It has been 20 years since Louis Vuitton introduced its first watch, the Tambour. Two decades later, the luxury brand’s watch collection is nowhere near as widely recognised as its other luxury goods. For Jean Arnault, the youngest son of Bernard Arnault, the billionaire owner of parent company LVMH, changing this is the top priority as director at Louis Vuitton watches.
Although the brand’s efforts to expand its watch portfolio and increase awareness of its offerings received a serious boost with the acquisition of Swiss watch manufacturer La Fabrique du Temps in 2011, the young LVMH scion recently acknowledged that the brand still has a long way to go as a watchmaker. “Not a lot of people know that Louis Vuitton makes watches, which I hope is going to change soon,” he said in an interview with The New York Times after announcing the Louis Vuitton Watch Prize for Independent Creatives late last year. Seen as the watchmaking equivalent of the coveted LVMH Prize for young fashion designers, the initiative aims to facilitate and foster independent watchmakers with extraordinary talents, while at the same time helping increase awareness of LV’s watches among collectors and enthusiasts.
During Arnault’s stint as marketing and product development director at the LV watch division, two of the brand’s watches have already won accolades at the 2021 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG), considered the Oscars of watchmaking. While the Tambour Carpe Diem won the Audacity Prize for its non-conformist and off-beat character, the Tambour Street Diver clinched the Diver’s Watch Prize. Arnault credits the half-a-million-dollar Carpe Diem with attracting a surprisingly high number of traditional watch collectors to the brand. He is also consolidating all of the brand’s employees as well as the design, manufacture and assembly of components under one roof at La Fabrique du Temps. This includes those from the recently acquired Micro Edge, a specialist in hand finishing and making components such as tourbillon cages, levers, gears, and minute repeater gongs.
Ably supported by Michel Navas, Master Watchmaker at La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton, Arnault has recently pushed for a flurry of new watch models. Apart from the stunningly dramatic Tambour Opera Automata – a tribute to the Sichuan Opera’s Bian Lian – some of the outstanding creations from the Maison in recent months include the exquisite Tambour Fiery Heart, the funky Tambour Moon Flying Tourbillon Poinçon de Genève crafted from a single block of fluorescent green or yellow synthetic sapphire, and the Voyager Skeleton that showcases the brand’s expertise in open-worked mechanical movements.
The Tambour Fiery Heart is a stunning timepiece adorned with three exquisite types of enamelling – grand feu, champlevé, and cloisonné – featuring elegant rose, thorn, and heart designs. With a simple press of a button located on the case side, the heart on the watch vibrantly pulsates, as flames emerge, and the flowers gracefully rotate. The watch features a flying tourbillon escapement and displays the hours and minutes using thorn-armoured hands on a subdial, which is surrounded by briars facing inward. True to its name, each Tambour Moon Flying Tourbillon Poinçon de Genève timepiece is crafted to meet the rigorous standards of the Geneva Seal, ensuring that every surface of each component, even those hidden from view, is decorated to perfection. According to the brand, crafting each case requires 420 hours of intricate operations on digitally-controlled machines, utilising diamond tools. The open-worked movement is equipped with a remarkable flying tourbillon escapement, showcasing the brand’s dedication to precision and innovation.
Meanwhile, the Voyager Skeleton features Louis Vuitton’s first automatic time-only skeleton movement, the LV60 calibre, which was created and designed by La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton and produced in partnership with the Neuchâtel-based workshop, Le Cercle des Horlogers. Relatively cleaner in design and construction, this timepiece celebrates the brand’s core values of architectural beauty, innovation, and mechanical expertise.
If these recent releases are anything to go by, Jean Arnault helming Louis Vuitton watches holds great promise, and the next 20 years could be a very different story for the luxury goods brand’s mechanical watches division.