Louis Vuitton The Maker of Time
WorldTempus catches up with Michel Navas, master watchmaker at La Fabrique du Temps for Louis Vuitton, to talk about the brand’s latest launch and the challenges establishing Louis Vuitton’s watchmaking reputation.
We’re here in Gstaad with Louis Vuitton to see some new pieces. Is there one in particular you were excited to show people?
Definitely the Tambour Curve. It’s a new step forward for Louis Vuitton because everything on this watch is new, such as the case material: CarboStratum. You haven’t heard of it before because it was especially developed for Louis Vuitton.
It’s a multitude of layers of carbon compressed with a polymer and titanium compressed together. The sheets of carbon are randomly laid together so that the pattern of curved lines is always random and different, making each case unique. I’ve always found carbon to be a material with a cold nature, and for me this is the first time I’ve found a carbon material to be “warm”. Especially in the light of day, the pattern looks like the vein pattern on wood, which gives it a much warmer and inviting quality.
Michel Navas, Michel Navas, master watchmaker at La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton © Louis Vuitton
And the movement is also entirely new?
The movement is new, yes; it is finished with black NAC to give it darker tones to match the carbon and titanium. The flying tourbillon is at 9 o’clock, an aesthetic choice we made so that the LV bridge would not be obscured. And the “LV” isn’t just decorative—we made it functional, it acts as the bridge that keeps the wheels of the movement in place.
Tambour Curve Tourbillon Volant Poinçon de Genève © Louis Vuitton
Louis Vuitton has focused greatly on the fact that their high watchmaking movements have the Poinçon de Genève seal. What does that entail for your production?
There are currently only five brands that make movements with this seal because, of course, you have to be based in Geneva, which we have been since 2014, but you also have to respect every rule set by the Poinçon de Genève, which as very, very strict. Every component of the watch has to be finished by the one and same watchmaker and then sent and inspected at the Poinçon de Genève offices for minimum 15 days. And then they’re inspected for its finish but also for the mechanical setting. They have a kit with them with each of our components so they can compare each new one sent it to the original. Because of this, a watch that would normally be assembled in four or five days takes six weeks.
Why in your opinion is it important for Louis Vuitton to have the Poinçon de Genève seal?
Because Louis Vuitton is, comparatively, new to watchmaking! It only started 18 years ago. We started in 2002 and many questioned the move. I think the Poinçon de Genève brings huge legitimacy to our work because it’s very difficult to obtain it, and not just on this movement, but it’s our third with the seal.
Does it help or make it more difficult to work for a brand that doesn’t have a depth of archives in watchmaking like others traditionally do?
It’s a little of both. Sometimes it can be a handicap, because we’re so new on the watchmaking scene, not enough people know us and everyone is waiting to see what we’re going to do. And it has to be done well, because when Louis Vuitton makes perfumes, they make perfumes well. When they make watches, they make watches well. Therefore, our competitors are waiting for us at the next turn to see what we’ll do, because excellence is what Louis Vuitton demands in every field. We have to be audacious, create exceptional and beautiful pieces that are attractive.
That being said, it’s also a huge advantage. The world is open to us and we can allow ourselves to do more and be bold in our creations because we are not tied to anything in the past. That doesn’t mean we don’t have our aesthetic codes; we do, of course, which we adhere to while respecting traditional watchmaking. But we can allow ourselves to make a World Timer just as much as we can make a watch that works backwards, if we wanted to. There’s so much to do! And it’s been a wonderful challenge, one that I really enjoy tackling.
What is one of your favourite aspects of working for a brand like Louis Vuitton?
While I’m not at the watchmaking bench as much as I would like to be, I have to say that two things that really stand out is, for one, the contact with the client is enormously helpful, and two, while Louis Vuitton doesn’t have watchmaking archives, they are an enormous source of inspiration with everything else they do. I’m a naturally curious person, so to get to talk to clients and collectors and share with them what we do, I love that, but I also love getting to know them and often, I get ideas from our conversations.
And then Louis Vuitton is also one of the best for their leatherwork; their know of their trunks. We got to visit their manufacture for their trunks, and how everything is handmade with so much craftsmanship, it’s the same as watchmaking in those aspects. I love visiting them in Paris, it’s inspiring!
© WorldTempus / Joy Corthésy
What does the future of Louis Vuitton watchmaking look like to you?
I get asked that question a lot (laughs). In terms of the future of watchmaking, I don’t think we should be scared of connected watches like the industry has been. Connected watches are just another thing to wear on your wrist, but I don’t think it devalues our work. We have a Tambour that is connected, after all.
On the contrary, I think they get younger people used to wearing something on their wrist—because your phone tells you the time, we could just use that. But connected watches get them used to wearing time on their wrist, and then perhaps they look to something else, more mechanical, for future pieces. There’s space for both on the market.
For high watchmaking for Louis Vuitton, we have a lot of ideas and projects in the works. Our watchmakers are already working on pieces to be developed for 2023-2024. And I’m excited for it and to continue to be creative.
True to its founding spirit, Louis Vuitton makes watches that combine excellence, innovation and originality for the benefit of people who love travel and adventure. The watchmakers of La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton in Geneva use their mastery of traditional craftsmanship and modern technology to reinvent the watchmaking of tomorrow.Find out more >
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