On the 8th of February, China and the numerous Chinese communities from across the world celebrated the beginning of the Year of Monkey. Alongside of this it has become a well-established practice for renowned brands to release Chinese Zodiac themed models each year. A quick money-making scheme, some say, aimed at milking the nouveau riche of the Far East. But is it? Some have called the phenomenon a ‘cultural appropriation’ (or misappropriation?) but others see it more as ‘cultural appreciation’.
Year of the Monkey
If you were born under this sign you are apparently curious, quick-witted, self-assured, and sociable. Some celebrities born in the Year of the Monkey are Kim Kardashian, Cara Delevingne, Selena Gomez and Channing Tatum. Do they fit the description? Hmm…I think they mostly do. What do you think? Still, how far is too far when it comes to celebrating a culture other than your own?
Beyonce (and Coldplay) recently landed in hot water, with their Hymn For the Weekend piece, when she took to the stage wearing an Indian ‘mattha-patti’- literally meaning a forehead-chain jewel- but on her face! The big deal with cultural appropriation is when foreign cultural symbols are taken out of context, trivialised (made mass marketable) and voided of their original significance. In the process some people – not surprisingly – get offended.
The watch and pen brands have been particularly careful not to fall in this trap. In most cases the approach towards the Chinese Zodiac has been measured and strategic. A respected artist with ties to the original culture has been commissioned to interpret the symbol and harmoniously marry it with the western sensibilities.
And if you think that this is a quick-buck scheme aimed at the Chinese, think twice. A big portion of the sales is made towards non-Chinese buyers. A well-known fact in the luxury quarters. The biggest fan, I personally know, of the Chinese culture and symbols is a Brazilian friend. Proof of the increased international reach of the Chinese culture.
Some of this years’ most interesting pieces have been the Chopard L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Monkey (pictured above), the Ulysse Nardin Year of the Monkey Classico, the Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art La Légende du Zodiaque Chinois Year of the Monkey and the Harry Winston Premier Monkey Automatic 36mm.
The Caran d’Ache Year of the Monkey Pen
In the pen word Curtis Australia and Caran d’Ache have released notable Monkey themed writing instruments for 2016.
Let’s take a closer look at the Caran d’Ache Year of the Monkey. The Chinese Zodiac is especially relevant for Caran d’Ache who has a good track record of working with Chinese Lacquer. An esoteric substance derived from the sap of the Chinese Lacquer Tree (Toxicodendron vernicifluum) with some amazing properties. For starters it’s flame proof, extremely difficult to scratch and highly resistant to impact. Only a tiny number of brands work with the materials and the curing and applying techniques are closely guarded secrets.
For example to produce the Caran d’Ache Year of the Monkey, successive layers of viscous natural lacquer are applied, cooked and polished. The process is repeated for five times or more. The result is a hard and lustrous surface, a world away from regular synthetic resin you’ll find in most pens. It takes elven steps and many processes to make just one pen.
Master artisan and calligrapher Lam Chi Van has been commissioned to work on this pen. He lives with his Swiss-born wife in Lausanne and gives lessons in his own workshops. His vision blends the Eastern and Western art to craft a Haute Ecriture instrument analogous to a Haute Horology piece in terms on quality.
The monkey is depicted in the oriental style employing the figurative art. That is making it look geometricized and abstracted in lines. It is silhouetted in yellow against the deep black background. The yellow is not painted but it is the substrate colour of a deeper layer. As such the shape is chiselled into the lacquer similar to the ‘intaglio’ method of carving. Its agile long arms and expressive face represent an interpretation typically oriental in character.
The red Chinese character above the monkey represents the Chinese stamp of the Maison Caran d’Ache. It is applied in red as a token of good luck. The writing above the red stamp is the calligraphic symbol of the monkey.
Superfluous to say that the pen is issued in 888 fountains and 888 rollers. The first one will set you back £2,500 whilst the second £2,300.
Visit the official Caran d’Ache website for more information.
Iunal Giumali is the founder and editor of the very successful pen blog Penficionado.com and owner of The Pen Gallery. His blog is considered one of the top resources for writing instruments news and reviews on the net. With a writing style that is original and engaging his main goal is to share his passion and unfold the mysteries of mechanical luxuries.