The best Chinese dragon métiers d’art timepieces in 2024

A roundup of the top dragon-themed watches featuring artisanal decorations.

As the Chinese calendar’s first month approaches, diverse watchmakers have unveiled their most exquisite creations, embodying the Chinese zodiac of the year – the dragon, undeniably the most popular among the 12 zodiac signs.

A symbol deeply rooted in Chinese culture for thousands of years – the earliest recorded Chinese dragon artifact dating back approximately 6,000 years – the dragon totem is as mysterious as it is captivating. Importantly, it encapsulates China’s history, particularly its societal values.

In fact, Chinese people (referring to individuals of the Chinese race, not just Chinese nationality) often identify themselves as the “descendants of Yan and Huang Emperors” and also as “descendants of the dragon.” This connection stems from the belief that both Yan and Huang Emperors, considered early figures in Chinese history, possessed dragon-like attributes and played crucial roles in unifying the people. The Huang Emperor, for instance, is remembered as having the appearance of a dragon and the virtues of a saint.

Hence, the dragon consistently symbolizes the prosperity of the nation and its people, along with the ability to influence weather. The former elucidates the nomenclature “dragon cannon” for the emperor’s costume, while the latter explains why the Chinese populace reveres the dragon – weather holds paramount importance in an agrarian society.

Dragon painting on imperial porcelain
Dragon painting on imperial porcelain

Historical evidence of the connection between the dragon and prosperity can be observed through porcelain, a significant artifact in China. During flourishing periods of a dynasty, such as the Kangxi era of the early Qing dynasty, where the country thrived, dragon paintings on imperial porcelain were portrayed as potent and fierce, often emerging forcefully from the ocean. Orders for dragon (and phoenix) porcelain during prosperous eras, like the Xuande era of the early Ming dynasty, were notably extensive. Historical records indicate that in the eighth year of the Xuande era, the imperial court commissioned a staggering 440,000 pieces of porcelain adorned with dragon and phoenix paintings, and that’s not even including porcelains with other patterns.


In today’s world, with a robust Chinese economy, the market and demand for watches are substantial. Consequently, the rollout of dragon-themed watches is incredibly vast, and we are highlighting the best pieces featuring métiers d’art.

Sculpting and engraving

Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac – Year of the Dragon

Métiers d'Art The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac - Year of the Dragon

In keeping with tradition since 2012, Vacheron Constantin annually unveils a pair of Métiers d’Art wristwatches featuring the Chinese Zodiac, sculpted atop an enamel dial. This year marks the culmination of the collection, with the Dragon watches concluding the series of 12 Chinese Zodiac timepieces.

While sharing a resemblance with the previous 11 series – all featuring a quadruple window display of hours, minutes, day, and date – the latest Dragon watches nevertheless possess a distinct charm, especially when compared to other dragon-themed watches made this year. This charm comes from the beautiful execution of the métiers d’art dial, where enameling and engraving combine seamlessly, along with the interesting display.

At the forefront is a hand-engraved dragon sculpture chasing a pearl, a standalone three-dimensional piece positioned on the enamel dial. Importantly, the enamel dial employs a cloisonné-style technique, featuring wire frames resembling Chinese auspicious cloud patterns (likely crafted by a machine) and filled with enamel.

The métiers d’art dial takes center stage thanks to its clever time display design, steering away from traditional distracting hands. Instead, it opts for four small windows at the dial’s edge, each unveiling a disc underneath to indicate hours, minutes, day, and date. The former two displays feature rotating discs, while the latter two feature jumping discs.

Breguet Classique Dragon 7145

Breguet Classique Dragon 7145

Breguet also offers a pair of artisanal watches for the Year of the Dragon, one being a complicated model highlighted later in this article, the other being the time-only Classique Dragon 7145.

In terms of the overall composition of the dial, including the placement of the dragon and other elements like the clouds and pearl, the 7145 stands second to none among the dragon watches launched this year. In fact, the designer has a keen eye, ensuring that the Chinese elements blend harmoniously with the Western elements, such as the Roman numerals.

Breguet Classique Dragon 7145

The color combination of a red dial – grand feu enamel no less – and rose gold details is rich and festive, while a splash of refreshing white from the mother of pearl ball provides a nice contrast. The only downside is that the proportion of the engraved dragon appears a bit bulky, but that is perhaps a sign of abundance and feast, as the Chinese would jokingly say “福相 ”, meaning the look of “prosperity” in life.


Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Grisaille High Jewellery – Dragon

Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Grisaille High Jewellery – Dragon

On top of the annual thematic execution of the Chinese Zodiac watch, Vacheron Constantin introduces an additional métiers d’art timepiece featuring a dragon. This offering is arguably more distinctive in several ways. Firstly, its design diverges from past examples associated with other Chinese Zodiac signs, in contrast to the model mentioned earlier. Secondly, it employs an uncommon technique called grisaille enamel, where the enamel consists of a single color but with various light and dark shades. Lastly, it is a unique piece, rather than a limited edition.

The enamel dial is intriguing due to its portrayal of a fierce dragon, a motif typically associated with the prosperous periods of ancient Chinese dynasties. The choice of green is both unusual and captivating, as most watches for the year feature a gold-colored dragon. This unique color selection sets it apart from the broader array of grisaille enamel watches with different themes, as these watches typically use grey color rather than green.

Piaget Altiplano Dragon Zodiac Watch

Known for its exquisite jewelry, Piaget has also unveiled a pair of high-jewelry watches with métiers d’art dials. The watches not only feature a version with a blue dragon enamel dial but also, notably, a red phoenix enamel dial, completing a set with the two legendary creatures that often go hand in hand in historical China.

The dials were created by none other than Anita Porchet, ensuring their quality is beyond discussion. Beyond the technical aspect, the artistic composition nods to historical Chinese dragon portrayals. For instance, the enamel painting depicts the dragon not in full but only in several portions, with the rest hidden behind clouds made of mother of pearl. This is reminiscent of the way dragons were depicted during the Qing Dynasty Shunzhi era, where the body of the dragon is typically hidden in the clouds, revealing only three or five portions.

Additionally, the use of blue enamel and white mother of pearl also evokes the imagery of 青花瓷 (blue-and-white porcelain in English). Similarly, the phoenix watch features a striking palette of red and white, bringing to mind 青花釉里红 (underglaze red in English), a rarer variation of blue-and-white porcelain with red details. These clever details, combined with the high-level execution, make Piaget’s entries easily one of the more genuine attempts at dragon-themed watches.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Enamel “Dragon”

JLC Reverso Tribute enamel Dragon

After exploring several striking dragon-themed watches, let’s shift our focus to a more subtle execution for collectors who prefer to remain under the radar. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Enamel “Dragon” accomplishes just that, concealing the dragon motif at the back of the swivel case.

This design choice ensures that, from the front, the watch appears like a typical Reverso. In fact, it embraces a minimalist aesthetic, featuring only hours and minutes with no distracting seconds. This understated look is enhanced by the striking rose gold and black palette. Noteworthy is the fact that the dial is made of black grand feu enamel, a departure from the usual black lacquer.

When you turn the watch over, or rather, flip the case, it reveals a métiers d’art dial depicting a dragon. The dial is a blend of enamel and engraving. The centerpiece of the dial is hand-engraved with a dragon and clouds, following the application of black enamel to the exterior, which is then successfully fired in the oven and polished. The engraved dragon is also polished to enhance its attractiveness, but it’s given a black rhodium coating to tone down its color, matching the black dial.


Chopard LUC XP Urushi YotD

A technique that is relatively uncommon in the Western world, urushi-e, and maki-e are both artisanal, manual lacquering techniques practiced in Japan. However, Swiss watchmaker Chopard has a long history of creating dials with urushi lacquer. In fact, this marks the 12th year of Chopard’s LUC Urushi series, with each year depicting a Chinese Zodiac, starting with the snake edition in 2013. Similar to the VC Métiers d’Art The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac mentioned above, this year the LUC XP Urushi Year of the Dragon finally completes the circle of 12 Chinese zodiacs.

As expected, the LUC XP Urushi Year of the Dragon features an artisanal dial created by a top artisan in Japan, Minori Koizumi from the Yamada Heiando workshop. The preparation of the dial involves hand-painting the black lacquer base, sketching the outlines of the motif, brushing gold powders onto the dial surface, and sprinkling gold powders.

Master artist Minori Koizumi, from Yamada Heiando workshops

And, of course, the surface requires finishing, such as polishing. These are centuries-old techniques and are very specialized practices, and that’s what makes the LUC XP stand out – it’s the only one of all métiers d’art dragon watches that employs this technique.


Blancpain Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar “Year of the Dragon”

This category not only presents watches adorned with artisanal decoration but also features complications that enhance both emotional and technical appeal. A standout in this realm is the Blancpain Villeret Traditional Chinese Calendar, introduced in 2012 – coincidentally, the year of the dragon. This timepiece, though launched over a decade ago, remains a rarity due to the intricacies involved in creating calendars tailored to specific cultures and regions, making it a truly special piece.

Despite featuring quadruple counters on the dial, it’s essential to note that the watch isn’t a perpetual calendar. However, its complexity surpasses that of a standard complete calendar, as the longest period indicated on the dial is 12 years.

Commencing at 12 o’clock, a small window displays an icon representing an animal, signifying the Chinese zodiac. At the same position, the ancient Chinese time unit, shichen (equivalent to two hours today), is indicated.

Moving to three o’clock, the earthly branches, constituting a complete cycle of 10 years, are showcased. The earthly branches, along with celestial branches, collectively form a 60-year cycle, although the celestial branch is absent in this particular watch.


At six o’clock, the moon phase is displayed, and at nine o’clock, the Chinese month and date are indicated. Noteworthy is the indicator at 12 o’clock on the sub-dial, which turns red in years with 13 months instead of 12.

Now, delving into the artisanal aspects of the watch, both the front and back receive high-quality decoration. The green dial, for instance, is made from grand feu enamel. On the back, the golden rotor boasts an intricately engraved dragon. Notably, the engraving is done in relief, enhancing the three-dimensionality and liveliness of the object.

Breguet Classique Double Tourbillon Dragon 5345

Classique Double Tourbillon Dragon 5345 Special Edition

Another fascinating example is the Breguet Classique Double Tourbillon Dragon 5345, which is one of the more complex watches in terms of mechanics within the realm of dragon-themed timepieces.

The reference 5435 builds upon the brand’s flagship tourbillon watch, featuring not one but two tourbillons, each powered by a mainspring and equipped with its own gear train. For maximum precision, the two tourbillons are interconnected by a differential to average out timekeeping errors. Additionally, the two tourbillons are connected with a bridge that forms the hour hand. The entire dial plate, carrying the tourbillons and their barrels, rotates once every 12 hours.

In the regular skeletonized version, each barrel on the dial receives a cover skeletonized to depict the brand’s logo. However, in this special edition, the two independent covers are replaced by a single engraved dragon in gold. While not particularly innovative, it is undeniably thrilling to watch, as this is the only timepiece with the sculpture rotating.

Honorable mention:

Also worth noting are three more complicated watches, all based on their regular production versions but now enhanced with added flair. The Arnold & Son Luna Magna, for instance, stands out for featuring one of the largest moon phase displays in modern watchmaking – not as a flat disc but as a rotating sphere. The dial’s moon phase is accompanied by a pair of engraved gold dragons.

Another noteworthy timepiece from the same brand is the Perpetual Moon, boasting a poetic composition on the dial with elements such as dragons, pine trees, the moon, and a starry background made of aventurine glass.

Ulysse Nardin Blast Tourbillon Dragon. Image by Troy Barmore (©Revolution)
Ulysse Nardin Blast Tourbillon Dragon. Image by Troy Barmore (©Revolution)

Lastly, Ulysse Nardin gives its Blast Tourbillon Dragon a makeover by incorporating an engraved bright orange dragon on the dial, along with a mother-of-pearl ball.


Parmigiani Fleurier Objet d’Art “Tempus Fugit”

After exploring numerous wristwatches, we have now delved into a distinct category: clocks. In the present era, the number of exceptional clock makers has dwindled compared to watchmakers. Therefore, it is not surprising that the following example hails from Parmigiani, a master restorer of vintage watches and clocks. The Parmigiani Fleurier “Tempus Fugit”, initially launched in 2012 as the Le Dragon et La Perle du Savoir, has recently been restored to its original grandeur. The Tempus Fugit is a clock that blends automaton and chiming functions, adorned with precious metals and stones throughout.

Starting from the top, a dragon sculpture, cast in silver, graces the clock. Its scales are filled with 150 jade stones in a graduated green color. The eyes are set with rubies, and the tongue is carnelian. The dragon completes a rotation every hour, pursuing a pear made of gold and set with diamonds, rubies, and orange and yellow sapphires. Interestingly, the pearl does not move at a fixed rotational speed alongside the dragon; instead, it randomly speeds up six times an hour, and with each acceleration, the clock emits a single chime.

The clock’s movement is situated at the base of the dragon, encased in a cylinder crafted from rock crystal, maintaining the theme of lavish materials. An hour ring is attached to the crystal case, completing a revolution every 24 hours, with a pointer made of jade indicating the time. To provide power for eight days, the clock is manually wound with a key.


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