A Class Above
The Louis Vuitton High Watch Presentation in Bangkok gives Karishma Tulsidas an insight into the rarefied world of the French maison’s horological endeavours
he sight of five trunks, stacked one upon each other, greeted us within the green, lush foyer of The Siam Hotel, Bangkok. There was no doubt about it, Louis Vuitton had effectively taken over the space. Upon the invitation of the French maison, we had flown to Bangkok for a leisurely sojourn to discover its array of horological offerings for both men and women. The brand’s message to us was simple: put ourselves in the shoes of its well-heeled clientele, let our hair loose, and have a good time. Well, message received loud and clear. The first day, we slipped into our cocktail dresses, and headed to the Deco Bar & Bistro by the river for the opening party. With glasses of refreshing Thai-inspired cocktails in hand, we languidly chatted on the jetty, enjoying the cool breeze and the serene panorama of the Chao Phraya river. The start of the fashion show beckoned us inside, and the models—all former Miss Universe contestants who represented Thailand—showcased the spellbinding watches and jewellery to their full effect. A dinner at the Chon Thai Restaurant ensued, within a private room decorated in homely Thai accents harking back to the days of yore. The food, too, didn’t disappoint, duly satiating our hunger with its authentic flavours. The immersive experience spilled over to the following day as we were invited to partake in a Muay Thai class. The maison had organised a series of activities for its customers, including pampering sessions at the acclaimed Opium Spa within the hotel. It was as if time had stood still, as the maison beckoned us to leave our stresses behind, and bask in its indulgent hospitality. For us journalists, however, it wasn’t all play and no work—although we have to admit that admiring beautiful watches and jewellery is no hard work. Louis Vuitton had brought in some 100 timepieces and jewels to be showcased to its clients flown in from across Asia. Men in black guarding the rooms were aplenty; not surprising, as most of the watches on display were lavishly endowed with a delicious smattering of precious stones. Unlike many other luxury maisons that are scared to colour outside the lines, Louis Vuitton has an uncanny finger on the pulse of the current zeitgeist and has successfully managed to straddle that precarious balance between the Supreme-wearing hype beasts and its genteel, elite clientele. With horology, however, winning over discerning watch connoisseurs is a whole different ball game, but a challenge that it was ready to face head-on. In 2011, the maison followed in the footsteps of its French luxury peers Chanel and Hermès, and invested in a manufacture in Geneva called La Fabrique du Temps. The reason was evident: if a Louis Vuitton purist is wearing the brand from top to toe, the watch on his or her wrist should be monogrammed as well. The investment in La Fabrique du Temps, headed by industry veterans Enrico Barbasini and Michel Navas, who both formerly cut their teeth at Patek Philippe and Laurent Ferrier, has paid off. Louis Vuitton wasn’t interested in simply stamping on its logo on a traditional watch case housing an ETA movement, it was adamant that it wanted to inject a healthy dose of its DNA into its timepieces, meaning that even its Tambour cases are purely Louis Vuitton. Shaped like a drum, the case narrows towards the base and is inscribed with the 12 letters forming the brand name. As expected, the attention to detail is peerless, and the standard of finishing exceptionally high. And it is not just the dressing that has impressed the watch cognoscenti. La Fabrique du Temps has given Louis Vuitton an advantage in conceptualising functions
and complications that are congruous to its identity. The theme of travel features heavily in its products, as can be seen from the 2014 release of the Escale Worldtime, a playful timepiece that features a 24-hour world time complication with the country emblems hand-painted in an array of vibrant, primary colours. Even its minute repeaters are made for today’s jet-setting elite, as unlike conventional minute repeaters, they chime the home time instead of the current time. As Navas puts it, “We develop movements with the utmost respect for fine watchmaking with the modern touch of Louis Vuitton.” This whimsicality that dresses the timepieces is of course underlined by solid technical chops, which were highlighted by the exhibition’s masterpiece, the Tambour Moon Mystérieuse Flying Tourbillon. Priced at a cool half a million dollars thereabouts, this timepiece duly highlights the emphasis that Louis Vuitton places on mastering technical know-how, and offering its customers top of the line and innovative complications that are both exquisite and exclusive.
THE GOLD STANDARD
Housed within the Tambour Moon case, the Mystérieuse Flying Tourbillon is mesmerising in its architecture—it seems to be suspended in mid-air with nary a screw or a bolt connecting the mechanism to the case. Navas says, “The hardest part of making this movement was to be mysterious without using screws. We used six layers of sapphire glass, two layers to hold the movement, one to wind the movement, one to set the time, and two on the crystal front and back. The development was very difficult, because if you have just a little bit of dust between two layers, you have to completely disassemble the whole movement to remove that speck and assemble it again. It took us two and a half years to develop this watch.” What is impressive, too, is that the timepiece offers eight days of power reserve, achieved by the placement of two stacked barrels, that surprisingly don’t add any clutter to the dial. Two iterations of the timepiece were displayed at the exhibition, one with baguette-cut blue sapphires on the bezel, and the other baguette-cut diamonds.
The bridge of the tourbillon is shaped as the LV logo, and the brand can customise this bridge according to its clients’ needs. This aspect of personalisation is very important to Louis Vuitton, and it is one of the few manufactures in Switzerland that can customise a watch from start to finish—if money is no object, of course. Navas reveals that the manufacture has developed entirely new complicated watches for its customers, a service that it is capable of offering only because it is housed in a relatively small workshop. “In the high-end watchmaking industry, we are a small company, with only 65 people, and we can make what we want. For the Mystérieuse Flying Tourbillon, if the client wants a different material, or his initials instead of the LV logo, we can do that. With other models, we can do a lot more—we have projects with clients where we build the watch entirely in dialogue with them. We surround ourselves with engineers, dial makers, engravers and artisans, and together we can build a unique watch.” With this level of personalisation, it is easy to see why collectors fall for Louis Vuitton’s charms time and again. This is truly where fashion and horology collide in artistic harmony, as the maison doesn’t just rely on the sparkle of precious stones or its highly coveted logo to seduce its clientele. The end result is effortless and modern, much like the event that we attended—behind the scenes, the wheels are constantly turning in a relentless motion, but for the end client, the experience is luxury at the highest level.
CASE BY CASE The Louis Vuitton trunks can also be customised to hold your favourite watches
BLING RING From chronographs to tourbillons and Spin Time watches, there is something for every woman at Louis Vuitton