note that the watch is a sale piece, and we were not able to remove the transparent cover to protect the finish.