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"Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without." - Confucius

When I first saw the Dong Son Tourbillon from Speake-Marin and heard the story behind, one of my friends instantly came to my mind. She spent a few years of her childhood in Vietnam and her father not only held diplomatic positions in the region but he is also a great cultural and political science expert, specializing on Vietnam, Indochina and Southeast Asia.

So I really had to ask him about the motifs of this timepiece and what he said was rather exciting.

The Đông Sơn culture

A large bronze drum thought to be from – what the archaeologist call – the Dong Son culture (named after a site, South of Hanoi that flourished in what is today Northern Vietnam) was recently unearthed within the island nation of Timor Leste. This location is 3,000 km from where the drum was originally made around 2,000 years ago. The news was officially announced at the end of November 2015.

The first bronze drums were discovered in Vietnam’s central Thanh Hoa province, where a number were recovered in close proximity to a village called Dong Son. As the number of archaeological excavation sites grew, it became increasingly clear that through the Red River valley – which cuts across Southern Chinese Yunnan province and today’s Northern Vietnam – these characteristically decorated bronze objects spread across the whole of Southeast Asia. This recent find suggests that thousands of years ago people from Mainland Southeast Asia crossed even the sea to different places around Island Southeast Asia.

A Đông Sơn bronze drum, c.800 BC. (By MikeHS, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia Commons)

Đông Sơn (or Dong Son) people were from the small similarly named village not too far from the Ma River, in Thanh Hoa Province. Their culture is regarded as an important prehistoric culture. They built great stone monuments, had iron tools and possessed various Chinese cultural artefacts but most notably they produced bronze objects.

Other sources suggest that they were seafaring people too, who travelled and traded throughout Island Southeast Asia. There were a great number of objects, drums, urns (situla), vessels and ceremonial weapons decorated with geometric patterns and scenes depicting daily life. And somehow those drums also made it to 3,000 km away from their home land…

There has been much speculation about the meaning of the imagery of boats, warriors, and birds – a combination of which is also often represented on the drums and other items. They have been interpreted as representations of military or imperial processions and as symbols of shamanism or a soul’s journey to the afterlife. A German archaeologist Helmut Hermann Ernst Loofs-Wissowa rejects speculation presuming to identify the markings of sun worship or shamanism in the objects. In his opinion there must have been a religious centre in this area that recognized the union of distant kings to a loose political union via the donation of these bronze drums. As he wrote: ”… through the obtaining of a drum would seek to become kings in the then accepted sense of the term and thus be integrated into a wider politico-religious system, transcending their own relatively limited one.”

The patterns, the technique and the proportions of the objects show that the Dong Son people possessed a high degree of artistic and aesthetic skills in their time.

Speake-Marin Dong Son Tourbillon

The drum’s iconography appear on the Dong Son Tourbillon. The golden dial carries the motifs and it is set in Speake-Marin’s signature Piccadilly case in red gold. The “drumsticks” are sculpted blued steel hands. The fluted crown is set with diamond.

On the outer ring of the dial birds are visible. The stylized depiction of the pastern and claws on the birds’ feet almost certainly originate from depictions of birds that can be found on the drums from the Hoàng Hạ and Ngọc Lư excavation sites.

Bird picture from "Việtnam de Louis Bezacier"

The inner ring shows 9 figures: 6 human figures playing pan pipes and 3 with spears – presumably warriors.

The dial was created using a very delicate etching technique in extremely thin 1.0mm 18 k gold. “The precision of the etching to create the Dong Son dial motif was only made possible thanks to an extremely innovative chemical etching process,” says Peter Speake-Marin.
This artistic creation gives a great frame to the hand-finished tourbillon rotating at 6 o’clock. The lower tourbillon cage is supported by a striking paddle-shaped bridge offering clear visual access to the surrounding gears below. The movement is finely finished.

Speake-Marin presented the first limited edition of Dong Son timepieces in 2012, followed by the Dong Son Tourbillon unique piece in 2016.

Speake-Marin Dong Son Tourbillon
Movement of the Speake-Marin Dong Son Tourbillon: : SM/CDH Calibre SM3, 60 second tourbillon, self-winding movement with platinum mass

Source: “Les nouvelles recherches archéologiques au Việtnam (Complément au Việtnam de Louis Bezacier)”


Photo credits: Speake-Marin. Loupiosity.com.
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