November 20, 2013
Switzerland’s Vacheron Constantin is targeting affluent Chinese watch enthusiasts with an ultra-exclusive timepiece series that celebrates the Chinese New Year Feb. 1.
Vacheron’s Metiers d’Art Legend of the Chinese Zodiac watches fete the start of the Year of the Horse. The watches incorporate elements of Chinese culture to create a timepiece of significant value in terms of local customs and horology.
"Incorporating a country's culture depends on the country," said Al Ries, founder and chairman of Ries & Ries, a Roswell, GA-based marketing strategy consultancy.
"Chinese culture is thousands of years old and certain cultural events and ideas are extremely important to Chinese consumers," he said.
"America is different. I don't see consumers spending thousands of dollars for a watch with the Statute of Liberty engraved on its face or any other American symbol."
Mr. Ries is not affiliated with Vacheron Constantin, but agreed to comment as an industry expert.
Vacheron Constantin was unable to comment directly.
Welcoming the new year
Vacheron’s Metiers d’Art Legend of the Chinese Zodiac: Year of the Horse watch series is only available in China at the watchmaker’s boutiques. The Year of the Horse pieces join the larger Metiers d'Art Legend of the Chinese Zodiac collection.
The Year of the Horse watches, available in pink gold and platinum, are limited to 24-pieces, 12 of each metal. With such exclusivity, in terms of quantity and location, the Metiers d’Art Legend of the Chinese Zodiac watches will likely to be sought after by collectors and enthusiasts alike.
Metiers d’Art Legend of the Chinese Zodiac: Year of the Horse
Watchmakers sought to capture the “lively and independent spirit” of the horse by incorporating elements of Chinese culture. The watch face features a motif of leaves and bamboo, common imagery in Chinese folklore, that stand out from the face due to its semi-embedded, stage-setting technique that creates a depth effect.
The work of Vacheron’s enamellers and engravers on the watch’s face embodies Switzerland’s paper-cutting art called Scherenschnitt. The technique used symbolizes the connection between Swiss artisans and the Chinese art of paper-cutting called Jianzhi.
The Year of the Horse watch in pink gold and bronze enamel
To create the intensity of the blue or bronze dial, the enamelers used a Swiss-invented technique called Grand Feuenamelling. During this technique the enamel is applied in layers at a high kiln temperature of approximately 1,472 degrees Fahrenheit with a final layer added before the last firing to create its shiny finish.
Interestingly, the Year of the Horse watch does not feature hand dials as to not crowd the horse motif. Instead, the watch has a hands-free display with four small windows that reveal the hour, minute, date and day of the week.
The watch is fit with a Calibre 2460 G4 and beats at a rate of 28,800 vibrations per hour.
Finding common ground
Subtle nods to another culture can attract a specific demographic of consumers if it is rooted in a brand’s own history.
For instance, Italian jeweler Bulgari encouraged affluent consumers to visit its New York flagship store with a month-long retrospective that highlighted the history of the Serpenti line during Chinese New Year and the Year of the Snake.
The display was created by French artist and designer Fabien Illou who has worked with Bulgari since 2008 with pieces curated by jewelry historian Marion Fasel (see story).
In addition, Rolls-Royce is celebrating the Chinese Zodiac Year of the Horse in 2014 with a bespoke “Majestic Horse Collection” that features Ghost models and draws on traditional art.
Although the collection will be available to consumers around the world, it is hard to imagine that the demand from other countries will match the demand brewing in China. The collection is also emblematic of a 103 percent surge in bespoke commissions from the year-ago period in China and likely indicates that these numbers will continue to rise (see story).
Pieces with a limited sphere of relevancy can become treasured by consumers chasing rarity.
"I think the Year of the Horse watches will appeal to Chinese consumers," Mr. Ries said.
"The limited availability is also helpful in generating demand," he said. "The 12-year cycle is very important in China.
"Buying a watch with the Year of the Horse motif might be especially attractive for a consumer to mark next year, perhaps the year he was going to be married."
Jen King, editorial assistant on Luxury Daily, New York