Louis Vuitton made its talked-about debut in watchmaking in 2002, and has never hidden its ambition to give more storied watch brands a run for their money. This year it has decided that good things come in threes. First up, the Parisian firm is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Louis Vuitton Cup – taking place in San Francisco from July 4th to August 30th to select the challenger that will race defender Oracle Team USA for the America’s Cup – with a totally original version of a watch cut out for yacht racing. “This new timepiece corresponds to our strategy to introduce an innovation to our Tambour collections each year,” explains Louis Vuitton’s PR manager for Switzerland, Christine D’Incau Décrevel. “The integration, in 2012, of La Fabrique du Temps has been decisive in this new approach to the market.”
A complex mechanism that's easy to use
“We weren’t entirely convinced that the more familiar split-seconds chronograph was a completely satisfactory solution,” continues Michel Navas, who heads the watchmaking workshop at La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton. “We spent three years working on new ideas and, after two years’ development, we’re presenting the Tambour Twin Chrono, a monopusher twin chrono with time difference display.” This timepiece is equipped with four separate “engines”: one, self-winding, to display central hours, minutes and seconds, and three, manual-winding, that deliver a 35-hour power reserve for the race timing functions.
The result is a complex mechanism assembled from 437 parts including two clutchless, hence zero friction, column wheels. It is, nonetheless, extremely simple to use. One push simultaneously starts the chronograph timing, on two subdials, of the two boats in competition. When the first boat crosses the finish line, a second push stops one of the readings and starts the separate split-recording subdial. At the end of the race, a third push gives the result for the second boat, and the difference between winning and losing times. The Tambour Twin Chrono features a grand feu enamel dial and will be proposed in two limited editions of 15, a tip of the hat to the 30 years of the Louis Vuitton Cup.
This is what most appealed to me in Louis Vuitton's proposal, that I should help them become authentic watchmakers.
Two new collections
The other two unveilings for 2013 also fly the Tambour flag, this time in the form of new collections: Monogram for women and éVolution for men. Both adhere to the aesthetic codes of the Louis Vuitton brand while keeping pace with the latest trends. The seven gem-set Monogram watches are, with the exception of the steel version, equipped with a mechanical movement. There is even a tourbillon version, the second for Louis Vuitton. The finer contours were achieved by inverting the Tambour case. Just as contemporary, the éVolution collection comes as a GMT, a chronograph, and a combination of both. Its sleeker, more sober architecture comes clad in next-generation Black MMC, a metal matrix composite favoured by the aeronautics industry and Formula 1 racing for its high resistance and lightness.
When it comes to retailing its watches, Louis Vuitton is one of the most selective brands around. Its timepieces are sold in just over 200 of its 460 points of sale. Not that this has hindered the brand’s development. In 2014 it will move into the new manufacturing facilities which are currently under construction in Meyrin (Geneva), and has its sights set on stamping its production with the Poinçon de Genève. “This is what most appealed to me in Louis Vuitton’s proposal,” says Michel Navas. “That I should help them become authentic watchmakers. With La Fabrique du Temps’ design and construction bureau, that’s exactly what Louis Vuitton will do.” ■