In July, Louis Vuitton unveiled the new Tambour collection at Musée d’Orsay in Paris alongside the announcement by watch director Jean Arnault of a fresh strategy aimed at cutting down the number of entry-level watches by as much as 80%. A visit to the brand’s watchmaking facility in Switzerland became a necessary undertaking.
In the sunlit atelier within the hallowed halls of La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton in Geneva, a watchmaker was busy breathing life to a new timepiece. With steady hands and a focused gaze, he delicately placed the intricate parts, each a testament to his years of experience and unwavering dedication to the craft.
The loupe wired around his head magnified the tiniest details, allowing him to scrutinise the minuscule components very carefully. Tweezers with thin tips aided him in manoeuvring the delicate pieces into their designated places. In this realm of intricate craftsmanship and artistic finesse, the watchmaker weaved together engineering and artistry, fashioning not just a timekeeping instrument but a timeless testament to human ingenuity.
At another section, three master artisans were diligently working on a watch dial. With the utmost attention to detail, their steady hands moved gracefully, a paintbrush an extension of their artistic soul. Delicately dipping the fine brush into a bottle of rich pigments, they very carefully applied each stroke on the dials to form miniature works of art that would grace the wrists of those fortunate enough to wear these masterpieces.
The manufacture was alive with a symphony of artistic techniques, and each studio a hive of activity — engravers delicately etching intricate patterns onto watch bezels, gem-setters meticulously placing precious stones in elegant arrangements and skilled watchmakers assembling the tiny components with precision. Overseeing the entire workforce were Maîtres Horlogers, Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini, the actual founders of the manufacture.
Louis Vuitton entered the world of watchmaking in 2002, with the creation of its first Tambour watch, and it has been making great strides since. The acquisition of La Fabrique du Temps was finalised in 2011 and with that, it was able to produce exclusive and exceptional complications that would define supreme designs such as the Spin Time movement, the Tambour Minute Repeater and the hand-painted Escale Worldtime.
Relocating to its present site in 2014, the facility is surrounded by longstanding watchmakers who have faithfully preserved Swiss horological traditions for generations. The spacious, modern facility beautifully showcases the fusion of Louis Vuitton’s renowned craftsmanship with the intricate art of Swiss watchmaking.
Although still considered a young atelier, through the integration of cutting-edge technologies and the employment of skilled artisans, the team of specialists has dedicated years to crafting a portfolio of foundational timepieces and high-end horology that has been enthusiastically embraced by collectors and garnered recognition within the broader industry.
Case in point: In 2016, La Fabrique du Temps achieved an unprecedented level of excellence by securing the prestigious Poinçon de Genève, a distinction awarded by an independent institution under the jurisdiction of Geneva canton’s regulations. The accolade was initially bestowed upon the Voyager Flying Tourbillon Poinçon de Genève model, followed by others. This prestigious recognition is only conferred upon a watch created in Geneva that meets exacting standards and has undergone a meticulous, entirely manual finishing.
For the new Tambour, the movement and the case are still manufactured by Le Cercle des Horlogers but going by its ambitious plan, it is only a matter of time before all productions are done in-house. At the launch, Arnault said: “This is the first manufacture movement we have built in collaboration with a specialist movement workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. The finishing is the same as the one we used in the Fiery Heart Automata, which we launched a couple of months ago. This will become the new standard of finishing for Louis Vuitton across all collections.”
“We believe this new product reflects a lot more the ethos at La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton and what we’ve built over the last 10-plus years in our high watchmaking segment,” he added.
The jaunt to this horological atelier is not just an exploration of timekeeping precision but a celebration of craftsmanship, innovation and the relentless pursuit of excellence by the brand. It was a fascinating history lesson and an exploration of the brand’s evolution, providing profound insights into the very ethos that has shaped the brand.
It was truly an honour to meet the people who have dedicated hours and hours putting together all the illustrious Louis Vuitton watches, especially the Tambour Fiery Heart Automata, Tambour Einstein Automata Only Watch 2023 and the slimmer new Tambours.
The visit was a captivating odyssey through time and tradition, a window into the brand’s past and a glimpse of its visionary future.
This article first appeared on Oct 16, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.