Louis Vuitton’s Journey To Watch Nirvana (Or Meyrin)
Packing for a Louis Vuitton event is always a daunting venture: this world of haute couture, luxury leather and old-world glamour can be a bit intimidating.
However, if you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting Benoît-Louis Vuitton, who is the great-great-great-grandson of (founder) Louis Vuitton and head of special client wishes in the haute horlogerie division of the eponymous company, you would know that worry is needless. Vuitton is as charming as they come. As are Louis Vuitton’s cosmopolitan CEO Michael Burke and head of watches and jewelry Hamdi Chatti.
The grand opening of Louis Vuitton’s new factory in Geneva-Meyrin uncharacteristically brought together all three of these personalities to show off the new premises. This now unites Louis Vuitton’s own watchmakers and technicians with the haute horlogerie specialists of La Fabrique du Temps, which the iconic luxury goods brand acquired in 2011, an act that raised many eyebrows in the world of fine watchmaking.
A little backstory
Louis Vuitton began making watches in 2002, though if you follow high-end horology, you may not necessarily have noticed. Most of the serious watch world only sat up and started taking notice at Baselworld 2013, when the fruits of the new collaboration with La Fabrique du Temps bore some heavyweight produce in the shape of the Tambour TwinChrono.
The Tambour TwinChrono monopusher chronograph may not look terribly different from the outside, aside from the fact that it boasts two crowns and one pusher rather than the conventional two pushers and one crown. Inside, though, is another matter. The complication was developed in order to mechanically track the times of two boats in a Match Racing competition situation and display the difference in the times afterward.
In other words, it is essentially a split-seconds chronograph that displays the difference in timing (or delta) on a guilloché dial coated with translucent, vibrant blue grand feu enamel.
The mechanism responsible for this apparently simple display is rather complicated, requiring no less than four separate “motors,” each with their own balance wheel and spring barrel. What looks simple from the front is actually driven by an automatic winding movement with a total of 437 components . . . including three, yes, three column wheels. Housed in a 45.5 mm white gold case, it is limited to just 30 pieces and only sold through Louis Vuitton’s own boutiques.
Michel Navas, and Enrico Barbasini, the driving forces behind La Fabrique du Temps, were also two of the three founders of the now-defunct BNB, a small complication maker. They specialize in repeaters and tourbillons, but – as the Tambour TwinChrono easily illustrates – are capable of just about anything they put their minds to.
Chatti explains the fortuitous collaboration with the creative watchmakers as a win-win: Navas and Barbasini don’t need to peddle their imaginative mechanical oeuvres – they prefer creating over selling anyway – and Louis Vuitton benefits firsthand from the duo’s horological creativity.
Louis Vuitton’s previous factory was located in La Chaux-de-Fonds and employed 40 people, while La Fabrique du Temps with its small team of specialists was in Geneva.
The brand-new location in Meyrin (not far from Geneva airport) combines both teams – totaling now 80 people, 50 of whom are watchmakers – under one roof on 4,000 square meters of space. Included in the new facility are also the employees of dial maker ArteCad, which Louis Vuitton also acquired in 2011.
This dial-making capability allows Louis Vuitton to immediately make all the outward artistic expression that it is capable of into reality. And this capability is enormous: miniature painting (such as the creative dial of this year’s Escale worldtimer), working fragile mother-of-pearl, dial stamping, even making the dial blanks – all of this is now available in-house to Louis Vuitton.
But perhaps the real story here is Chatti’s reveal of what the future is bound to bring the brand: his grand plan is now in motion and concerns the development of a new watch destined to cost between $5,000 and $10,000 that is unique to Louis Vuitton and “different from every other wristwatch currently on the market.” Most likely, it will be a declination of the TwinChrono . . . time will tell.
“To me the real challenge is a great idea that can be widely distributed,” Chatti explained.
As one of the luxury world’s most recognizable brands, why would Chatti feel the need to develop something like this? “To touch more people,” he answered. “We do big business in haute horlogerie with $50,000 watches. To me what is important is that more people can be interested. A watch for something like $5,000 is a dream for a lot of people.”
Chatti went on to explain that the whole purpose of making the new factory and bringing La Fabrique du Temps was not about “doing things that nobody can do.” It was more about making a mark.
“And then you have a chance to change something on the market. But it’s very difficult.”
I hope it is less difficult for them to realize this grandiose-sounding intention than it was for me to pack for these two days.
For more information, please visit www.louisvuitton.com.