Louis Vuitton may make almost every conceivable category of luxury product, but nothing it creates may be more perfect for our current moment than its watches. Serious collectors haven’t stopped craving beautiful signifiers of taste and timelessness, especially not when those qualities can be stamped on something as personal as a watch. And the famed French house is ready to prove that innovation is more important than ever for its clients.
Last March, right after Vuitton’s women’s artistic director Nicolas Ghesquière closed Paris Fashion Week with a collection that partly riffed on ski parkas, the brand invited select members of the press to Gstaad, Switzerland, to unveil its newest high watchmaking offerings: the Tambour Curve Flying Tourbillon Poinçon de Genève, the Escale Spin Time Météorite, and the Tambour World Time Runway.
Vuitton’s watchmaking division is led by Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini, two watchmakers who cut their teeth working with the legendary Gérald Genta (the man who designed the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the Patek Philippe Nautilus, among others), and who together ran a company called La Fabrique du Temps. One of their clients was Louis Vuitton; the partnership proved so successful that the maison purchased the manufacture in 2011. “Everybody knows Vuitton for the leather goods,” Navas says, “but you have to be an insider to know about the watches.” Sitting by the fire in a rustic room overlooking the Alps after the Gstaad event, Navas told me that the duo’s job was to introduce a taste of the avant-garde. “Louis Vuitton is a historic company,” he says, “but as watchmakers, we are very new. So we have to build new ideas.”
Case in point: the Tambour, Louis Vuitton’s signature watch series, recognizable for its drum shape. This year, Navas stretched the Tambour’s silhouette like a Möbius strip, for a fresher, sportier aesthetic. For the Tambour Curve Flying Tourbillon Poinçon de Genève, Navas turned to nontraditional materials, layering 100 sheets of car- bon at random and compressing them to form sinuous contours. The result, an ultra-lightweight material the house calls CarboStratum, makes each watch produced one-of-a-kind. (Personalization is a hallmark of the Vuitton brand.) The carbon is overlaid on a grade 5 titanium base, the same used in aeronautics. It serves the dual purpose of being incredibly tough and of looking, as Navas says, “like ebony.” Made to meet the exact- ing standards of the Poinçon de Genève (Geneva Seal), a certification awarded to watches that attain the highest degree of finish and decoration, the assembly of the Curve’s intricate movement requires over 120 hours of intense labor.
Navas also introduced two more examples of high watchmaking in the mountains: the Escale Spin Time Météorite, in which the distinctive Spin Time watch (which uses rotating cubes set on spokes around the dial to obscure all numbers but that of the current hour) received an all-gray meteorite dial, and the Tambour World Time Runway. Using a newly developed automatic movement, the LV107 calibre, the Runway uses two central hour and minute hands in place of rotating discs to display 24 different time zones. It’s simple to read, but an amazingly complex technological feat to pull off. Luckily, when it comes to your wrist, you won’t want to.