In the world of refined watchmaking, the “Made in China” designation is not often associated with Haute Horlogerie. Although China churns out huge volumes of the components used in Swiss watchmaking, a “Made in China” watch is associated with mass production, middling quality and copycat designs. Well, there is somebody who wants to overturn this stigma and infuse an almost Imperial-like splendour to Chinese watchmaking with the tagline “Made in China with Pride”. Instead of downplaying its origins, Celadon HH takes great pride in trumpeting the Chinese provenance of its watches. Over the years, Celadon is proving that China and Haute Horlogerie are not incompatible and that some pretty remarkable things can happen when you combine talented watchmakers, excellent hand finishings and exquisite Chinese craftsmanship. The man behind this enterprise is Benjamin Chee, a reputed Singaporean vintage watch collector turned entrepreneur. Coinciding with the release of a new collection known as Century, we’ve put together a brief background of Celadon HH.
Celadon HH, founded in 2021, is one of the Chinese branches of Benjamin Chee’s group of watch brands (together with Maison Celadon offering more accessible watches). The name Celadon refers to a type of ceramic with a soft green-coloured glaze that originated in China during the Shang (1600-1046 BC) and Zhou (1046-256 BC) dynasties. Although Chee was born in Singapore, his ancestors were Fujian (a province on the south-eastern coast of China). His fascination for Chinese culture and craftsmanship peaked when he was reading law at University College London.
Chee’s appetite for refined watches has resulted in the creation of three different brands with three very different proposals. Celadon, founded in 2012, is the Chinese representative of Chee’s three brands. Milléchron, founded in 2018, has a mix of Art Deco-inspired models and dressy sports watches, and Benjamin Chee Haute Horlogerie (BCHH), his flagship brand founded in 2019, is home to models like the stunning BCHH x Andersen Genève Celestial Voyager with a cloisonné enamel dial released earlier this year. However, his BCHH and Milléchron brands are based in Switzerland, where Chee has teamed up with some of the top names in watchmaking, including Svend Andersen (AHCI) and Alessandro Rigotto. The particularity of Celadon watches is that they are “Made in China with Pride”, and Chee is on a mission to “raise the prestige and reputation of Chinese watchmaking”.
Chinese artisanal crafts
China’s rich history and heritage spanning five millennia have spawned countless artisanal crafts, skills that Chee wants to recover and perpetuate on the dials of Celadon’s watches. The new Celadon Century collection is comprised of two models with exquisite cloisonné enamel dials and a third model with a regulator dial. Some of you might have seen the Century Cloisonné with a depiction of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” when it was a candidate in the “Petite Aiguille” category of GPHG 2021. The operative word of the Century collection is ‘handcrafted’, and the names of all the masters involved are mentioned at every stage of the creation.
A moon-shaped case
The distinctive moon-shaped case of the Century responds to the Chinese concept of yuanman (perfection and fulfilment) that is expressed with round, curvaceous forms. Made in 904L stainless steel, the case measures 42mm across, has a thickness of 11.5mm and a lug-to-lug width of 47.4mm. Taking design cues from classical Chinese architecture, the left side of the case emulates the shape of classical Chinese arch bridges, while the right side with the crown evokes circular Moon gates. A wide flat crown to wind the manual movement sits flush with the sweeping case that is hand-finished with alternating satin-brushed and polished surfaces. Viewed from the side, you can appreciate the meticulous brushed finishing and polished bevels of the lugs.
Two of three Celadon Century models showcase exquisite cloisonné enamel dials handcrafted in the atelier of Grandmaster Xiong Songtao, a third-generation descendant of a family of enamellers once employed by the Chinese Imperial court. Representing Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and a classic Chinese motif known as “Peacock and Peonies”, Chee’s choice of subject matter was to display Songtao’s dexterity in both Western and Eastern artistic styles. Practised in China for over 600 years, cloisonné enamelling arrived in China from Persia in the 15th century. Songtao’s technique differs from European cloisonné by his use of thinner gold wire (0.04 – 0.07mm thick), requiring more skill and resulting in a more intricate image. Working with a solid silver base, Songatao lays down the thin gold wire cells before applying the enamel, which is then fired about 25 times. Like any enamelling adventure, many things can go wrong during the firing process, but the payoff is a dial that will never change colour, even after centuries.
The hands on the dial of the enamel models emulate the ‘eye’ of a male peacock’s feathers and are handmade and polished by Master Lin. The hands can also be heat blued, like those featured on the “Peacock and Peonies” dial.
The Century Regulator shares the same case specifications as the enamel models but features an elegant, minimalist silver-coloured dial with a classic regulator layout. Initially developed in the mid-18th century for master clocks to offer the most accurate time readings available, the distinctive feature of regulators was the separation of minutes, hours and seconds. The minutes are the true protagonists of the dial, while the hours and seconds are relegated to smaller sub-dials. Here the minutes are relayed on a black railway-style track on the periphery and indicated with a central hand. The recessed sub-dials with snailed interiors house the hours at noon and the small seconds at 6 o’clock.
Movement by Lin Yong Hua
Designed as a base movement for future complications, the manual-winding calibre has been conceived and created from the ground up by AHCI master watchmaker Lin Yong Hua (LYH). A distinguishing feature of Celadon’s calibre is the three-quarter bridge plated in rose gold with sweeping rounded curves and ruby chatons. Instead of the classic Côtes de Genève, the bridges are decorated with circular scroll stripes. The perlage, bevelled countersinks, anglage, chatons and Chinese calligraphy are all executed by hand. Hidden under the mainplate, the barrel wheels have a sunburst finish, and the centre star wheel bears a small LYH signature. Beating at 18,000vph, the movement delivers a power reserve of 45 hours.
For an extra price, Celadon can offer a range of customisation options. Finishings, plating colours (rose, yellow or white gold), bespoke engravings and even a handmade Breguet overcoil can all be requested to personalise the movement. Furthermore, the hands can be white gold-plated, fully blued or transition blued, and you can also request a bespoke cloisonné dial design.
Without customisation extras, the price of the Century Cloisonné enamel models is USD 12,900 and the Century Regulator USD 10,900. The base model with a lacquered dial, not photographed here, starts at USD 8,900. Options are also available, such as a Breguet overcoil (USD 2,000), handmade hands (USD 2,000) or a bespoke dial (USD 2,000).
For more information, please visit celadonhh.com.