The Dragon and the Pearl of Wisdom continues Parmigiani Fleurier's tradition of creating horological works of art, reflecting its extensive expertise in haute horlogerie. In 2012, the brand presented a new allegory of its concept "Tempus fugit" in the form of a remarkable horological automaton, the Dragon and the Pearl of Wisdom.
Symbolism already featured in the Cat and Mouse automaton, the Tempus fugit (Time Flies) metaphor took on special philosophical significance in 2012, inspired by Eastern mythology. In homage to the Chinese Year of the Dragon, Parmigiani Fleurier reinterpreted the famous legend of the carp who turns into a dragon. This myth of the foundation of Chinese civilisation is here represented by an imperial dragon chasing 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 Fleurier 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 is very distinctive; it looks like a lingzhi mushroom – the "Mushroom of Immortality" – which is a symbol of good luck.
Using the "Tempus fugit" metaphor, Parmigiani illustrates the concept of the eternal march of time. In this piece, using a mechanism developed in its haute horlogerie workshops, the dragon travels one revolution per hour, in pursuit of the incandescent pearl which escapes its clutches six times an hour; just before the pearl moves, a gong sounds to alert those watching so that they do not miss this movement.
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 de la Sagesse (The Dragon and the Pearl of Wisdom), Parmigiani Fleurier demonstrates the scope 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. Of the 585 scales*, 554 are set with natural jade before being cut; these are then applied one by one in the precise pattern required, creating a complex assembly of precious elements. The flamboyant dragon is decorated in shades of green jade - 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 moustache 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 whose transparency reveals the movement. The gilded silver ring showing the 12 traditional Chinese hours turns every 24 hours. Jade indices indicate the time, as the dragon moves past the fixed indicator.
A unique piece of horological 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.