Where watchmaking and wanderlust collide
At Louis Vuitton’s atelier in Geneva, a different approach to horology is underway.
In an industry dominated by brands with decades, sometimes centuries, of history, it hasn’t always been easy for Louis Vuitton to formulate a watchmaking philosophy that resonates with today’s customers while forging a different path. Yet somehow the luxury powerhouse manages. Rather than rely on heritage or convention, the French maison freed itself from the shackles of tradition and embarked on a never-ending quest for innovation, creativity, spontaneity—a journey, if you will, of what is the ultimate Louis Vuitton timepiece. And knowing how much travel, or at least the idea of travel, resonates so deeply within the brand, it’s not the least bit surprising that some of its most monumental contributions to modern watchmaking have been in world timers.
THE CREATIVE CENTRE
Compared to its trunks and leather goods division, the watchmaking side of Louis Vuitton is a youngling at best, but seen from another perspective, it’s remarkable what the department has achieved in just 16 short years. Louis Vuitton entered the watchmaking arena in 2002 with its first and most iconic timepiece, the Tambour. Meaning drum in French, in reference to its unusual case shape, the Tambour was a unisex timepiece made in numerous sizes and iterations. It was Louis Vuitton’s only watch for 12 years until the maison made the move in 2014 to expand its timepieces offering.
Of course, entire watch collections aren’t created from scratch overnight. Indeed, not even the might of the Louis Vuitton group pulled that off single-handedly. In preparation for its 2014 launch of two new collections, Emprise and Escale, Louis Vuitton roped in the expertise of complications specialist, La Fabrique du Temps. Acquired by the maison in 2012, La Fabrique de Temps is headed by master watchmakers Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini who’ve spent years perfecting their craft in the workshops of Gerald Genta working with the master himself, Patek Philippe,
Audemars Piguet, Franck Muller when the brand was at its height, and more, before setting up their own atelier.
Being situated in Geneva places La Fabrique du Temps in the vicinity of many of the world’s best brands; brands that would easily overshadow Louis Vuitton by sheer experience alone, but it’ll take much more than that to daunt the team of 100 technicians, designers and watchmakers. Why? Because they know that the watches they’re making are like nothing the industry has ever seen.
Models like the Tambour Twin Chrono, Tambour Spin Time GMT, Tambour Tourbillon and Tambour Minute Repeater consistently built the foundation for Louis Vuitton to define its own style of watchmaking—one that is all about innovation. At La Fabrique du Temps, it appears that the goal is to master all the secrets of quality watchmaking in order to better reinterpret them with greater skill; to combine a watchmaker’s independent spirit with the dynamics of a great maison; to foster an amalgamation of the high-tech and the imaginative. Within the current Louis Vuitton portfolio of timepieces, no other model embodies the raison d’etre of La Fabrique du Temps more succinctly and completely than Escale Worldtime.
A WORLD UNTO ITSELF
Brandishing a bold new identity for Louis Vuitton, Escale Worldtime was novel in every sense of the word at its launch in 2014. It was at once traditional yet contemporary, classical yet original, inventive yet intuitive, and fresh yet familiar. Furthermore, the watch has a unique aesthetic that is impossible to forget. And in spirit, it was every bit as Louis Vuitton as it was La Fabrique du Temps.
Escale Worldtimer gives you all the time in the world, but uses not a single hand. All 24 time zones are displayed simultaneously and read off three mobile discs that rotate at varying speeds. Read the hours and minutes as they pass under the yellow arrow at 12 o’clock, while the world time indication can be read off the cities ring. For instance, when it’s 10.10am in Paris, it’s 11.10am in Cairo and so on.
The world timer is considered by many to be the most practical complication today—as opposed to the minute repeater or the tourbillon—but only a maison as deeply impassioned about travel as Louis Vuitton could find new ways to interpret it. Instead of a plain cities ring, the artisans at La Fabrique du Temps have created a delightful tapestry of colours inspired by the monograms typically applied on vintage Louis Vuitton trunks. Apparently it was the custom in the early 20th century for wellheeled passengers of luxury liners to cross the oceans with their Louis Vuitton steamer trunks. These travel must-haves were often hand-painted with the owner’s initials, coat of arms or other coloured ornaments to distinguish them from all others.
Each watch takes over 50 hours for a single artisan to handpaint and fire the rings in 38 brightly hued shades. Looked at in detail under a loupe, the dial stands out not merely in colour but also in texture, for the miniature hand-painting always has that unique three-dimensional quality which machine-printed dials cannot duplicate.
Perpetually driven by innovation and creativity, Louis Vuitton has clearly taken a different tack to watchmaking, one that doesn’t rely on reissuing historical models as a core strategy. Choosing travel as a central theme to its watches also resonates deeply with today’s watch aficionados, whether for the practical features or just the idea of it—after all, what is time but a measurement of us travelling through life?
With travel firmly embedded in its DNA, Louis Vuitton delivers timepieces that put the world at the wearer’s fingertips, literally.