Louis Vuitton has the advantage of not historically coming from an haute horlogerie background. This leaves the brand best known for its leather and high fashion lots of latitude to play with watches. And Louis Vuitton definitely uses this advantage to create some very unorthodox timepieces.
For fans of traditional high watchmaking, this can be slightly disorienting. But for fans of Louis Vuitton and those with a broader vision of haute horlogerie it can be a revelation. Which side you fall on is entirely up to your own taste and sensibilities.
And while taste is subjective, the quality of a piece of high watchmaking may never be in question. This crossroad is precisely where Louis Vuitton excels. Using the best materials, traditional watchmaking techniques, and most inventive watchmakers, Louis Vuitton successfully plays with unique design and unusual shapes.
One thing I find fun about Louis Vuitton is its innate sense of playfulness and devil-may-care attitude – something all too visible in 2021’s Carpe Diem, an automat created precisely to be audacious and whimsical. It was generally well received, even by traditionalists, which led to it winning a prize at the 2021 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
Louis Vuitton is definitely unique in the way it concentrates on both its movements and its design – delightfully and with a passionate attitude toward both.
The brand’s unusual approach has really characterized it since at least 2009 when it began working with La Fabrique du Temps, the very creative complication specialist founded by Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini. By 2011, Louis Vuitton had purchased La Fabrique du Temps and by 2014 had consolidated its La Chaux-de-Fonds- and Geneva-based supplier holdings – including dial making and La Fabrique du Temps – into one facility in Meyrin, whose sole purpose is to create and craft Louis Vuitton’s inventive high watchmaking.
Here 16 watchmakers and a host of other technicians, designers, and creative heads work together to produce 300-400 high watchmaking timepieces per year, many of which are bespoke commissions for private clients.
Today, this creative attitude is obvious in speaking with the leadership of the brand in the watch sector. But even more astounding is the ease with which Michel Navas, head of La Fabrique du Temps, has embraced the attitude and ideology of the youthful Jean Arnault, now 23 years old and marketing director of Louis Vuitton’s watches and wearables.
While we have not yet seen the fruits of their clearly mutual admiration – Arnault has definite ideas for the future as does Navas – the Tambour Spin Time Air Quantum seems to fit right in with all I’d heard from the duo over the course of the two days the brand spent introducing its 2022 high watchmaking pieces. Arnault and Navas haven’t revealed plans for Louis Vuitton’s high watchmaking future, but one thing is certain: they do plan to continue to be surprising and to appeal to today’s consumer. And this is likely to result in slightly different products than what we’ve seen thus far.
It’s been 20 years since Louis Vuitton introduced its Tambour collection in 2002.
Tambour is French for “drum,” and the brand christened the collection with this name because of its case shape. As Louis Vuitton isn’t originally a watch brand, it is all the more impressive that it was able to create a design like this that really works for it.
While the cases of the Tambour line look big – huge in some circumstances (see the above-mentioned Carpe Diem) – their signature short lugs and smooth case back allow the case to wear very comfortably on the wrist despite the size.
And let’s be truthful here: it’s my opinion that people buying watches from this brand want their watches to be noticed. The size and shape of the Tambour case all but guarantees that.
Which brings me to the latest timepiece by Louis Vuitton: the Tambour Spin Time Air Quantum, a watch designed to continue the clever Spin Time Air concept while bringing two noticeable things to the table that weren’t there before: a slightly more toned-down Tambour case and micro-electronically lit luminous cubes.
The Louis Vuitton Spin Time is Louis Vuitton’s take on the traditional jump hour. Introduced in 2009, it foregoes the traditional “jump disk” display to instead show the time by cubes that turn to reveal the time. This makes the display wildly three-dimensional.
The Louis Vuitton Spin Time displays the hour very creatively: 12 cubes on the dial spell out L-O-U-I-S-V-U-I-T-T-O-N. The one displaying the current hour is shown in opposite colors. This cube turns around when the hour passes, returning to its uniform color, at which point the next cube revolves to display the ensuing hour. The minutes are displayed by a central hand.
The result is a Louis Vuitton Spin Time watch that is easier to read than might be expected, has its own distinct character, and is – well – fun. Caliber LV 68 was developed by La Fabrique du Temps to appear as if it floats within the case, an effect heightened by the inky drum-shaped housing and the luminous cubes, which really push the watch forward into a new place as something that could well appeal to a younger crowd.
The 12 cubes on the Louis Vuitton Tambour Spin Time Air Quantum spelling out L-O-U-I-S-V-U-I-T-T-O-N illuminate on demand, activated by pushing a button in the crown. Micro electronics light up the cubes, a dozen tiny light-emitting diodes (LED) placed directly on the top face of each cube, lighting up the Spin Time display from within, illuminating each cube individually. The Spin Time cubes are usually milled from aluminum for lightness, but in this case they are crafted in fused silica, a glass made of almost pure silicon dioxide, in a laborious manufacturing process that involves much higher working temperatures than the manufacture of usual glass. Fused silica is most often used for precision applications like optical lenses and semiconductors.
The precision electronics assembly comprising a ring of 12 LEDs, an integrated circuit, and two batteries is adroitly hidden under the flange. The system can be activated six to seven times every day for three years before these batteries will need replacing. A subtle ring at the base of the crown acts as a battery-level indicator and lights up along with the cubes when the button is pressed. Conversely, it flickers when it’s time for the batteries to be replaced.
The cubes remain lit as long as the pusher is held and remain so for another three seconds after the wearer has stopped pressing the button.
The luminous display of the Tambour Spin Time Air Quantum is offset by a matte-black DLC-coated titanium case and the barest hint of gearing in the center. The movement containing a modern interpretation of Maltese Cross gearing to perform the jump functionality is covered by a visible plate that has been traditionally finished with côtes de Genève. But in a twist worthy of this watch, the plate and its pattern are coated with jet-black DLC and overlaid with the Louis Vuitton Monogram in yellow Super-LumiNova.
The Louis Vuitton Tambour Spin Time Air watch is the latest addition to the family that put this famous French “fashion” brand on the watchmaking map. While I don’t think the Tambour range qualifies for iconic status, it’s pretty darn close. Perhaps that’s more because of what it means for the brand than the industry en masse, but it could be argued that the Tambour added another valuable chapter in the history of fashion houses like Louis Vuitton, Hermés, and Bulgari being taken seriously.