This watch by Frédérique Constant is a courageous piece. It is called the Manufacture Zodiac 24H Limited Edition and it runs in accordance with ancient Chinese philosophy. The “hour” hand rotates once around the dial in 24 hours, and the “minutes” hand takes two hours to make one circuit of the dial. The hands move at exactly half the speed of those of a normal timepiece. So its use is not immediately obvious, and this is why it strikes me as being an act of courage. The Frédérique Constant Manufacture Zodiac 24H Limited Edition was presented at the start of the year of the goat and it incorporates a lot of thought about the Chinese approach to time and life. It is very different to several other watches presented on the goats theme, for which the brands’ answer to the question of “how are we going to make a watch for the year of the goat?” is simply “put some goats on it, of course!”
Dr. Peter Stas, founder and CEO of Frédérique Constant, provided his own explanation of this piece. “I saw an antique pocket watch made in the 1930s in Geneva, an unbranded piece, made with a unique style based on the ancient Chinese division of time. Because of its classical style, it attracted me. Our partners had asked us previously whether there would be a Chinese edition with a dragon or horses on it, but I rejected that idea because it wouldn’t fit our brand identity. However, the pocket watch provided the idea for an interesting, classical special edition with Chinese time indications.”
The ancient Chinese divided the day into 12 periods, each corresponding to two hours in the conventional system. Each period corresponds to one of the twelve Chinese zodiac signs (rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig), called the twelve terrestrial branches. Each period is divided into eight quarters (original quarter, original first quarter, original second quarter, original third quarter, positive quarter, positive first quarter, positive second quarter, positive third quarter). So each Chinese quarter corresponds to the conventional quarter of an hour.
The ancient Chinese people considered that for a healthy and long life it was important to follow the patterns of existence suggested by the zodiac signs regulating the day, as in their dictum “Balanced diet, regular living and temperate work can help maintain your shape and spirit and enable you to live a hundred years”. So, for example, the period of the day from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m, represented by the goat, is the time for the goat to build up its strength, suggesting that this is the right time to have lunch. (Scroll down for the complete list of associations between the Chinese zodiac animals and the periods of day). And so the ancient Chinese people felt themselves totally part of nature and moulded their lifestyle to the natural rhythms of the earth.
The Manufacture Zodiac 24H limited edition by Frédérique Constant reflects this approach to time. Instead of numerals from 1 to 12, the dial is marked with the twelve terrestrial branches, each corresponding to a zodiac sign. So the hour hand tells you in which zodiac sign you are at any time during the day. The outer ring on the dial is divided into eight sectors, corresponding to the eight quarters that subdivide every period, and so the minute hand indicates the quarter. Dial indications are in Chinese small seal script; the six o’clock position is marked the “year of goat.”
To make the watch easier to use by people today, a 24-hour scale is provided and marked with Arabic numerals on the innermost circle of the dial. So even though it sounds complicated, you can simply treat the watch as a GMT-type watch with a 24-hour scale, reading the time using the hour hand. The Manufacture Zodiac 24H limited watch is powered by the in-house automatic movement calibre FC-724, the 16th manufacture movement developed by Frédérique Constant. It is decorated with perlage and côtes de Genève, and it has a power reserve of 42 hours. The watch is available in stainless steel, and in steel plated rose gold. 888 pieces of each version will be made.
Ancient Chinese associations between zodiac symbols and periods of day
Rat: 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., the time rats actively seek food.
Ox: 1 to 3 a.m., the time that oxen ruminate.
Tiger: 3 to 5 a.m., when tigers hunt prey.
Rabbit: 5 to 7 a.m., when a jade rabbit crushes herbs.
Dragon: 7 to 9 a.m., when dragons hover in the sky and give people rainfall.
Snake: 9 to 11 a.m., when snakes begin leaving their burrows.
Horse: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.,when a horse is most vigorous.
Goat: 1 to 3 p.m., when sheep eat grass and become stronger.
Monkey: 3 to 5 p.m., when monkeys become lively.
Rooster: 5 to 7 p.m., when roosters return to their roost as it is getting dark.
Dog: 7 to 9 p.m., when dogs begin to carry out their duty to guard entrances.
Pig: 9 to 11 p.m., when all is quiet and pigs are sleeping soundly.