The saga of Louis Vuitton’s Tambour
Since unveiling the first Tambour in 2002, Louis Vuitton continues to reinvent its signature model
When Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather novels, came to write screenplays for the first two films in the series it was a cinch - he just followed the books. But, despite winning two Oscars for his work, he decided he should learn more about screenwriting so bought a book on the subject. He was bemused to read on the first page, “study The Godfather movies as perfect examples of the art”. Likewise, if, from a standing start, you want to be considered among the capo dei capi in the world of watchmaking, study the story of the Tambour by Louis Vuitton.
When the brand decided to enter the watchmaking world in 2002 it first set out to create an instantly recognisable case and came up with the Tambour - French for drum. Initially it boasted a Zenith El Primero movement but to rely on others is not the LV way so it was already looking around to take things to the next level. It soon discovered Michel Navas. The Spanish-born watchmaker had been in the business since he was ten years old, and has worked on some of the most feted names in Swiss watchmaking. With his long-time colleague Enrico Barbasini, Navas had founded La Fabrique du Temps in 2007, a small atelier creating new movements and complications for a select number of high-end clients.
From the start, Louis Vuitton was one of these and, in 2009, the brand launched the ground-breaking GMT Spin Time that the team had created, using rotating cubes rather than an hour hand. It was greeted with rapturous applause. “By 2011, Louis Vuitton was looking to explore how we could work more closely,” recalls Navas, “and decided the answer was to buy La Fabrique du Temps. Louis Vuitton wanted to build a serious high-end watch brand and we had the savoir faire to make this happen.” It has been a match made in heaven and, in less than a decade, the brand is now a serious contender. The team was gathered under one roof in Geneva. “So much more convenient for travelling to HQ in Paris but, more importantly, it also meant we were eligible to apply for the Geneva Seal.”
Created in 1886, this is the oldest and arguably the world’s most prestigious - and exacting - certification in horology. Currently, only six brands’ movements have been awarded the certification. Of these, Louis Vuitton boasts three. “The first was in 2016,” says Navas, “with the Tourbillon Volant. I was so happy. The Geneva Seal demands the highest quality in the world. Every part of the movement – down to the screws – has to be finished by the watchmaker.”
The latest to be awarded certification was the Tambour Curve earlier this year. Navas and his team are always pushing themselves to take the Tambour to the next level. One of the most feted watches is the Moon Mystérieuse Flying Tourbillon. This is haute horlogerie at its best, with the movement appearing to float within the case. No wonder he is a happy man. “Working for Louis Vuitton is such a pleasure,” he declares. “The team loves the challenge of interpreting the DNA of the brand and its desire for modernity while always respecting the traditions of high watchmaking. We are free to push the limits of new complications while remaining true to the brand’s heritage.”
The inspiration for innovation comes from many different places. “Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea,” says Navas, “or it comes over a coffee with a colleague. At other times we are challenged to create something special.” For example, as a sponsor of yacht races such as the Louis Vuitton Cup. “In a regatta it doesn’t matter so much who comes first or second,” he explains, “it is the difference between the two. So, we were asked to come up with a piece that could measure this. The result was the Tambour LV Cup Régate.” And with three Geneva Seals under their belt in less than two decades, however you measure it it’s hard to deny that, in the horology stakes, team Louis Vuitton and Navas are already clear winners.