Many watchmakers have paid tribute to the dragon this year, but few with the panache of Swiss brand Parmigiani, whose Dragon and the Pearl of Wisdom is the latest addition to its Tempus fugit collection. The piece tells the ancient Chinese tale of a carp struggling upriver to reach the emperor before being transformed into an imperial dragon. Rich with symbolism, the automaton is also just plain rich: The CHF 3.5 million ($3.8 million) price accounts not only for the 14k gold, sterling silver, jade, rubies, carnelian, and rock crystal used in the piece, but also for its craftsmanship. “It took 22 artisans more than one year [and] 6,000 work hours,” sales director Flavien Gigandet said at January’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva.
The Great Chase
The Dragon and the Pearl of Wisdom builds upon a tradition that flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the Swiss created exquisitely decorated mechanical curiosities for the emperors of the Qing dynasty. In this case, the dragon makes one revolution around the base per hour as it chases the pearl, which moves six times per hour. “The automaton mechanism rings every time the pearl is about to shift,” Gigandet said.
The body of an imperial dragon is said to be made of nine animals: the horns of a deer, head of a camel, eyes of a devil, neck of a snake, belly of a mollusk, scales of a carp, claws of an eagle, paws of a tiger, and ears of an ox. Here, the mythical beast’s body is rendered in a chiseled cast of sterling silver covered in 468 scales of 14k gold inlaid with natural jade, in colors from red to white to green. “Each scale is unique,” Gigandet said.
In Chinese mythology, dragons are often pictured with a pearl tucked beneath their chins “to represent complete, perfect wisdom,” Gigandet said. In this parable of perseverance, however, the dragon can never attain it. The solid white gold 19 mm “pearl” set on a backdrop of diamonds, rubies, and orange and yellow sapphires continually “evades him.”