"...There was, in a corner of the world, a wonder of the world; this wonder was called the Summer Palace. Art has two principles, the Idea, which produces European art, and the Chimera,which produces oriental art. The Summer Palace was to chimerical art what the Parthenon is to ideal art. All that can be begotten of the imagination of an almost extra-human people was there. It was not a single, unique work like the Parthenon. It was a kind of enormous model of the chimera, if the chimera can have a model..."
Excerpt from the letter to Captain Butler – Victor Hugo - Hauteville House, November 25th 1861
Based on the IXème inframonde Maya special series, and building on the wealth of accomplishment involved in such a creative work, De Bethune presents a set composed of 12 art pieces, the DB25 Imperial Fountain.
The solid gold dials are adorned with animal symbols of the Chinese zodiac hand-engraved with a free interpretation of the bronze heads surrounding the fountain of the former Summer Palace nestling in the Yuan Ming Yuan garden near Beijing, China.
Each of the central engravings done by artist Michèle Rothen, featuring a bas-relief depiction of one of the twelve animal heads, is adorned with Grand Feu enamelling using the delicate and highly precise technique of translucent enamel applied to chased reliefs. So as to conceal nothing of this colourful and sculptural décor, slender flame-blued steel hands sweep gracefully around the dial periphery. This circumferential display mechanism required the engineers and watchmakers of the Manufacture to develop the new Calibre DB2145, exclusively designed in such a way as to free the centre of the movement from any mechanical components.
The hours and minutes functions thus positioned around the rim of the dial called for the development of perfectly balanced micro ball bearings as well as the development of a specific toothing profile for the transmission of the discs bearing the hands.
A complex combination of sculpture, hydraulic technology, as well as both Chinese and European aesthetics, the fountain located in the Yuan MingYuan (Garden of Gardens, or Garden of Perfect Brightness) built in the 18th century by Italian and French Jesuits with the help of Chinese artisans (for the Chinese emperor Qianlong), was in fact a clepsydra of great historical value.
Arranged in a semi-circle, twelve bronze heads depicting the animals of the Chinese zodiac spit water towards the centre of the fountain and take turns in step with their zodiac-based hours.
Revolts, pillaging and damage have reduced the Yuan Ming Yuan to a state of ruin amid which only 7 of the 12 original zodiac animal heads have been found. These sculptures, representing powerful symbols for the Chinese, are the object of much debate both in China and in the world. Recently, within the context of a major public sculpture project, named Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, the provocative artist Ai Weiwei reinterpreted the animal heads representing the traditional Chinese zodiac that once adorned the famous fountain – a work that received international acclaim.
From fine arts to the age-old expertise of its technicians, De Bethune has chosen to highlight the artistic crafts and convey its determination to the proud legacy shared by goldsmiths and watchmakers. Applied to contemporary timepieces stemming from state-of-the-art technologies, these meticulous and sophisticated ancestral arts convey rare and precious emotions, while contributing to the creation of objects that are the epitome of excellence.
Download the press release for the additional information (PDF)