Continuing its tradition of watchmaking objets d’art, reflecting the extensive knowledge of haute horlogerie acquired through restoration, in 2012 Parmigiani is exploring a new allegory in its “Tempus fugit” concept with the creation of the exceptional Le Dragon et La Perle du Savoir (The Dragon and the Pearl of Wisdom) clockwork automaton.
A symbolism already featured in the Cat and Mouse automaton, the Tempus fugit (Time Flies) metaphor is taking on special philosophical significance in 2012, inspired by Eastern mythology. In homage to the Chinese year of the dragon, Parmigiani is reinterpreting the famous legend of the carp who became a dragon and has decided to feature it, a founding myth in Chinese civilisation, using the representation of an imperial dragon in the pursuit of the pearl of knowledge.
According to legend, only a carp which has managed to present itself at the Dragon gate, after many attempts to travel up the river, receives the honour of being transformed into a dragon. This parable is the story of the student who wanted to serve the Emperor. The carp changing into a dragon here stands as a symbol of perseverance. The pearl represents imperial wisdom. Forming an inseparable duo, “they allude to social climbing within the imperial hierarchy, to power, wisdom and protection against negative influences”, explains Swiss sinologist Estelle Niklès van Osselt.
Composed of nine animals, a highly positive number in symbolic terms, the imperial dragon featured by Parmigiani has the head of a camel, the eyes of a demon, the ears of a cow, the antlers of a deer, the neck of a snake, the paws of a tiger, the claws of an eagle, the belly of a mollusc, the scales of a carp, and the mane and beard of a lion. The shape of the nose, which is very distinctive, looks like a mushroom, a symbol of good luck.
With the idea of “Tempus fugit”, Parmigiani illustrates the concept of the eternal march of time. In this work, using a mechanism developed by Parmigiani, the dragon travels one revolution per hour, in pursuit of the incandescent pearl which escapes the dragon’s clutches six times an hour; each time the pearl moves, a gong sounds to alert the owner.
With a desire to show the highest respect for the subtleties of the master craftsman’s expertise at each step, with Le Dragon et la Perle du Savoir (The Dragon and the Pearl of Wisdom), Parmigiani is demonstrating the scope and richness of its knowledge of haute horlogerie.
First sculpted from wax, the dragon’s body is then cast in three sections. The solid silver cast is then expertly chiselled. The body, covered in scales, is the most complex operation. Each of the 585 scales*, made of natural jade, is designed, cut and then set one by one in the precise form required, and then riveted individually across the entire body, forming a complex assembly of precious elements. The flamboyant dragon is decorated in shades of green jadeite – taken from a very rare and prestigious collection which offers an exceptional range of over 150 stones – and white, yellow, orange and red jades. The claws and moustaches are made of solid white gold, the eyes from rubies and the tongue from carnelian. The pearl of wisdom is a solid white gold sphere surrounded by golden flames, which is set in a cameo of precious stones including white diamond, ruby, and orange and yellow sapphires.
The base, which contains the mechanism, represents the river up which the carp is swimming. It is cut from a block of rock crystal, with the movement visible through its transparency. The gilded silver ring showing the 12 Chinese hours (1 Chinese hour is equivalent to two hours) turns every 24 hours. The fixed indexes are made from jade.
A unique piece of watchmaking art formed of almost 1000 components, it took more than 5800 hours of work and the involvement of the most prestigious artisan craftsmen, from the sculptor to the goldsmith, the gemmologist to the gem-cutter, the jeweller to the setter, the visualiser to the designer to the clockmaker.
*Normally formed of 117 scales, 81 (9×9) of which are male and 36 (9×4) female, the Parmigiani Imperial Dragon has 468 – a number which can be divided by 9, a key component in the design of an Imperial Dragon.