New: Chopard L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Ox – a hands-on review

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Chopard ushers in the upcoming (Feb 12) Chinese New Year with the L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Ox. We got a sneak peek at the new watch, and bring you this review.

Review: Chopard L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Ox

Retail price is SGD 34,000 inclusive of GST / USD 24,600.

Each year since 2013, Chopard has dedicated a L.U.C Haute Horlogerie timepiece to the concurrent symbol in the Chinese zodiac. The concept is invariably developed on the basis of the ultra-thin L.U.C XP watches; graced with a dial featuring the Urushi technique of Maki-e combining lacquer and gold powder; always features a highly symbolic setting; and always produced as an 88-piece limited series. In 2021, they present the L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Ox.

Chopard’s new urushi piece depicts a scene which evokes the nature of the ox in its habitat ancestral toil, humble prosperity and elegance. The Year of the Ox is a symbolic year conducive to harvests and wisdom, this is a 88-piece limited series. This follows the Chopard Year of the Rat released in 2020.

The Year of the Ox will begin on February 12th 2021 and end on January 31st 2022. An Earth sign, symbol of the twelfth lunar month, the ox represents a period conducive to both nature and agriculture. This benevolent animal ensures the prosperity of the soil and the crops, the success of which depend on a peaceful climate.

The case, dial and hands

The 39.5mm case (nominally 40mm) is 6.9mm thick, and presents itself as a rather slim watch in ethical 18k rose gold, is the same as the one used in the Year of the Rat L.U.C Urushi piece. This typical sleek case of the XL, adorned with long horns is water resistant to 30m is sculptured from a block of 18k rose gold sourced from an ethical supply chain pioneered by Chopard.

As usual, the highlight is in the urushi dial, and the motif it depicts. It is interesting that the motif is one where the ox is at work, pulling a cart. Traditional Chinese may prefer a resting ox, symbolizing respite and enjoyment after a day’s labour. But the imagery chosen by Chopard is one where the ox is working in a luxurious environment, pulling what seems to be a magnificently and lavishly decorated cart. The Chopard literature mentions that the motif recognises the value of manual labour in the broadest sense of the term. And a time of appeasement and thus wisdom, optimism, restraint and dialogue.

The urushi work is carried out by the same laquer master as with the earlier renditions – Master Minori Koizumi of the Yamada Heiando company. The house of Yamada Heiando as founded in 1919, more than a century ago, and continues to carry the Royal Warrant of the Japanese Emperor, and have been serving all the lacquerware in the Imperial household for the last 90 years.

Master lacquer artist Minori Koizumi of the Yamada Heiando company.

The lacquer work is done by the traditional Maki-e technique. This is a tedious and time consuming process requiring great skill with the images captured between layers of lacquer drawn from the sap of the Toxicodendron vernicifluum tree. The tree’s sap is tapped by cutting horizontal lines on the trunk of a tree which is at least 10 years old. The greyish yellow sap is collected, filtered, heat treated and coloured. It is then applied to a base material to be lacquered. In this case the base dial material, which Chopard does not state, but typically this would be brass. Layers upon layers are applied to the base, and cured between each application. The curing requires drying in a warm, humid chamber for 12 to 24 hours where the urushiol in the sap polymerizes to form a clear, hard and waterproof surface. In its liquid state, usushiol is an skin irritant, and can cause extreme rashes. But once hardened, it is quite inert.

The dial has gold elements provided by gold flakes which illuminate a background. The ox is golden, and made with gold foil and is featured with straight horns and an abundant coat, harnessed to a wagon. The rest of the scene is made of gold, mother-of-pearl and coloured lacquer to convey both agricultural symbolism and the more subtle imagery of the Emperor.

Gold Dauphine hands are used to indicate the hours and minutes, and the dial is otherwise “mysterious” without any hour or minute markings. The hours and minutes are read by the relative positioning of the hands. The Chopard logo floats over the entire dial, and is printed on the underside of the sapphire glass.

The overall look is very elegant, and though rather “blingy” with the amount of gold present, is able to somehow present itself as restrained and subdued.

The movement – L.U.C 96.17-L

The 29-jewel Calibre L.U.C 96.17-L is bests inside the case, developed, produced, and assembled in Chopard’s workshops. This is the same movement used in last year’s Year of the Rat Urushi XL. The self-winding movement has 65 hours of power reserve, which sounds even more impressive when you factor in the fact that the movement is only 3.3 mm thick, and that it beats at a modern 4 Hz. This is thanks to the brand’s ‘Twin Technology’, a patented Chopard technology involving the combination of two coaxial mainspring barrels.

The finissage on the Calibre L.U.C 96.17-L is typical of Chopard, which is to say it is beautifully executed. The top surface of the bridges is adorned with Geneva waves, while its edges have been beveled and polished. The most eye-catching part of the movement has to be the 22-carat gold mini-rotor which is polished and decorated with a sunray pattern emanating from its centre of rotation.

The sample watch we photographed is a sale piece, and we did not remove the protective transparent film over the sapphire case back.

Competitive Landscape

The usual suspects for Chinese New Year Zodiac watches will present their own versions. At publication time, the other usual suspects have not yet presented their Year of the Ox watches, but we expect to see versions from Panerai and Jaquet Droz.

The other regular contributor to the genre is Blancpain, and they presented the Villeret Calendrier Chinois Traditionnel (SGD 121,500). The Blancpain’s Chinese Calendar is a very special complication that packs a punch. However it occupies a different landscape as it does not feature a Métiers d’Art, much less a traditional Japanese artform.

Chopard has kept the Year of the Ox at an even keel with their Year of the Rat offering at about SGD 34,000.

Concluding thoughts

Chopard has once again proven that they have the chops to make a magnificent time piece, befitting the occasion of the new Chinese Year. The L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Ox is evidence of the manufacture’s high standards of artistry and technical capabilities. The watch is beautiful, and the slim case is ultimately very wearable as a dress watch.

Photo Notes

Photographed in-situ at the Chopard MBS Boutique with the Hasselblad H3D-39 with HC 4/120 Macro, HC 2.8/80, with and without the H28 extension tubes. Lighting is provided by Profoto strobes.

L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Ox specifications

88-piece limited edition in 18-carat ethical rose gold

Ref. 161902-5071 – in 18-carat ethical rose gold with special Year of the Ox dial.

Case: 18-carat ethical rose gold
Total diameter: 39.50 mm
Thickness: 6.80 mm
Water resistance 30 metres
18-carat ethical rose gold crown with L.U.C logo 4.00 mm
Vertical satin-brushed sides and inter-horn space
Polished bezel and case-back
Glare-proofed sapphire crystal
Exhibition case-back

Movement:
Mechanical self-winding L.U.C 96.17-L
Winding via a 22-carat ethical gold micro-rotor
Total diameter: 27.40 mm
Thickness: 3.30 mm
Number of jewels: 29
Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 65 hours
Two stacked barrels, based on Chopard Twin technology
Bridges adorned with Côtes de Genève motif

Dial and hands:
Dial hand-crafted in Japan using the Urushi lacquer technique with a special Year of the Ox motif
Gilded Dauphine-type hours and minutes hands

Functions and displays:
Central display of the hours and minutes

Strap and buckle:
Hand-sewn black alligator leather strap
Polished 18-carat ethical rose gold pin buckle

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