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Japanese ArtChopard

BASELNEWS 2011East meets West: A synthesis of traditional skills

A Japanese artist proclaimed a “Living National Treasure” by the authorities of his country, Kiichiro Masumura has supervised the creation of unique dials for Chopard based on the time-honoured Urushi techniques. These magnificent works of art are magnificently showcased within the understated lines of the L.U.C XP, an ultra-thin model equipped with the mechanical self-winding L.U.C 96HM movement.

The quintessence of ancestral Japanese art combined with the highest degree of Swiss horological refinement: these twin concepts sum up the new L.U.C XP Urushi watches born from the encounter of Chopard and Kiichiro Masumura, who has been awarded with the title “Living National Treasure” by the Japanese government. The watches feature the traditional Urushi and Maki-e techniques, magnificently highlighted by the pure, understated design of the ultra-thin L.U.C XP model. The “Living National Treasure” concept was developed in 1950 by the Japanese government and used to define all those to contribute to preserving a heritage, a culture and ancestral skills such as Urushi.

An art and a time-honoured form of expertise

Urushi is the ancestral Japanese art of lacquering. The varnish is made from the sap of the Urushi tree, also know as the “lacquer tree” or the “Japanese varnish tree” – and which mainly grows in Japan and China. The harvesting of the resin, somewhat like the rubber from the hevea Brasiliensis or “rubber tree”, can only be done once a year and in very small quantities.

Three to five years after being harvested, the resin is treated to make an extremely resistant, honey-textured lacquer. It is applied in exceptionally fine successive layers, traditionally on daily objects such as bowls or boxes. Maki-e is a specific Urushi technique that consists of sprinkling the lacquer with metal powder – in this case gold – in order to accentuate its contours. The gold dust is applied using bamboo tubes and small brushes made from rat’s hair, in order to trace extremely fine lines. This art calls for extreme expertise and only a few “Urushi Masters” – including Kiichiro Masumura – still exercise it today with consummate skill.

The L.U.C XP Urushi is the first timepiece with a dial adorned in this way. In 2009, a few initial models were crafted and presented exclusively in Japan. Chopard presents a collection of nine different dials technically supervised by Kiichiro Masumura and designed, painted and adorned with gold dust by the Yamada Heiando Company an official supplier to the Emperor of Japan. These works represent the five basic elements of the universe according to the ancient philosophy of Chinese natural science, and one portrays the universe itself. The five legendary creatures – the dragon with a blue horn, the phoenix, the qilin in the moonlight, the crouching tiger and the genbu (a blend of precious snake and tortoise) respectively evoke wood, fire, earth, metal and water. The last three dials feature a peacock, a red fish and the jungle. Each meticulously painted and unique model reveals a wealth of original details imbued with a deep sense of poetry.

L.U.C XP, the perfect showcase

Such works of art could not have hoped for a finer setting than that of the L.U.C XP. This supremely elegant ultra-thin model measuring a mere 6.8 mm thickness is the epitome of perfect watchmaking mastery. Designing and producing a mechanical self-winding movement equipped with two barrels and a 65-hour power reserve that could be accommodated within such a thin case is a truly impressive accomplishment. The watchmakers of Chopard Manufacture in Fleurier have achieved this feature by means of a clever construction based on an off-centred rotor. The designers have also subtly worked the round case with its broad 39.5 mm diameter to give it a sleeker profile with a thin bezel and an extremely fine “caseband”.  The result is a set of light, dynamic and wonderfully elegant lines.

Featuring a case crafted in 18-carat rose gold (or white gold for the Universe dial version only), and fitted with a black alligator leather strap, the L.U.C XP Urushi models are delivered with a special presentation box also decorated according to Urushi techniques. Black on the inside and adorned in Maki-e gold on the outside, its octagonal shape is an oriental symbol of gaiety. A small silk cord serving as a lock, along with the seals of Kiichiro Masumura and Yamada Heiando, endow this object a truly timeless dimension.

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