As the world’s most valuable luxury brand, Louis Vuitton is associated in every corner of the globe with high-quality leather goods and accessories. Maintaining a consistent level of impeccable quality across all product lines is a prerequisite, and Louis Vuitton’s relatively young watchmaking division reveals how earnest the brand is in securing a rung in the top echelons of watchmaking. To mark the 200th anniversary of founder Louis Vuitton’s birth, the brand has pulled out its big guns with an impressive horological masterpiece showcasing the expertise and creativity of its watchmaking manufacture, La Fabrique du Temps. Marrying the technical audacity and prowess of the masterminds behind La Fabrique du Temps with the sublime enamelling skills of Anita Porchet and the engraving mastery of Dick Steenman, the Tambour Jacquemart Minute Repeater is an exceptional showcase of what Louis Vuitton can offer. Two years in the making, this one-off bespoke commission is now getting a public viewing to whet our appetites and prove that even the wildest horological fantasies can come true.
From trunks to watches
Surprisingly, the story behind the undisputed king of luxury has all the makings of a fairy tale. You could say that Louis Vuitton (1821-1892), who ran away from the clutches of his wicked stepmother at the age of 13, forged his luxury empire on the back of a trunk. By 1854, Louis Vuitton had set up his own workshop, and his revolutionary stacking canvas trunks marked a before and after in travel luggage. Since then, travel, or rather the “art of travel,” has become the unifying theme at Louis Vuitton, incarnated by luggage, bags, fashion collections and accessories emblazoned with the iconic LV monogram that is recognised worldwide.
When Louis Vuitton turned its hand to watchmaking in 2002 (editor’s note: even though some watches have been done in the past, 2002 marked the moment when the brand seriously went into this industry), the easiest solution would have been to produce fashion watches of scant horological import. Louis Vuitton’s Tambour, often seen as the key model in the watchmaking history of the brand, marched out in 2002 with a distinctive drum-shaped case accompanied by an appropriately selected GMT travel complication.
The company’s ambition to play at the very highest level led to an encounter and commission with La Fabrique du Temps, the celebrated Geneva-based atelier headed by the hugely talented watchmakers Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini. The result was the impressive 2009 Spin Time, a new take on jumping hours represented with rotating cubes and quickly patented by Louis Vuitton – still produced today. The creativity and technological prowess of the “two little geniuses” (Navas and Barbasini) proved a perfect match, and in 2011 La Fabrique du Temps was acquired by Louis Vuitton. That same year, Navas and Barabasini unveiled the spectacular Tambour Minute Repeater for globetrotters chiming a traveller’s home time on demand.
Consolidating its watchmaking credentials under one roof, La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton workshop was relocated to a 4,500m2 manufacture in Meyrin (just outside Geneva). And in a further bid for greater autonomy, LV bought Léman Cadrans, a Geneva dial maker, in 2012. Other audacious creations, like the 2021 GPHG award-winning Tambour Carpe Diem with jacquemart animation, and the growing number of watches with Poinçon de Genève certification, attest to the prolific creativity and watchmaking wonders that are brewing in La Fabrique du Temps.
Jean Arnault, the youngest son of LVMH owner Bernard Arnault and recently appointed director of watches at Louis Vuitton, has grand designs for La Fabrique du Temps and is keen to attract new blood. In a bid to encourage young watchmakers, designers, entrepreneurs and creative minds, he recently announced the Louis Vuitton Watch Prize for Independent Creatives.
The Sky is the Limit
To be more accurate, outer space is the limit of this Tambour Jacquemart Minute Repeater that was created from scratch to comply with a customer’s dreams. While other brands engage in bespoke commissions – perhaps the closest would be Vacheron Constantin’s Cabinotiers division – what Louis Vuitton is offering here is off-the-charts customisation. Open to the wildest proposals, La Fabrique du Temps will build your dream watch from scratch. Although the Tambour Jacquemart Minute Repeater 200 Years has been sold, it is being used as a showcase, an aperitif, if you like, of what La Fabrique du Temps can pull off in-house – and it is impressive! And it’s not just the horological fireworks of a minute repeater and automaton combo that dazzle here; countless other design and decorative aspects elevate this watch.
Two years in the making, the Tambour Jacquemart Minute Repeater takes the iconic drum shape of the Tambour into outer space. Still round, wide and curved, the Tambour case reveals a futuristic design. Evoking the profile of an astronaut’s helmet, the large porthole on the dial offers a generous view of the cosmic scenery. The case is crafted in microblasted titanium with 18k white gold lugs and bezel and has a 46.8mm diameter and a height of 15.2mm. The winding crown at 12 o’clock not only respects the wide, sleek curvature of the case middle but is also a nod to chiming pocket watches of the past. While the dimensions are large, the short angular lugs will undoubtedly ensure a snug fit on the wrist.
There is no escaping its elite terrestrial provenance, and the sloping side of the brushed white gold bezel is engraved with the 12 letters of ‘Louis Vuitton’ and filled with blue rubber. Another reminder of its provenance is the lip of the bezel at 6 o’clock that invades the dial with a prominent letter ‘V’ formed by three openworked triangles (or is it a reference to the brand’s 1960s VVV campaign inviting us to Volez, Voguez, Voyagez avec des valises Louis Vuitton, which made its way on to the dials of the Tambour VVV collection?).
Like the lights of a space vessel, the case emits a discreet glow thanks to gradient-coloured gemstones. Travelling from different tones of blue to aqua-green, the crown at noon is set with three baguette-cut tourmalines and four sapphires in gradient shades to match the dial. Similarly, the minute repeater slide is embellished with tourmalines, sapphires and topaz, as is the letter ‘V’ on the lip of the bezel.
a quartet of Talents
While La Fabrique du Temps was busy in the engine room assembling the 480-component manual-winding movement (calibre LV 200) and coupling the nine jacquemarts with the cathedral gong minute repeater, two famous artists were at work on deck. However, before we look at the decorative elements, a quick word on the movement.
Jacquemarts, which are, in essence, automata or animated mechanised figures, were originally used to strike the hour on church bells. Usually positioned on clock towers near the bells, examples of these mechanised bell strikers can be found on the medieval Zytglogge tower in Bern, Switzerland. Making their transition from life-sized automata to miniature representations on watch dials, most jacquemart figures in watchmaking are static. Here, nine jacquemart figures come to life when the pusher on the side of the case is activated. To produce a richer, longer-lasting sound, Navas and Barbasini have fitted the watch with cathedral gongs.
Anita Porchet, the best-known enamel artist working in watches today, is the hand behind the 21st-century space voyage scenery on the dial. Deploying different techniques, Porchet used miniature painting to depict the imaginary planet in the upper left part of the dial – notice how the colours match the gemstones set in the case. To capture the swirling galaxy, the hazy rays emanating from the planet at the top of the dial and the subtle LV monogram, Porchet applied opaque and transparent enamels to the dial. The twinkling elements in the sky are formed with hand-applied metallic spangles (paillons), and you can see Anita Porchet’s signature on the dial at 7 o’clock.
Most of the moving elements on the dial have been hand-sculpted in white gold by Swiss craftsman Dick Steenman, a well-known name in luxury watch and jewellery circles. The miniature spaceship, complete with V-inscriptions on its wings and a blue fuselage, is beautifully sculpted in white gold, and its hatch opens to reveal three large brilliant-cut diamond passengers. When the jacquemart function is activated, the spaceship and its independent fuselage move up and down, and the hatch opens and closes. Simultaneously, the two hand-sculpted white gold planets, one with a ring and a pitted surface and the other with streaks of galactic blue, rock gently from side to side.
At the heart of the galaxy is an iconic Louis Vuitton design, the quatrefoils or four-petal flower motif created by Georges Vuitton (along with the interlocking initials of Louis Vuitton), which forms part of the famous Monogram canvas. The quatrefoils is sculpted in white gold with blue gradient enamel petals and highlighted with a gleaming star-cut diamond in the centre. Unlike the other moving elements on the dial, the quatrefoils spins in a counterclockwise direction. The two white gold shooting stars, positioned on the outer limits of the galaxy, are punctuated with large star-cut diamonds and swing gently from side to side. At noon, a round blue planet twinkling with metallic spangles emits subtle rays across the dial and spins in a clockwise motion.
There are no indices or numerals on the dial – the blue rubber Louis Vuitton letters on the bezel are aligned with the hours – and the openworked hands are treated with a turquoise shade of luminescent material.
Calibre LV 200
If you ever tire of the show on the dial, there’s always a view of the movement on the reverse side of the case. Parts of calibre LV 200 can be espied underneath the bright blue openworked bridges with their Côtes de Genève finishings. Conceived, developed and produced in-house by La Fabrique du Temps, it no doubt relies on solutions found in the LV 525 calibre used inside the Tambour Carpe Diem with jacquemarts and the LC 178 calibre with minute repeater inside the Tambour Minute Repeater of 2011. Beating at 21,600vph, this manual-winding movement delivers an impressive 100-hour power reserve.
COSMOS IN A TRUNK
Presented on a matching blue rubber strap embossed with Louis Vuitton in relief, this out-of-this-world model is a teaser of what can be done and what might well be in the pipeline for Louis Vuitton’s next adventure in the high-end watchmaking sphere. As you would expect, this miniature masterpiece will be delivered to its owner in a classic Louis Vuitton trunk-style case. Any guesses as to who might have commissioned this watch?
For more information, please visit louisvuitton.com.