Talking about the launch of the new Tambour, at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris this past week, Jean Arnault, Louis Vuitton’s Director of Watches, self-confessed collector and enthusiast, described it as defining “Louis Vuitton watchmaking for the foreseeable future.” It is a radical departure both in design and execution, not just for the new timepiece, but for the brand’s vision of the manufacture that will accompany it. Since being appointed in 2022, the youngest Arnault has made short order in changing around the company’s watchmaking arm, La Fabrique du Temps, aiding the revival of the artisan brands Daniel Roth and Gérald Genta, and instigating the Louis Vuitton Watch Prize for Independent Creatives.
Jean Arnault is ideally qualified to elevate Louis Vuitton’s watchmaking prowess, holding a master’s degree in financial mathematics from MIT and another in mechanical engineering from Imperial College London. Interestingly, his Imperial College thesis was titled: “New Compliant Oscillator for Wristwatch Timekeeping” and concerned the design for an optimal amplitude escapement. Along with his technical horological knowledge, he has already mapped out a clear strategic and financial vision of what the watchmaking division of the world’s largest luxury group should look like for the rest of the decade. It is an impressive and noted start for the youngest scion of the family.
The new steel integrated bracelet Louis Vuitton Tambour watch with blue dial, showing how the difference in finish across the dial captures the light and provides varying hues of colour.
The Louis Vuitton Tambour was first released in 2002, and it has defined the foundation behind the form of Louis Vuitton timepieces over the course of the last 21 years. But with the introduction of this entirely redesigned version, there will be a streamlining of the models available. By the time Jean Arnault debuted the new Tambour to the world, 80 percent of the luxury French house’s timepieces had been retired, as part of an upscaling move that will be marked for completion in September of this year.
With this watch becoming the French house’s flagship model, there will be an increase in the price point by an approximate fivefold factor, to £17,500 for the steel model. As part of this change in strategy, there are no sales targets per se or growth projections, Jean Arnault is interested in growing the new line up for the brand to “be sure that it has an irreproachable quality for the client as well as legitimacy.”
To demonstrate how serious he is about LV’s watchmaking prowess, Jean Arnault is focusing on leveraging the skills and knowledge of his craftspeople to ensure that a client entering a Louis Vuitton store — for the watches or by chance — will see that they have a level of execution on par with any of the other luxury watchmaking houses.
The patterned micro-rotor being fitted to the new proprietary movement, the LFT023.
The new Tambour watch is the embodiment of that philosophy. It is both recognisable in profile as a Louis Vuitton and an improved form with additional elements that show particular attention to detail. First, the new proprietary movement, the LFT023, was designed in-house and developed in collaboration with the Swiss specialists Le Cercle des Horlogers. Jean Arnault noted that to develop such a calibre from scratch would have taken four or five years; so rather than wait or bring an unreliable product to market, the decision was taken to partner with a specialist movement maker. The calibre is a micro-rotor automatic with a stylish “V” pattern motif on the rotor. The type and level of finishing, the frosted bridges, the precise anglage and bevelling on the borders, along with the clear jewels and rose gold lettering is the new standard set for Louis Vuitton watchmaking. What further separates out the new Tambour movement from other watches in the same category is not only the design, but a recognition of chronometric performance with certification coming from the Geneva Observatory under the auspices of the TIMELAB Foundation, making Louis Vuitton the first watchmaking company to certify its pieces in this way.
Brand ambassador Bradley Cooper wearing the new Tambour in steel grey at the launch event.
Second, the case. While resembling the shape of previous Tambour watches, this one is considerably slimmer, with subtle lettering around the bezel, and a brushed finish. A simple time-only three hand watch needs a harmonious design for the dial to make it appealing, engaging and easily legible. Here it is done using a tiered dial with polished borders around each section – an outer minute track, central portion, and recessed seconds – each finished differently. The centre, for example, is vertically brushed, while the chapter rings for the hours and minutes are frosted. As the light reflects on the different finishes, it creates a complex visual interest despite the monochromatic palette. One other small detail is that instead of “Swiss made” on the dial, we find “Fab. en Suisse”, both a reference to vintage watches and to La Fabrique du Temps.
The component parts, movement, dial, and case, of the new Tambour watch.
Third, the lugless integrated bracelet, made in the same metal as the case and with a brushed finish on the links accented with polished hinges, has been subjected to the same degree of care and thought as the rest of the watch. Jean Arnault explained that there were different ways to integrate the bracelet, with the first five links being fixed either in a linear or in a curved form. Despite being more expensive, the curved option was chosen as it made the watch more comfortable on the wrist.
The new Tambour ushers in this new business model directed towards a more limited production. Jean Arnault was diligent to point out that each watch is made by a single watchmaker; there is no production line, so that the 20 to 30 watchmakers at La Fabrique du Temps will work on a particular model from start to finish. The manufacture is now organized to make small series and unique pieces, which Arnault feels is more in line with what clients and connoisseurs are now demanding from the luxury watch sector. The youngest member of the Arnault family has an understated grand design for La Fabrique du Temps, where the Tambour is only the beginning. Of course, each watch comes in possibly the most desirable watch box available, its own personal Louis Vuitton monogramed trunk.
Words: Dr Andrew Hildreth