PARIS — Louis Vuitton’s watchmaking division will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, but before celebrating this milestone, it had another surprise up its sleeve: the Tambour Spin Time Air Quantum.
This matte black and zingy yellow timepiece, inspired by the bioluminescence of deep-sea creatures, features the floating hour cubes taking a quarter-turn every hour with a satisfying mechanical click, like its namesakes.
Its frosted titanium case is accented with mirror-polished chamfer, making for a sharply defined outline, while its matte flange is engraved with hour indices that end with a subtle V shape. On the watch’s sapphire back, the house monogram is figured as a circuit board design. It comes with a black bracelet in alligator leather, also outlined in the luminous yellow that nods to the trademark hues of the Super-Luminova pigments.
A press on the crown’s pusher, reveals why, unlike its Spin Time brethren, its LV 68 caliber seems to rest against a bottom dial with a circular grain — this hides an electronic module controlling the ring of 12 light-emitting diodes concealed under the flange of the dial, each pointing to an hour cube. Illumination is on demand, lasting three seconds or until the pusher is released.
Other innovations, such as the fused silica glass used for the hour cubes, are nigh-on-invisible but contribute to the otherworldly glow of this watch named after the smallest amount of a physical property.
With obvious relish, Jean Arnault, director of marketing and development, Louis Vuitton watches, remarked that this watch that took two years to develop seemed “so straightforward once you have it in hand.”
And it didn’t come alone. Also revealed today are a trio of Tambour Slim Vivienne Jumping Hours timepieces in jewel tones, featuring the brand’s mascot taking an active role in the way time is displayed, in a similar spirit to the award-winning Tambour Carpe Diem, which scooped the “Audacity Award at the 2021 Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie Genève. “All the métiers of the house in a beautiful package,” said the executive, pointing out the mix of precious stones and miniature painting that see Vivienne become a fortune teller, a casino card dealer or a circus performer.
Ahead of the launch, he sat down with WWD to talk about what the Tambour Spin Time Air Quantum represents, and why simplicity is key in high horology.
WWD: Do you consider the Tambour Spin Time Air Quantum the timepiece celebrating two decades of watchmaking for Louis Vuitton?
Jean Arnault: It’s not the anniversary piece but it’s a testament to how Louis Vuitton has gone into territories where other labels don’t tread, for example, by pairing a mechanical movement and an electronic module. This kind of complication rarely, if ever, exist in today’s horology.
We wanted to do [this combination] during the 20th anniversary to show that beyond purely technical innovations on movement that the rest of the industry can also contribute, we are working on a higher echelon, considering how we can associate other fields — not just from within the house but in general — in our creations.
WWD: Does it bridge the gap between high horology watches and the growing field of smart watches?
J.A.: Absolutely. Both have their place, separately and within a collection. As this timepiece shows, even within the same product. Over time, I think that’s a concept we’ll be pursuing. We worked for over two years on this watch and I believe there is a very promising future [bringing mechanical movements and electronics] together. It’s a step toward James Bond’s watch, where you press a button and you see a purely digital display and making those kinds of watches in the physical world. And that’s something I find rather fun. Will we achieve this or other futuristic functionalities? It would be the dream but I don’t know. The watchmaking world moves at its own pace.
WWD: What are the elements that you’re most proud of in this watch?
J.A.: Having been able to integrate an entire electronic module without making the watch case thicker or needing to enlarge its diameter. To have all this while staying quite discreet. A client can love the design of the watch as it is, without having to use the electronic module all the time. The functionality is there, but it is not something that’s very visible, unless you want it to be. The Carpe Diem follows the same principle: you had a piece of art on your wrist and at the press of a button, you could read the time.
It was also a way to work on our traditional Spin Time Air movement, making it move legible at night and working on something more powerful than the standard Super Luminova.
Another feature I really like in the Quantum is the battery-level indicator. When you only have 100 button pushes — and the three-second illumination that goes with each one — left, the ring the crown starts to flicker. What really interested me were the technical aspects, including the possibility of changing the battery [used in the lighting] very simply, like a standard watch, although we will take the opportunity to revise the movement.
What’s fascinating about watchmaking is that creations that seem so simple are the hardest to execute, even compared to more [elaborate complications].
WWD: Why is simplicity — of use, of servicing — an important aspect of Louis Vuitton watches?
J.A.: Market research shows that clients today are increasingly looking for watches that are easy to use and fool-proof, where you can’t break something if you wind it the wrong way or change the date at the wrong moment. In a “perpetual quantum” timepiece, if you change dates around midnight you can really wreck the movement.
So we’re looking at making pieces that are robust, both against accidental shocks and hazardous operations by the client, in addition to working on reparability.
Beyond that, we’re working on the display of our watches to make them legible and audacious. Here, you have the fun aspect of cubes taking a quarter of a turn every time that’s very technical because very complex to achieve, but also easy to read, and that only Vuitton could achieve.
WWD: Is that what attracted you to the house’s watches division?
J.A.: I had the opportunity to spend a bit of time in the division in January , as part of my discovery of the different métiers of the house, and of the group. The [watches] division interested me in particular due to its size, compared to [Louis] Vuitton as a whole, and the people who work there. It sounds very cliché said like that but when you spend a bit of time at La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton (LFT) and also in Paris, you realize that teams are very close to each other — a bit like a big family.
And I was very quickly taken with this familial and very convivial aspect of the interactions between LFT and Paris, on top of the savoir-faire that’s on par, or superior, with other houses that I’ve encountered professionally or even as a client. The talents here are exceptional, from the craft to the industrial capabilities. And I say all that even without getting into my personal passion for horology.
WWD: Have you always been a watch afficionado?
J.A.: I haven’t. It’s a passion that has been growing for the past 10 years, in part due to the group’s presence in the industry. I’d always been somewhat interested and exposed to the product — Tag Heuer, Zenith but also Louis Vuitton, since we have been doing watches for 20 years now — but passion really ignited when my brother [Frédéric Arnault] started working at Tag Heuer. Bit by bit, he started asking me questions about whether I liked a particular design, or what I’d ameliorate on another, and that’s where my passion for watchmaking started really growing. You’ll probably hear many people say the same thing, but [horology] is really a whirlwind. I fell into it headfirst and now it’s definitely a passion, or even dare I say, an obsession.
WWD: Given the number of watchmaking houses within the group today, are there synergies being built between them, for example in terms of technical innovation?
J.A.: Today, the group’s brands operate quite independently from one another. But building synergies could be something to consider in the future. In my opinion, it would be silly to deprive ourselves [of knowledge] but for now, we are not in close contact about any particular technologies.
WWD: Given your background in engineering, and your experience in the innovation department of Tag Heuer, were you tempted to go toward a more technical approach?
J.A.: That’s a field I’m still very interested in — I did my master’s thesis on the Tag Heuer carbon balance spring — and is in part what led me to Louis Vuitton’s watchmaking division. We have the opportunity to work on designs that don’t have anything similar to the rest of the watch industry. And the house has a very recent watchmaking history — we’ve only been there 20 years — and it gives us [much freedom]. To innovate for the Tambour Spin Time Air Quantum, or the [Tambour] Carpe Diem [which won the Audacity Prize at the 2021 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève]. It’s a display and complication that no other house had done and which fit perfectly into the rather audacious world of Louis Vuitton. And it’s that aspect that appealed to me a lot.
WWD: Who is the Louis Vuitton watch customer?
J.A.: The watchmaking clients are Louis Vuitton clients — [people] looking for audacious creations. I keep coming back to this word because it really struck us since the Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie de Genève. We feel ourselves in this groove and in quality products [supported by] complications that work no matter how they’re used and a large amount of work on aesthetics, with a focus on the métiers d’arts with people like [engraver] Dick Steenman and [enamel artist] Anita Porchet, who are among the best in the industry. That’s why our client is someone wanting something a little different, coming from a brand that isn’t as ancient in the business as some of the pure players and that nonetheless produces creations that are among the best in the field.
In addition to this, they’re also clients who are looking for special orders. We’ve done some in the past, with every part from the movement to the dial and the case designed especially for them. That’s one segment we’re working on strongly.
WWD: Are you also looking at female clients, who are increasingly interested in the mechanical artistry over aesthetics alone?
J.A.: One of the positive aspects of Louis Vuitton is that we speak to a wide public. We are thinking about how to position our male and female high horology, and as we have done this year, we are working on our pillars — complications, mainly — and work on our icons more. I believe that’s what the market is asking for. When you look at our competitors, their iconic watches loom larger as symbols than sales figures [for these models] could imply.
WWD: What do the coming months hold for the watchmaking division?
J.A.: The first milestone is of course the 20th anniversary, a date not to be missed, especially for all our clients. You’re only 20 once. We’re young but our history is rich. There has been a lot of creation in our past that we would like to present once more — not redo — to show how far we have come, despite starting with complex complications already, and how much further we want to go.
The Audacity Prize at GPHG was [a beautiful accomplishment] ahead of the 20th anniversary. Our teams took this as an official recognition, that the industry finds us credible. We spent 20 years believing we are, and will continue to reinforce ourselves, to show that we’re on the right path, doing great things. The message we heard: “well done, keep going.”
What I wish [in years to come] is for us to continue to develop our expertise and continue to surprise, as the Quantum and Carpe Diem have done. We will continue toward such creations that have straightforward displays while harnessing complex technologies and intricate complications. Stay tuned.