Style / World of Watches (WOW)

Louis Vuitton’s Tambour is making waves thanks to La Fabrique du Temps

Birthed from the passion of La Fabrique du Temps, Louis Vuitton’s Tambour is making quiet statements with subtle yet masterful executions of high complications

Jan 08, 2021 | By Jonathan Ho

It means ‘drum’. With its first collection dating back to 2002, the Louis Vuitton Tambour marches to its own beat, steering clear from the usual watch-forms and mid-cases that have come to characterise Swiss fine watchmaking. Keeping in mind, though the aesthetics very much French (as appropriate for a brand headquartered in Paris), its watchmaking mind is very much Swiss, nestled within the heart of Geneva, led by industry stalwart Michel Navas.

Though effectively ‘beating its own signature rhythms’, the unique shape, heretofore unseen in the industry has instantly created a recognisable watchmaking identity for the maison, and like all new endeavours, has had a polarising effect: you either love it or you’re not entirely comfortable with it.

Exploring La Fabrique du Temps: LUXUO interview Michel Navas and discovers Louis Vuitton Tambour’s horological legitimacy

The acquisition of La Fabrique du Temps has brought together all the company’s in-house métiers (slightly over a hundred watchmakers, dial-makers etc.). In an exclusive conversation with Michel Navas, the man responsible for the brand’s watchmaking ambitions tells World of Watches how this has enabled Louis Vuitton to parlay its somewhat youthful legacy into a potent symbol of watchmaking primacy – the acclaimed Poinçon de Genève.

Are there any differences in how La Fabrique du Temps operated as an independent company and now, within the Louis Vuitton family?

The only difference is that we work exclusively for Louis Vuitton. Previously, we worked for a dozen brands and today we are entirely dedicated to the Louis Vuitton collection. The philosophy of watchmaking respect and the freedom of creation have remained the same, it is a great opportunity.

As a watchmaker within the industry, what do you say to collectors and enthusiasts who give such heavy importance to the brand and provenance rather than pay attention to the actual calibre, finishing and the end result?

These people are not real connoisseurs. These are just collectors who buy watches because other people have told them it is good. The true connoisseur considers the art of watchmaking for the masterpiece it represents with its know-how, its originality and its technicality. Unfortunately, we find this same phenomenon in the whole world of art.

You developed high complications for traditional brands like Patek Philippe, and Laurent Ferrier and Louis Vuitton timepieces look more modern. Are you redefining classic watchmaking codes and techniques? Is it difficult to manage/marry the seemingly divergent approaches to watchmaking?

In the first brand you mention, I worked in the workshop for complicated watches and especially minute repeaters. These two prestigious brands have kept a very recognizable classic spirit. Louis Vuitton is the biggest luxury brand in the world, famous for its leather goods, haute couture, ready-to-wear, etc. We must respect the Louis Vuitton heritage and draw inspiration from it to develop the watch collection of the brand. It is a real challenge because two completely different worlds must come together and give the most beautiful timepieces in the world which are our watchmaking achievements.

Exhibit A: Tambour Moon Tourbillon Volant Poinçon de Genève Pavée

On October 4th, 2017, Louis Vuitton presented the Tambour Moon Tourbillon Volant Poinçon de Genève Pavée celebrating the debut of Louis Vuitton’s arrival at the prestigious high jewellery mecca, Place Vendôme. With a case and plate entirely encrusted with diamonds – the Tambour Moon Tourbillon Volant Poinçon de Genève Pavée was a world’s first for a watch with Poinçon de Genève certification.

A curved-case reinterpretation of the original Tambour introduced in 2002. the Tambour Moon Tourbillon Volant “Poinçon de Genève,” demonstrates genuine technical and artistic prowess of La Fabrique du Temps and demonstrably so, considering that the timepiece is a world premiere at the highest certification of provenance.

Adorned with 145 baguette-cut diamonds, the Louis Vuitton Tambour Moon Tourbillon Volant Poinçon de Genève Pavée breaks an industry taboo by setting an extraneous buffet of 106 brilliant-cut diamonds on the movement itself (well specifically, the bridges). Three circles set with brilliant-cut diamonds are arranged on a vertical line: at 12 o’clock, the finely chiselled barrel bearing the Louis Vuitton signature; at the centre, the hours and minutes; at 6 o’clock, the tourbillon carriage featuring the Monogram Flower, a tribute to Louis Vuitton’s emblematic signature. This singular alignment provides a unique aesthetic based on transparencies seen through a skeletonised plate that is itself pavé-set with round diamonds.

Manually-wound via a crown presenting a 7.6 carat rose-cut diamond, the calibre LV 97 of the Tambour Moon Tourbillon Volant Poinçon de Genève Pavée bears an exceptional 80-hour power reserve.

A true demonstration of remarkable technical and artistic accomplishment, the Louis Vuitton Tambour Moon Tourbillon Volant Poinçon de Genève Pavée is assembled and gem-set by the master watchmakers at La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton.

Exhibit B: Tambour Curve Flying Tourbillon Poinçon

Louis Vuitton is playing catch up in the realm of high horology. Mr. Vuitton is no longer with us but the new Tambour Curve Flying Tourbillon Poinçon makes it readily apparent that his spirit and drive for innovation lives on. A more technical and aesthetically futurist interpretation of the original Louis Vuitton Tambour watch, the Flying Tourbillon Poinçon is the maison’s exquisite interpretation on an ultra competitive genre – luxury sports watches.

Louis Vuitton’s latest Tambour Curve Flying Tourbillon is also available for the brand’s white glove service during this current pandemic

The openworked edition of the Tambour Curve Flying Tourbillon is constructed with ultra-lightweight, resistant technical materials commonly associated with aeronautics rather than watchmaking but what makes this lightweight Louis Vuitton ‘sports watch’ (they don’t call it that and personally i believe we are beyond labels at this point) truly special is that the outer part of the case is made from CarboStratum®, a composite material developed exclusively for the maison.

Working with material specialists, Louis Vuitton CarboStratum is produced by layering over 100 assorted sheets of carbon at random. The combined layers are then compressed at a controlled temperature. Once stabilised, this ultra-rigid material is then milled and then fitted over the grade 5 titanium base watch case.

What results is a 46mm timepiece with a visually unique and physically elongated case which gives the Tambour Curve Flying Tourbillon Poinçon its name. A convex surface enclosed in an elongated circle, the Curve Flying Tourbillon rises above ubiquity by deconstructing the circle to create its own shape; when viewed from the side profile, the caseband and mid-case reveals a continuous curve from one end to other while appearing round from above: the Tambour Curve Flying Tourbillon Poinçon de Genève follows the natural curve of the wrist, launching a new chapter in Louis Vuitton’s heritage of craftsmanship and with the elegant, dynamic architecture – the history of watchmaking as well.

I was blown away by the new Tambour Curve – finally a sports luxury watch that looks nothing like an octagon or displaying screws on the bezel – could you share how you evolved the Tambour into its latest incarnation?

Thanks for the compliment. The Tambour case has evolved several times since 2002.Today it’s a new milestone with the Tambour Curve, a small revolution in our collection. Everything is new in this magnificent sporty watch, first of all its curved shape from noon to 6 o’clock which marries the wrist wonderfully. Concerning the materials, we used titanium with a carbon specially developed for Louis Vuitton, the Carbostratum (layers stacked with a random change of fibre orientation) witch gives each watch a unique look. Lightweight, only 52 grams. And of course the quintessence of fine watchmaking, a flying tourbillon movement with the Geneva Seal, the highest quality in the watchmaking world.

There’s a very strong architectural quality to the new Tambour Curve flying tourbillon, it is very different from your usual skeleton watches with a “controlled chaos” of gears and wheels, do you design the movement together with the overall aesthetics of the watch? Or do you favour one over the other?

In the Tambour curve, you can notice the Louis Vuitton codes in the design of the movement. We work closely with our designers to fully respect each other’s work. This particular case has been incredibly successful. It was a really teamwork for an exceptional watch.

Which complication do you find most aesthetically pleasing? (in terms of appearance)

In terms of appearance, the Spin Time Central Tourbillon  is my favourite but in terms of elegance, it is the Minute Repeater in the Voyager case.

In a centuries old industry, Louis Vuitton is a fairly newcomer to the scene, does this mean you would be embracing new materials as other LVMH watchmaking brands have done? Or do you prefer old fashioned brass and steel?

Although we are quite new to the fine watchmaking scene. We have immense respect for the art of watchmaking using noble materials, but we are looking to the future in technology. The proof with our Tambour Curve model.

Can watchmaking ‘evolve’ and modernise while staying traditional? Or is it a contradiction of terms?

No, it’s not an oxymoron, if you add the past and the future together you have the present as a result, don’t you think so?

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