BEIJING - The Dragon became a main design element in Western luxury brands at the start of 2012, as their wealthy Chinese customers prepare to celebrate the Year of the Dragon.
The Chinese New Year will start on Jan 23, and the Year of the Dragon usually sees a wave of marriages and births, because the dragon is a traditional Chinese symbol of royalty, fortune and power.
Western manufacturers of luxury goods, ranging from cars and mobile phones to handbags and watches, are also hoping the Chinese New Year will bring an upsurge in their sales to help offset weak demand in the West.
Vertu, a British-based luxury mobile-phone manufacturer that is a division of Nokia OYJ, has launched three phones for the Year of Dragon, complete with hand-engraved dragons - a process that takes around 36 hours for each unit. The handsets cost about 100,000 yuan ($15,831).
Versace SpA, the Italian luxury brand, launched a jeweled handbag with hand-painted golden dragons on the side panels, hand-embroidered dragons on the handles and treadplates illuminated with the words "Year of the Dragon 2012".
The bag, costing 31,800 yuan and especially designed for the Chinese New Year, is a limited edition of 210 and is only on sale in Asia.
Meanwhile, the Swiss luxury watchmaker Piaget SA launched 24 Dragon watch models in Beijing at the end of 2011 with prices ranging from HK$193,000 ($25,000) to HK$16 million.
"The response to the collection has been very good. We are seeing important sales in Asia and also in our key boutiques in Europe and the US," Dimitri Gouten, president of Piaget Asia Pacific, told the news agency AFP.
Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, owned by the German automaker BMW AG, launched a line of limited edition "Dragon" Phantoms in August 2011, but the cars were sold out within eight weeks of the launch. The company has said that it is now considering extending production.
"The dragon means good fortune, power and success," Torsten Muller-Otvos, chief executive at Rolls-Royce, told AFP.
China overtook the US to become the company's largest market in 2011 and the Chinese market accounts for about one-third of the record 3,538 cars it sold worldwide in 2011.
The Western brands' focus on dragons and Chinese culture is a result of the rapidly growing market for luxury goods in China, especially as consumption in the West declines, according to experts.
Bain & Company, a management consulting firm, predicts that China will overtake Japan as the world's top consumer of luxury goods in the Year of the Dragon.
Statistics from the World Luxury Association's China office show that - excluding private planes, yachts and limos - total sales in the nation's luxury market totaled $12.6 billion by the end of 2011.