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The Wondrous Beauty of the Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders

Inspired by Gaston-Louis Vuitton’s collection of katana sword guards, Louis Vuitton deploys its impressive arsenal of artisanal crafts, and the effect is nothing short of wondrous.

| By Rebecca Doulton | 5 min read |

Appointed director of Louis Vuitton Watches in 2021, Jean Arnault’s strategy to reposition the brand as an elite player involves a combination of technical audacity, refreshing design and an incredible devotion to traditional decorative techniques. Wielding the best tools, Arnault can count on the watchmaking wizardry of the brand’s in-house La Fabrique du Temps atelier and the impressive ensemble of artisans united under Louis Vuitton’s La Fabrique des Arts workshop. The latest trilogy showcases the brand’s dominion of a wide range of métiers d’art and has been inspired by the personal collections of Gaston-Louis Vuitton, the grandson of the luxury trunk maker Louis Vuitton. Shaping the identity of the Maison from 1907 to 1970, Gaston-Louis Vuitton was a renowned aesthete and collector. His collection of over 800 ornate Japanese katana sword guards, known as tsubas, has directly influenced the design and symbolism of the three limited-edition timepieces of the Escale Cabinet of Wonders.

Escale Case

While it’s been some time since we last saw an Escale model, Louis Vuitton’s Escale collection captured the limelight in 2014 with its unforgettable Escale Worldtime inspired by the colourful markings and pictograms customers used to identify their Louis Vuitton steamer trunks of yesteryear. Distinguished by its rivetted lugs like those used on the Maison’s famous trunks, the Escale has undergone a gentle facelift. The polished bezel has been refined with a subtle curve to add softness to the case profile, and the hour and minute hands are now lance-shaped and faceted to reflect the light. In honour of Gaston-Louis Vuitton, each watch features a round applique with his initials (GLV) and a different coloured stone, the same stone that is fitted inside the crown with the LV monogram. Presented here in 40mm white and rose gold cases with a thickness of 12mm, the case middles and buckles are hand-engraved with three variations of Seigaiha waves found in traditional Japanese iconography.

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Koi’s Garden

Crafted in La Fabrique des Arts Louis Vuitton and overseen by Marie Boutteçon, two blue lifelike carps are represented on the dial surrounded by smooth river-worn pebbles. The carp are sculpted in white gold, engraved by hand and then placed in a kiln to produce a fine layer of dark oxide. The engraver then removes part of the oxide layer to reveal the white gold, creating an iridescent sheen on the carp’s scales. The last stage involves the hand of a miniature painter who covers the carp in translucent blue lacquer, making them glisten in the light.

The swirling waters engraved on the white gold dial plate are studded with pebbles; some of them are set with diamonds, others are carved from rock crystal and smoky quartz, and the light blue ones are made of rock crystal covering a mother-of-pearl disc engraved with the Louis Vuitton Monogram flowers. The GLV monogram at 6 o’clock is sculpted in white gold and set with onyx.

Snake’s Jungle

The second model in the trilogy depicts a snake in a lush tropical setting exposing his forked tongue and fangs about to devour the GLV monogram at noon. Employing a host of decorative arts, the bamboo forest is a 367-part jigsaw composed of wood, parchment and straw, assembled using marquetry techniques by Rose Saneuil. No less complex, Eddy Jaquet is the artisan behind the white gold hand-sculpted and engraved three-dimensional serpent.

The engraved V-strokes and Monogram flowers on the snake’s body are then handed over to Vanessa Lecci, who has filled cavities with champlevé enamel in vibrant shades of blue and green. The bamboo leaves on the upper right-hand corner of the dial are crafted like the snake, adding even more volume as they reach out and rest on the white gold GLV monogram with its bright green jade stone. Incidentally, this model is the only one to feature hand-engraved leaves on the bezel.

Dragon’s Cloud

Completing the trilogy is this rose gold model portraying a majestic Oriental dragon. Associated with the sky and water, Asian dragons are often surrounded by cloudy scenery. To recreate this dreamy habitat, the art of damascening, using inlays of different gold colours to create a rich, layered texture, was employed. Fanny Queloz, who created the damascene, hammered the white gold dial plate to a matte finish before cutting grooves into the surface and filling them with yellow and rose gold wires.

Once the wires are cold-worked into the dial, a burin is used to shape and finish the metal. The gold dragon’s body and the clouds are richly engraved and finished with polished and matte surfaces. Employing the rare art of paillonné enamel, which glitters with tiny pieces of gold leaf (paillons), the lower half of the dragon’s body reveals yellow gold Monogram flower paillons set into the black enamel background. The claws of the ruby-eyed dragon clutch the GLV monogram at 9 o’clock, set with a red carnelian stone.

Calibre LFT023

The first proprietary automatic three-hand movement designed by La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton and executed by Le Cercle des Horlogers, calibre LFT023 made its maiden voyage on board the new luxury sports Tambour collection. Wound by a micro-rotor and certified as a chronometer, the LFT023 has a frequency of 4Hz and a robust 50-hour power reserve. In keeping with the impressive artistry on the dial and case, the rose gold micro-rotor and the bridges are engraved with Japanese wave motifs.

Availability & Price

Inspired by the braided leather hilts of Japanese katana swords, the three Cabinet of Wonders timepieces are fitted with beautiful hand-braided calfskin leather straps with gold pin buckles engraved with Japanese wave motifs. Each model is a limited edition of 20 pieces, and the price, as you might have guessed, is upon request.

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