Like sports watches, Chinese zodiac watches – to a some extent – are one of luxury watchmaking’s most persistent trends. With each passing year, an increasing number of brands hop onto the bandwagon to present a piece of their own. Meanwhile, for brands like Chopard, the Chinese zodiac watch is nothing new. Since 2013, Chopard has dedicated a watch in its high-end L.U.C collection to the sign of each Chinese zodiac year. With the L.U.C XP ultra-thin model serving as the canvas, the celebratory piece has always been adorned using the ancient Urushi Maki-e technique and systematically produced in a culturally-relevant 88-piece limited series.
Chopard L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Tiger
In 2022, specifically at the end of January, we waved goodbye to the Year of the Ox and ushered in the Year of the Tiger. As it has been for the past 9 years, Chopard celebrates Chinese New Year with the addition of its latest Chinese zodiac watch to the L.U.C collection. Here, we bring you the details and our thoughts on the new L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Tiger.
The Case, Dial, and Hands
The case of the L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Tiger is crafted from ethical gold which Chopard uses in all of its watches and jewelry. Measuring 39.5 mm in diameter and 6.8 mm in thickness, the case is delightfully thin and dressy. In spite of the simple design, it is immaculately finished, with the bezel and case back polished to a sheen and the flanks and inter-horn space vertically satin-brushed for contrast. The slim bezel serves to accentuate the dial which, unquestionably, is the star of the show.
True to tradition, Chopard collaborates with master lacquer artist Minori Koizumi who crafts the dials using the ancestral Urushi lacquer technique. Using the Maki-e technique, gold flakes – placed between layers of lacquer made from the urushiol-rich sap of the Toxicodendron vernicifluum tree – illuminates the background featuring a tiger perched above a bay surrounded by cliffs, set against a starry night sky. There are no unnecessary distractions on the dial that undermines its beauty. Apart from a pair of classic dauphine hands required to tell time and the tasteful ‘Chopard’ inscription on the sapphire crystal, nothing else impedes the breathtaking sight of the dial.
Driving the L.U.C Urushi XP Year of the Tiger is the tried and tested, 29-jewel Calibre L.U.C 96.17-L. This is the same movement used in every Chopard Chinese zodiac watch since the Year of the Snake in 2013. At only 3.3 mm thick, the movement is impressively thin. This is thanks, in part, to the use of a micro-rotor (rather than a full central rotor) that sits level with the bridges of the movement. The Calibre L.U.C 96.17-L has two mainspring barrels, stacked in accordance to Chopard’s Twin Technology. They provide 65 hours of power reserve when fully wound, which is commendable for an automatic watch and corresponds perfectly to a long weekend off the wrist.
As we have come to expect consistently from L.U.C movements, the Calibre L.U.C 96.17-L is beautifully finished. A look through the sapphire crystal case back says it all. The bridges feature Geneva waves on the top surface and edges that have been beveled and polished. There are plenty of rounded angles to be found, but also several sharp, outward angles. The 22-carat gold micro-rotor is stamped with a sunburst pattern and the L.U.C logo. The screws that secure the bridges are polished while the main plate is decorated with perlage. Suffice to say, the L.U.C Urushi XP Year of the Tiger is as gorgeous from the front as it is from the back.
The Competitive Landscape
The Chinese zodiac watch segment of luxury watchmaking gets more crowded every year. That said, few can match Chopard at their game. The L.U.C Urushi XP Year of the Tiger remains one of the most evocative specimens in the market, and one of the most competitively priced. Available only in rose gold and limited to 88 pieces, the watch is priced at CHF25,400.
Another brand that has produced an outstanding Chinese zodiac watch this year is Piaget, with the Altiplano Chinese New Year of the Tiger 2022. The piece features a depiction of a tiger in cloisonné grand feu enamel, crafted by master enameller Anita Porchet. The case is set with no fewer than 78 brilliant-cut diamonds totaling approximately 0.71 ct. The 38 mm watch is produced in a limited edition of only 38 pieces and is priced at SGD102,000.
Ulysse Nardin has also opted for the enameling route for their Chinese zodiac piece. Since the acquisition of Donzé Cadrans in 2011, Ulysse Nardin has continued to be a powerhouse in the production of enameled dials. The Classico Tiger is further evidence of this notion. Using two centuries-old methods of enameling (namely champlevé and paillonné enameling), the artist’s sketch is brought to life. Unlike the Chopard, the dial of the Classico Tiger is fitted with hour markers and even a seconds hand. While this does mean that the visage of the Classico Tiger isn’t as pure as it could be, it does make time-telling more precise. The Classico Tiger is available in a limited edition of 88 pieces. It is, however, a pricier affair compared to the Chopard, at CHF40,600.
Chopard Chinese zodiac watches continue to impress, this year in the form of the L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Tiger. The watch is very competitively priced in its category, offering superior quality relative to its asking price. Importantly, Chopard manages to stand out with urushi where most of its competitors opt for enameling or engraving in their Chinese zodiac pieces.