From luggage brand to horological heavyweight, Louis Vuitton's foray into watches may only have began 18 years ago but it’s got clout beyond its years
Louis Vuitton luggage may have accompanied the world’s globetrotters since 1854 - when it first opened a Parisian store celebrating the art of travel - however, it wasn’t until 2002 that it put a watch on their wrists as well.
It was a strange decision for the brand to make; LVMH already had successful watch brands – Chaumet, Zenith, then Ebel and the recently acquired Bulgari. It didn’t need to add a timepiece arm to a luggage brand.
However, with Zenith’s help, that’s exactly what happened and in 2002 the first Tambour was launched. The name is French for ‘drum’ and the original design was inspired by the Japanese kodo drummers and their taiko drums.
It was a bold, chunky chronograph, with yellow accents as a nod to the waxed thread used in the brand’s iconic handbags powered by the LV277, which was basically a Zenith El Primero. It was a solid chronograph, nice enough, but unremarkable.
The next watch was a complete curve ball. Taking the brand’s involvement in the preliminary sailing competition that precedes the America’s Cup as a starting point, Louis Vuitton decided to make a brightly nautical regatta watch complete with split seconds and a regatta countdown module provided by Dubois Dépraz.
From there on it seemed as though someone had come to the decision that this was the LVMH brand that was going to bring the fun. It made watches with two compasses in so you can find north on either hemisphere, made the movement disappear from view entirely in its Mysterieuse and finally made the decision to up the ante in 2010 by employing Hamdi Chatti, formerly of Montblanc, Harry Winston and Piaget.
Chatti’s main aim was to turn Louis Vuitton from a purloiner of parts from its LVMH stablemates to a standalone manufacturer. Something he set about doing by purchasing La Fabrique de Temps in 2011, a specialist movement workshop originally based in Geneva and set up by watchmakers Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini. In 2014 it added expert dial maker Léman Cadrans to the portfolio and relocated the entire operation to Meyrin a municipality of Geneva.
Having purchased some horological know-how, Louis Vuitton decided to show it off to the max. There was the incredible Escale World Time with its joyfully bonkers hand-painted dial, the follow up Escale Spin Time with blocks where the numerals turn one over another as the hours pass, showing a patterned side when not displaying a number. It even received that gold standard of watch making – the Poinçon de Genève – for its Voyager Flying Tourbillon.
Having spent years developing a reputation as a serious watchmaker, albeit one underpinned with some fashion fabulousness, in 2017 it surprised everyone by launching a Tambour smartwatch - the Horizon - squarely aimed at the global nomad, complete with city guides and the ‘My Flight’ option, which keeps you informed of flight times, gate numbers and warns of possible delays.
It’s clever, looks good and is a trusty travel companion; now you just need the luggage to match.
It has to be the Tambour Slim Colour Blossom Tourbillon. Not only is this a showcase of the brand’s new-found (or rather bought) manufacturing prowess, as illustrated by the Tourbillon; it also has that fashion flair for which Louis Vuitton is known. And did we mention the diamonds, lots and lots of diamonds.