Louis Vuitton is rarely quiet. It has been one to make big splashes when it comes to high fashion. Yet ironically, despite the name of its iconic collection of drum-shaped Tambour timepieces, the Maison has been especially content to march quietly to its own beat. That is until it took a recent plunge with a new line of colourful sporty dive watches.
If there’s a luxury house in the world that truly understands the importance of provenance, Louis Vuitton would be it. Having built its reputation on a foundation of the world’s best-made and most functional travel trunks, it has since parlayed that legitimacy to become a leading French luxury goods emporium.
Hence, it would not be incorrect to surmise, that while not many would associate Louis Vuitton with high-end mechanical wristwatches, the maison would indeed take its time, as it did with trunks centuries ago, with watchmaking, working carefully and steadfastly to establish its credibility.
Therefore, it was with little surprise that then vice president of watches and jewellery at LV, Hamdi Chatti turned to Enrico Barbasini and Michel Navas, two renowned independent watchmakers with a flair for developing complications, eventually acquiring the pair’s specialist La Fabrique du Temps atelier in 2012.
From High Fashion To High Watchmaking
Louis Vuitton launched its first watch collection in 2002. Louis Vuitton launched its first watch collection in 2002. Though its watchmaking heart is essentially Swiss, thanks to Navas and the acquisition that brought together all the company’s in-house métiers (slightly over a hundred watchmakers, dial-makers, etc), the aesthetics of the Tambour are unmistakably French (as appropriate for a brand headquartered in Paris).
Named for its distinctive drum-shaped case, heretofore unseen. the Tambour instantly created a recognisable watchmaking signature. And like all new endeavours, it was polarising – you either loved it or you’re not entirely comfortable with it.
A truly innovative shape, where it differs from other iconic creations s is how it incorporated all the Maison’s cultural and aesthetic values into its design at launch: its love for the arts, passion for travel and obsession with legacy sees the House’s first chronograph launched with 12 letters of Louis Vuitton engraved on the case, each mirroring an hour index, a brown dial and the yellow of the seconds hands, echoing the waxed thread of the Louis Vuitton bags, all calling back to its foundational raison d’être as the world’s premier malletier.
2005: Diving in
The new Tambour Street Diver is everything that Louis Vuitton symbolises – high artisanal quality, functionality, creative ingenuity and the freedom of expression. It continues the House’s horological journey into the unexpected, one that began in 2002 with the launch of the Louis Vuitton’s very first watch. But the Street Diver isn’t the Maison’s first expression of the world’s most popular tool watch.
Originally launched in 2005, the first Tambour Diver was designed to look like dive watches from the late 1960s and ’70s. While innovative elements like internal rotating bezel for diving timing are retained, traditional elements like square hour markers, thick baton style hands and date windows with magnification bubbles have been eschewed for a more sophisticated elegance worthy of the world’s most successful luxury brand.
Yet, its early trials in watchmaking mirror a certain provincial young Frenchman who had picked up the unusual job of being an apprentice layetier, a servant with specific duties for packing luggage trunks for the well to do. He did it so well that he went on to try his hand at trunk-making in Napoleon’s court. One digresses but the original Diver was a solid base from which to grow a competent, uniquely Vuitton view on robust timekeeping. Sporty and elegant, the Street Diver watch combines both modern design and technical performances, thanks to its compendium of diving functionalities: watertight to 300 metres, luminescent unidirectional turning flange to measure dive time.
Crafted from a single block of metal and larger at the base than at the top, the unique shape of the Tambour was inspired by a drum. What has been remarkable about the Tambour collection is the applied horns that seamlessly integrate the case and strap, the Tambour has, in two short decades, become an iconic and instantly recognisable watch.
Like all great designs, the Tambour case is timeless and adaptable and, over the past 19 years, has taken on various forms from spectacular high jewellery masterpieces to the acclaimed Tambour Horizon connected watch, via models boasting the most complications such as 2020’s Tambour Curve Flying Tourbillon Poinçon de Genève, which recently won the coveted Geneva Seal.
Though its watchmaking heart is essentially Swiss, thanks to Navas and the acquisition that brought together all the company’s in-house métiers (slightly over a hundred watchmakers, dial-makers, etc), the aesthetics of the Tambour are unmistakably French (as appropriate for a brand headquartered in Paris). Named for its distinctive drum-shaped case, heretofore unseen. the Tambour instantly created a recognisable watchmaking signature. And like all new endeavours, it was polarising – you either loved it or you’re not entirely comfortable with it.
EVOLUTION OF THE TAMBOUR DIVER
Combining cutting edge technologies with traditional fine watchmaking expertise, the calibre of the Tambour Curve Flying Tourbillon Poinçon de Genève features openwork design, encased in ultra-lightweight, resistant technical materials used in aeronautics.
Beautiful inside and out, the exterior of the case is made from CarboStratum, a composite material developed exclusively for Louis Vuitton. It is produced by layering over 100 assorted sheets of carbon at random. The combined layers are then compressed at a controlled temperature.
Once stabilised, this ultra-rigid material is then milled using next generation multidimensional machines. The soft yet powerful curves that make each model unique appear during this process. Once finished, this carbon overlay fits neatly over a grade 5 titanium base.
Finally, lugs made from micro-machined, extruded titanium are set in the CarboStratum® case to create a perfectly coherent ensemble. The futuristic, more technical interpretation of the Tambour gave us a glimpse of what it was and could be: an ode to kinetics.
Demonstrating an innovative mechanical movement with 80 hours of power reserve and a tourbillon regulator requires over 120 hours of technical excellence, Louis Vuitton established itself among the elite number of watchmakers when the titanium tourbillon inspired by the famous Louis Vuitton monogram earned the coveted Geneva Seal as well as the Grand Prix dʼHorlogerie.
Establishing Street Cred
This year, the award winning design has been reimagined in the form of the Tambour Street Diver, taking Louis Vuitton into the realm of high-end sports watchmaking with a timepiece designed to go from the gym to the club, the beach to the office.
Robust and edgy with a decidedly sporty outlook, the Tambour Street Diver brings together all the requirements of a traditional dive watch while retaining the colourful, creative and unconventional style elements that have always been central to the brand.
Inspired by the energy and richness of city life, the Tambour Street Diver is vibrant, bright and offers something for everyone in a chic, ultra-modern package.
Challenging the codes of more utilitarian timepieces without compromising its underwater credentials, it was born as a watch with an urban outlook, but beneath the aquatic and literal surface, the sportier aspects of the Tambour Street Diver are revealed.
Bearing functional dive watch elements like the screw down crowns, 100 metres of water resistance and generous coatings of Super LumiNova on dial elements and the inner rotating bezel, Louis Vuitton joins these rough and tumble practical details with the sophistication of a Maison with centuries of expertise turning functional steam trunks into objets dʼart.
The diving scale itself has been placed below the sapphire crystal on the turning flange ‒ the angled ring at the outer edge of the dial. The benefits of this internal rotating bezel are twofold. Firstly, the top of the case is kept clean and minimal in the image of all of the watches in the Tambour family. Secondly, the gentle inward slope of the flange draws the eye to the centre of the dial creating a feeling of depth and intensity.
The Daily Beater
Keeping its functionality hidden behind a disruptive design, the hour and minute hands are partially skeletonised with the tip of the hour hand is filled with lume, while the crucial minutes hand features a strip of lume down its centre to its V-shaped tip. The small seconds hand at six oʼclock ‒framed with a silvery mirror polished circumference, and a snailed background ‒ is reminiscent of the Alpha flag used to indicate divers in the water.
Though the Tambour Street Diver sees a decrease in water resistance from 300 metres to 100 metres, it perfectly mirrors the contradictory in city life and the juxtaposition of nature aligning with an urban environment. Updated aesthetics make it more attractive while still retaining the core functionality; the dive bezel is set via a colour-contrasting crown at 1.30 bearing a diver’s silhouette to distinguish it from the winding crown at three oʼclock.
Using the quirky yet inventive “Align the V” concept, the letter V on the diving scale is rotated to align with the colour-matched V at the tip of the minute hand, the two forming an X that marks the beginning of a dive, the start of a new adventure. The time spent under water is then read on the internal bezel, the fi rst 15 minutes highlighted by a vivid, colour-blocked scale.
And just as water itself takes on infinite shapes, the Tambour too has proved to be eternally adaptable with its tapered case making the watch suitable for all wrist sizes. The Tambour Street Diver is no exception, with three automatic models in 44mm and one quartz version in 39.5mm, all four interpreting sports-chic in their own unique way.
THE TAMBOUR’S GREATEST HITS
TAMBOUR CURVE GMT FLYING TOURBILLON
Developed and produced in-house, the Tambour Curve GMT Flying Tourbillon features a case whose shape is an extrapolation of those of the Tambour Curve Flying Tourbillon Poinçon de Genève, launched last year.
Extrapolated from the Möbius strip, the Tambour Curve Flying Tourbillon redefine traditional watchmaking heritage. Designed to display a second time zone on the dial, it features two push-pieces on its right side. These are used to simplify the setting of the GMT, allowing the dedicated indicator, positioned within the open counter at three oʼclock, to move forwards or backwards.
These efficient push-pieces are positioned in the same way as the chronograph ones, reinforcing the symmetry of the case and intentionally creating visual confusion with this popular timepiece.
Open worked without being truly skeletonised, it is crafted in two separate parts in order to present a strong, minimalist architecture conducive to reading the time. The “V” for Gaston Vuitton logo punctuates the dial on the flying tourbillon carriage at nine oʼclock.
TAMBOUR CARPE DIEM
Having produced several special orders for watches with automata in secret for a select group of clients, Louis Vuitton decided to lift the veil on the mystery by creating a one of a kind model. By combining exclusive high watchmaking calibre with a subversive Vanitas, Louis Vuitton orchestrates a scintillating show with the Tambour Carpe Diem.
Taking two years of development, the framework of the Tambour Carpe Diem was built around two major axes, a perfect mastery of this type of calibre in which the automaton is truly functional as it tells the time on demand, without hands.
By pressing a push-piece, the dial’s miniature scenery comes to life,on the wrist and the story’s protagonists, the snake and the skull that perform the role of jacquemarts, indicate the time. A 16-second spectacle: the time is read on demand as the central snake lifts its head to reveal the hour aperture positioned on the forehead of the skull.
Meanwhile the rattlesnake tail oscillates towards the minutes, placed below the power reserve hourglass. Monogram Flowers appear in lieu of an eye, and the skull’s jaw emits a mocking laugh from which emerge the words “Carpe Diem”, which means “seize the day”.
Entirely developed and assembled at La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton, this calibre LV 525 demonstrates true high watchmaking prowess and is currently the subject of several patent applications.
TAMBOUR MOON FLYING TOURBILLON “POINÇON DE GENÈVE” SAPPHIRE
Crafted entirely from a block of sapphire, the Tambour Moon Flying Tourbillon “Poinçon de Genève” Sapphire represents a technical and artistic feat; the first of its kind ever to be affirmed with the prestigious Geneva Seal.
The timepiece launches Louis Vuitton into a new era, displaying in minute detail every part of its skilfully open worked manufacture movement, powered by a flying tourbillon. For every piece, watchmakers from La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton extract a cylinder ‒ 50mm in diameter and 150mm long ‒ from a block of synthetic sapphire typically weighing up to 200kg.
This allows them to obtain a case middle, a case back and a bridge bearing the letters LV, cut from the same block in order to ensure that each section is the same colour. It takes 250, 110 and 60 hours respectively of meticulous machining with diamond grinding wheels to produce the three parts.
This new high-watchmaking timepiece reveals every detail of its exceptional, finely open worked mechanical movement with manual winding, an 80-hour power reserve and a flying tourbillon whose carriage design reveals Louis Vuittonʼs iconic Monogram.
(Images: Louis Vuitton)