Michel Navas, founder of La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton, shares new insight into his creations
Historically speaking, Louis Vuitton’s venture into fine watchmaking began back in 2002 with the Tambour. Following this initial success and in order to express its know-how and quest for excellence in the universe of high-end craftsmanship in the art of watchmaking, Louis Vuitton chose to bring together the finest specialists. While the heart of the house continues to beat in Paris, the timepieces see the light of day in Geneva, Switzerland, in workshops whose name alone epitomizes its spirit: La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton.
Founded in 2007 by master watchmakers Enrico Barbasini and Michel Navas, La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton is a high watchmaking workshop that specializes in the conception and fabrication of high standard movements, such as the minute repeater—a complicated chiming watch that has won respect from fans of horology for its technical quality and appealing aesthetics—and also the tourbillon.
Since then, the recognizable design of Louis Vuitton’s watchmaking has given rise to a whole collection of timekeepers for men and women. From simple Tambour models and complicated versions (from GMT, chronograph, tourbillon, Spin Time to minute repeaters) which have all enabled Louis Vuitton to remain true to its demanding standards, combining a spirit of Swiss savoirfaire with an injection of Louis Vuitton’s DNA.
Then came a new creation this year, which is arguably the most complicated timepiece in Louis Vuitton’s horological portfolio: the Louis Vuitton Tambour Moon Mystérieuse Flying Tourbillon. A mesmerizing feat of watchmaking, the watch was “more mysterious than the previous version,” according to Navas. I had the opportunity to discuss this mystery—and more—with the Swiss watchmaker himself earlier this year in Bangkok, Thailand, during the opening of Louis Vuitton’s Regional High Watch event.
DA MAN: Two years ago you debuted a watch with a Geneva Seal. Can you tell us why the Geneva Seal is so important? Michel Navas: One of the reasons we are in Geneva is to get a Geneva Seal. And the Geneva Seal is the highest mark of quality in the watchmaking world. That’s why we wanted to obtain the Geneva Seal, and we did it two years ago with the first flying tourbillon in the Voyager case in platinum. We were so successful with this watch, so we decided to design a new tourbillon that was launched a few months ago with the Tambour Moon
“I try to create the same feel in the movement, with the utmost respect for high watchmaking and the modern touch of Louis Vuitton”
case and is completely different than the first. Going forward, we are trying to have different models with the Geneva Seal. DA: By the way, congratulations on the launch of the Louis Vuitton Tambour Moon Mystérieuse Flying Tourbillon. What’s the story and inspiration behind this new watch? MN: Previously, we had a mysterious watch and it was so successful. All 32 pieces were sold out. After that, my partner Enrico Barbasini and I decided to develop a new mysterious watch. But, we want to do more than the previous one. We would like to have the movement floating in the air and complete it with a big power reserve, since it’s a mechanical watch. The result? A watch with eight days power reserve and a flying tourbillon plus a monogram flower at the top of the tourbillon. We want the watch to be more mysterious than the first one. You can’t see any screws; it’s floating in the air and it is very, very interesting. DA: When you prepare a new complication, how do you make sure it’s truly Louis Vuitton? How do you incorparate the brand’s DNA? MN: I’m not alone in Louis Vuitton. As a watchmaker, I worked with my team and with my designers. So, when I decided to be different than other brands and when I finished my work, I work with my designers and then the designers bring the Louis Vuitton touch. And I try to create the same feel in the movement, with the utmost respect for high watchmaking and the modern touch of Louis Vuitton. DA: In this case, were the case and the movement designed in parallel? MN: For this watch, it’s a no. First, we design the movement and after that, we design the case. We give the sketch of the movement to the designers and after that, they put it in the Tambour Moon case. DA: What was the hardest part of the development of this particular watch? MN: The hardest? I think it’s how to be “mysterious” without any screws. We used six layers of sapphire glass. Two layers to hold the movement, one layer to wind the movement, one layer to set the time and of course the rest of the two layers will be the crystal front and the crystal back. In total, there are six layers. That’s why it’s very difficult.
Also, for another challenge, definitely the power reserve. As we can see, we have the flying tourbillon at six and two double-barrels at 12 o’clock. So, we decided to put the two barrels stacked on top of each other. The development was difficult and also assembling the movement is very difficult. It’s a nightmare for a watchmaker, but a pleasure for the client.
DA : What are the different bespoke options apart from the customization of the bridge of the tourbillon? Is there anything else that a customer can request?
MN: So, in this kind of watch, if the client wants different materials or if they want an engraving of the back, we can customize it. In other models, we can provide more options. We have different projects with some clients and we built the watch with them. In high watchmaking, we are a very small company with only 65 people. We can make what we want and you can’t do this kind of watchmaking in the big companies. You have to be a small company like we are. We can surround ourselves with engineers, dial makers, watchmakers, engravers, enamel artisans and the clients—that’s very important. Altogether, we built the watches and the results are very, very personal, because each is a unique watch. In other words, yes, we can make unique watches.
DA : So, the movement can be customized as well? Like, for instance, if a client wants a chronograph with a tourbillon?
MN: Well, we can start with a minute repeater and we can have different complications and different functions. And in the end, it becomes a very complicated watch, just for the clients. DA : For Louis Vuitton, you’ve already conceived and manufactured a 24-time-zone movement, tourbillon, flying tourbillon and minute repeater as well. Is there another complication that you’re really looking forward to create? The holy grail of complications, if you will. MN: I think we have a lot of things to do. We are trying to bring something that people need. Something that people miss. We always have new ideas. I don’t know why, but sometimes at night, I wake up and have this idea and very quickly I tell it to my team. Sometimes, it is a stupid idea; but from that stupid idea, something is born. So, yeah, we have a lot of things to do.
DA : What about something that you personally want to do? MN: I like complicated watches, but I also like very simple watches that are very original. When we designed the World Time, it was very original. But, in the watchmaking industry, we have to be patient. It’s not like fashion shows for the brands with ready to wear collections where that can be divided by year or seasons like winter or summer. In the watchmaking world, you have to wait two or three years.
DA : Last but not least, what is the most interesting complication that you have ever developed for Louis Vuitton? MN: I think it’s the Spin Time. The Spin Time was so successful and we have different versions. We have it in the Tambour shape and also in the Escale shape for ladies and for men. It was very successful and I’m very proud of it.
“It’s a nightmare for a watchmaker, but a pleasure for the client”
Michel Navas Opposite page The Louis Vuitton Tambour Moon Mystérieuse Flying Tourbillon
Sapphire disc and the logo of the brand Opposite page The Louis Vuitton Tambour Moon Mystérieuse Flying Tourbillon
The sapphire disc with the monogram, the logo and the flying tourbillon Opposite page Breaking down the parts inside the watch