Where watch­mak­ing and wan­der­lust col­lide

At Louis Vuit­ton’s ate­lier in Geneva, a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to horol­ogy is un­der­way.

Esquire (Singapore) - - Contents -

Louis Vuit­ton

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.


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.


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.

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