Review: Ancestral Art – The Chopard L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Rat

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

Chinese zodiac-themed watches are nothing new if you’ve been around the block. In the month leading up to every lunar new year, brands line up to present their artistic take on the zodiac watch. This is perhaps an indicator of how important the Asian market is to watch manufacturers, and how culturally important the Chinese zodiac is to people who celebrate lunar new year. Based on our observation, these Chinese zodiac watches tend to be a bit of a hit-or-miss in terms of appeal, and it matters who makes them. Some brands do a half-baked job and obviously just want to make a quick buck. Other brands, however, do a spectacular job – and this includes Chopard. Every lunar new year, Chopard honours Asian traditions by calling on the ancestral Japanese art of Urushi to create the dial of its L.U.C XP Urushi timepiece. When you combine ancient lacquer work with the very best that Chopard has to offer in watchmaking, you know you’re in for a treat. Here, we bring you the low-down on this year’s L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Rat, and our thoughts on what makes it so special.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

With the smaller wrists of Asian customers in mind, the case of the L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Rat is built to measure an elegant 39.5 mm in diameter and only 6.8 mm in height. Crafted in 18-carat rose gold, it features a polished bezel and vertically satin-brushed flanks. Other than the L.U.C logo on the crown, the case lacks embellishments and is fairly simple in design. This serves to highlight, instead, the handcrafted dial of the watch.

The case is relatively austere (compared to the dial), with a small crown bearing the L.U.C logo.

The dial of the L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Rat (and every single one of the brand’s previous Chinese zodiac pieces) is resplendent. Some background is necessary to fully appreciate the craftsmanship behind the dial. The ‘Urushi’ in the nomenclature of the timepiece refers to a tree, also known as the “lacquer tree” or the “Japanese varnish tree”, which actually grows in both Japan and China. The varnish used in the dial of the L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Rat comes from the sap of the Urushi tree. Its resin is harvested once a year in extremely small quantities. Only three to five years afterwards is the resin at last ready to be treated and thus become a highly resistant, honey-textured lacquer that is applied in extremely fine successive layers. The lacquer can be colored by addition of different minerals. For instance, black lacquer is created by adding iron, and red lacquer is created by adding ferric oxide and cinnabar.

The black lacquer dial is brought to life with the generous sprinkling of gold dust.

The dials were created through cooperation between Chopard and its partner company, Yamada Heinado, where the grand masters of Urushi, Minori Koizumi and Kiichiro Masumaro, exercise their craft.

Minori Koizumi has been a long time collaborator with Chopard in the making of the brand’s Urushi dials.

The scene on the dial depicts a golden rat, standing on an ear of corn, a symbol of abundance, and in front of a persimmon, a fruit that is picked in winter and represents longevity. It is facing a bouquet of flowers in the three lucky colours of its zodiac sign: blue, gold and green. Upon closer inspection, one will notice that the dial is also decorated with gold powder, sprinkled all over with varying density. This decorative technique is called maki-e (literally sprinkled picture) but more specifically taka-maki-e, or ‘raised maki-e’.

The three-dimensional quality of the lacquer work is one of the reasons why the painting looks so vivid.

Except for a pair of gilded dauphine hands to indicate the hours and minutes, there is nothing else on the dial. Not even the company marquee, as it is printed on the underside of the glare-proofed crystal. The only way the dial could potentially look better is if the company marquee was engraved on the case instead, so that it doesn’t obstruct the view of the dial.

The ‘Chopard’ inscription casts a shadow on the Urushi dial. That said, it is still tastefully executed and isn’t a big issue – not a deal-breaker by any means.

The Movement

Beating inside the L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Rat is a movement worthy of its exceptional dial. The 29-jewel Calibre L.U.C 96.17-L is developed, produced, and assembled in Chopard’s workshops. 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 Calibre L.U.C 96.17-L as seen through the sapphire crystal case back.

The finissage on the Calibre L.U.C 96.17-L 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.

Geneva waves aside, jewels, polished screw heads, and gold-filled engravings can be found on the surface of the bridges.

The Competitive Landscape

In our humble opinion, the Chopard L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Rat is one of the best Chinese zodiac-themed watches to surface this year. In fact, Chopard has been setting the standard for years. The L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Rat with its impeccable dial and solid movement will surely be a treat for connoisseurs of both art and watchmaking. Only 88 dials have been created for this limited series. The L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Rat retails for CHF23,860 which – as far as luxury watches are concerned – is fair. The burning question now is, how does the L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Rat fare against its competitors?

The L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Rat looks vibrant on the wrist and, given its dressy profile, will slide under any dress cuff with ease.

The first manufacturer that comes to mind is Blancpain. This year, the Le Brassus brand released an uber special timepiece for lunar new year: the Métiers d’Art Porcelaine Ref. 6124-1919-55B. Limited to only 8 pieces, the watch features the brand’s very first porcelain dial. What’s more amazing is that it’s entirely in-house. On the dial, of course, is the brand’s depiction of the rat for the Year of the Rat, executed with enamel painting. The diamond-set bezel and 33 mm case perhaps makes it more of a women’s timepiece in this day and age, but who’s keeping track anyway? The retail price of the stunning Métiers d’Art Porcelaine Ref. 6124-1919-55B is

Writing history: The Blancpain Métiers d’Art Porcelaine Ref. 6124-1919-55B – the first Blancpain timepiece with a porcelain dial.

A special mention goes to Panerai as well, as they finally complete their Chinese zodiac watch line-up. The brand has been celebrating the thousand-year tradition of the Chinese zodiac since 2009, which was the Year of the Ox. For this year, the new Luminor Sealand 44 mm was chosen as the canvas on which master engravers were to work their magic. A distinguishing feature of every Sealand, the decorated cover is hinged at 12 o’clock on the brush-finished AISI 316L steel case of the 44 mm model. The decoration of the cover is engraved by hand using the ancient art of sparsello. This technique is named after the tool, like a little scalpel, which is used to make incisions. These are then inlaid with gold threads which are then carefully hammered to fill the recesses. The whole procedure takes up to 50 hours to complete, per watch. Retailing at USD23,600, the Luminor Sealand 44mm Year of the Rat Limited Edition (88 pieces only) is priced virtually the same as the L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Rat.

An engraver working his sparsello on the cover of the Panerai Luminor Sealand 44mm Year of the Rat Limited Edition.

Final Thoughts

Chopard have shown in the past decade or so that when it comes to watchmaking, they mean business – and they have the accolades to show for it. The L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Rat is further evidence of the manufacture’s high standards and capabilities. The watch looks breathtaking in person and is bound to be a conversation starter (and a road hazard!). The technically robust and aesthetically pleasing movement is an assuring plus, as these types of watches tend to be fitted with basic workhorses. All in all, the L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Rat is exemplary in quality and priced reasonably for what it offers.

Close-up shot of the immaculately detailed Urushi dial.

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