Blancpain’s Metier D’Art: The Four Great Beauties Of China
Beauty was their greatest weapon, so much so that they caused great men to falter and kingdoms to fall. Historians often painted dramatic scenarios to describe their extraordinary appearance, for it was the only way that would do them justice. Now Xi Shi, Diao Chan, Wang Zhaojun and Yang Guifei are immortalised by Blancpain via the traditional handcrafts of engraving, enameling, shakudo and marquetry.
Each a unique piece, all four watches come with 42mm red gold case and powered by a manual movement with eight-day power reserve.
Said to be the fairest of the Four Great Beauties, Xi Shi was sent to spy on King Wu who defeated her hometown, the state of Yue. Captivated by her beauty, King Wu soon neglected his official duties and Xi Shi was able to send intelligence home, a course of action that eventually led to the downfall of the Wu state.
Xi Shi’s beauty was so bewitching that “the fish in the water would forget how to swim and sink”, so goes a famous description. Blancpain based its Xi Shi timepiece on this scenario using the grand feu enamel champlevé technique. The solid gold dial was carved by hand to create the image outlines before applying enamel to them and heating them multiple times at around 800°C. Translucent enamel was used to imitate the transparency of water while the carps were engraved on a slant to appear as if they were swimming underwater.
The only fictitious character among the four, Diao Chan was depicted in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms as someone who used her charm to avenge the death of her parents. She was described to be so beautiful that “the moon felt compelled to hide from her”.
Using a combination of engraving and shakudo, a Japanese alloy of gold and copper, as the base of the dial, Diao Chan is depicted offering prayers with the moon, crafted from mother-of-pearl, keeping a surprising radiant watch in the background.
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With a beauty that caused “birds to waver mid-flight and fall from the sky”, Wang Zhaojun was offered, with her consent, by Emperor Yuan to the ruler of Xiongnu to establish friendlier relations between the two kingdoms. As she made the journey north, Wang was overcome by sadness that she started playing a sorrowful tune on her pipa.
Blancpain recreated this scene by using the marquetry technique of inlaying pieces of wood, grand feu enamel champlevé as well as engraving on a gold and mother-of-pearl base. The effects from the different materials combined to evoke a charming work of art.
As the favourite consort of Emperor Xuanzhong from Tang Dynasty, Yang’s beauty was so magnificent that she “put the flowers to shame”. Yang and the “unworthy” blooms are depicted side-by-side on the watch using enamel painting.
The gold dial was first coated with several layers of enamel and then polished to achieve perfect flatness before colours were applied. Then the dial was subjected to multiple firings to ensure permanent lustre.
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