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Louis Vuitton celebrates two decades with its signature watch collection. 

When Louis Vuitton debuted its Tambour collection twenty years go, watches made by international fashion houses were primarily quartz-powered and mass-produced. With a few exceptions, notably Cartier, Chopard, Hermès, Gucci and Dior, global clothing and accessories makers have historically found the high-end watchmaking market too challenging to enter and succeed, beyond launching a few novelty pieces or as a partner with an existing Swiss maker.

The new Louis Vuitton Tambour Twenty.

But with Tambour, Louis Vuitton entered into high-end watchmaking with serious intent and long-term goals that, twenty years later, have successfully steered the fashion house to be recognized as a peer among the world’s leading makers of high-end watches.

Tambour Twenty

To celebrate the importance of the Tambour collection to its success as a high-end watchmaker, Louis Vuitton this year launches the Tambour Twenty, a limited edition chronograph of 200 pieces that pays tribute to the original Tambour.

For the limited edition, Louis Vuitton revives the original Tambour’s deep, flared steel case that widens at its base (tambour is French for drum).  The celebratory watch is again engraved around its 41.5mm case with the twelve-letter Louis Vuitton name, with each letter corresponding to each hour marker.

The celebratory watch is again engraved around its 41.5mm case with the twelve-letter Louis Vuitton name, with each letter corresponding to each hour marker.

And as on the original series, the new limited edition model features a sun-ray brushed brown dial that displays seconds with a long yellow hand colored to echo the threads Louis Vuitton utilizes in much of its leatherwork.

While ETA-based movements powered the original Tambour time-only and GMT models in the premiere series twenty years ago, Louis Vuitton strategically teamed with its sister company Zenith to supply the base movement for the first Tambour chronograph.

That movement, the LV277, based on a Zenith El Primero caliber, again powers the new watch, offering the high-frequency, tenth-of-a-second precision built-in to Zenith’s famed series. Louis Vuitton has placed a 22-karat-gold rotor on the movement, which offers fifty hours of power reserve.

Watch enthusiasts will recognize all the features that made the Tambours design so unique,” says Jean Arnault, marketing and development director for Louis Vuitton watches. “While this limited edition is a true concentrate of everything that made this watch stand out, it also boasts brand new features that will set it apart for collectors.”

Many guises

Louis Vuitton has utilized its Tambour case as a base for various models during the past two decades. Most Louis Vuitton sports watches were built within the Tambour case, notably the many nautically themed models that were made to accompany the Louis Vuitton Cup yacht races.

From 2009, the Tambour Spin Time’s self- winding LV119 calibre with Spin Time and GMT function was developed and patented by La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton.

In a more complicated realm, you might also recall the Tambour Spin Time (2009) which displayed time using rotating cubes instead of clock hands and indexes, or the Tambour Mystérieuse (2010), the result of La Fabrique du Temps and Renaud et Papi teaming to devise a full ‘floating’ movement with no apparent links to the case or winder.

The Tambour Moon Mystérieuse Tourbillon Volant 3, from 2018. Encased in a 45mm diameter white gold case, it has an 8-day power reserve thanks to a double barrel.

La Fabric du Temps 

In 2011, after working closely with Louis Vuitton for several years, Geneva-based movement fabricator  La Fabrique du Temps (with master watchmakers Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini) became part of Louis Vuitton.

Inside La Fabrique Du Temps Louis Vuitton.

Since then, the watchmaker has continued to offer an impressive series of creative and often very complicated timepieces, most of which are fit within a Tambour case. Even Louis Vuitton’s acclaimed entry into the smart watch market, the Tambour Horizon Light Up, is built within a Tambour frame.

The Tambour Horizon is Louis Vuitton’s smart watch.

The Tambour case, however, has not remained static throughout its tenure. In 2014, Louis Vuitton launched the Tambour Evolution with a more traditional 45mm round case. Two years later a thin Tambour case framed the Tambour Slim, which also featured the watchmaker’s first watch with an in-house tourbillon.

The 2013 Tambour Slim Monogram in Pink Gold.

In what was perhaps the most unusual iteration of the Tambour shape, Louis Vuitton’s Tambour Moon (2017) retained the signature Tambour round case but reversed its arc. The new concave case essentially created a second Tambour shape, which Louis Vuitton capitalized on in 2020 with the Tambour Curve. That watch features a titanium and carbon case that Louis Vuitton then fit with a phenomenal Geneva-Seal-certified flying tourbillon caliber.

The 2020 Tambour Curve Flying Tourbillon has an innovative LV108 mechanical movement treated with black PVD, with 80 hours of power reserve and a flying tourbillon regulator.

Louis Vuitton earned one of the watch industry’s most important accolades last year when its Tambour Carpe Diem received the Audacity Prize at the Grand Prix dHorlogerie de Genève. As an encore, the Louis Vuitton Tambour Street Diver won the year’s GPHG Divers Watch Prize.

The Tambour Carpe Diem received the Audacity Prize at the 2021 GPHG. It combines a mechanism with jumping hours, retrograde minutes and a power reserve indicator.

Louis Vuitton offers the Tambour Twenty as a limited edition of 200 watches, each priced at $17,800.

 

Interview: Michel Navas, Master Watchmaker at La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton

What level of watch manufacturing is being done at La Fabrique Du Temps?

Louis Vuitton purchased La Fabrique du Temps in 2011, and now we are in Geneva in the cradle of watchmaking. We have all the tools and skills to create magnificent pieces. From amazing, complicated watches to simple watches. 

We have watchmakers, enamelers and most recently enamelers for dials. As you may know LVMH and Louis Vuitton both love artisans. So many other brands don’t have this kind of operation. 

We are a company of 125 people, we have twenty watchmakers, eight engineers, four casing engineers, two designers and ten dial makers. We have a workshop for electroplating so we can make rose gold, yellow gold, rhodium. 

Do you also do work for outside brands?

We cannot. We work strictly with Louis Vuitton and we certainly have plenty of work to do. Within the LVMH group we also have TAG Heuer, Hublot and Zenith and sometimes we will meet. But we concentrate our spirit and our minds on Louis Vuitton.

What are some recent additions to the factory?

We recently worked with in enameler Anita Porchet. And if there are some other artisans that we need we will try to add them to our capabilities. Very soon we will add an expert engraver in the house.

One of the reasons we are in Geneva is to obtain the Geneva Seal. We received that Seal in 2016 and we are very proud of it. It is difficult to obtain and it is difficult to keep. And we have to finish all of our components by hands, even the screws. Everything must be polished, angled and finished by hand. In addition, each watch has to go to the Geneva Seal offices for two weeks.

Do you see expanding other collections beyond Tambour?

Now we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of our Tambour watch, but we do have the Voyager collection, the Escale, and various Tambour variations. Tambour is our iconic case, it is pure and elegant. It looks simple, like a drum, but it is quite complicated. The shape is a perfect ambassador for Louis Vuitton. 

My first project with Louis Vuitton was with the Spin Time. When we finished the first prototype, we realized again the importance of the Tambour case shape. The three dimensional Spin Time fits perfectly with the Tambour shape. And today we have different models of the Spin Time, including with the Escale shape case.

We try to offer our clients a different type of watchmaking that includes the best traditions inside the watch but also has the Louis Vuitton touch on the outside.

For me the Tambour case shape is the Louis Vuitton archetype. It will always remain in our collection.

Will you re-create the original Monterey case from Louis Vuitton?

I love this case. I like how it is smooth on the wrist so maybe I will speak to my designer about that. 

What would you like our readers to know about Louis Vuitton watches?

Louis Vuitton is quality and craftsmanship, audacity and high quality, and you cannot find this combination elsewhere. For example when we developed the minute repeater in our Tambour case, this was a premiere because you have a second time zone, just managed by the crown, which you put in the second position. Our World Time is a world time watch without hands, and in the Spin Time, showing the time using cubes is also a world premiere. 

Are you already planning for the next anniversary?

Louis Vuitton fashion and leather making can move more quickly than our high watchmaking. We are always working two, three and four years ahead of time, but we have to be patient. You will be surprised by our high watchmaking.

—Interview by Gary Girdvainis

Zenith reprises its partnership with Argentinian-Spanish optical artist Felipe Pantone to create the new Defy Extreme Felipe Pantone, a limited-edition colorful chronograph with a metallic dial that reflects light with micro-engraved iridescence.

The new Zenith Defy Extreme Felipe Pantone.

Pantone combines color, metallic components and mathematically conceived shapes to generate optical illusions on the Defy’s dial. 

To create the dial’s colorful effect, Zenith reproduced a process Pantone has used frequently in his Planned Iridescence art installations.

Zenith technicians started with a clear sapphire disk as the dial’s base and then applied hidden, micro-engraved patterns measuring only 100 nanometres deep. The patterns reflect light, creating a rainbow of colors that shift with the light.

You’ll see shifting colors on the hands as well. Zenith finishes the chronograph’s minute counter with a graduated scale of colors, where each minute is segmented by a different tone. The chronograph’s second counter mimics a moiré effect with its thin, concentric black and white lines.

More colors

At Pantone’s direction, Zenith also made the watch’s dodecagonal bezel and its pusher protectors from translucent blue YAS (yttrium aluminosilicate), a crystalline glass material comparable to synthetic sapphire. This adds more color to the watch, beyond the dial. Just outside the bezel, the four corners of the case are engraved with “FP#1”, a signature for “Felipe Pantone El Primero”.

Zenith then matched that translucent blue with an equally translucent blue silicone strap. Zenith also includes a polished steel bracelet and a black Velcro strap with the watch.

Pantone also demonstrates his chromatic-based style on the watch’s El Primero high-frequency chronograph movement. He advised Zenith to apply the gradient rainbow 3-D PVD coloring used on the watch’s hands to the star-shaped rotor.

As a reminder, the El Primero movement inside the Defy Extreme series is one of Zenith’s most complicated. It features two independently driven regulating organs, beating at 50Hz for chronograph and 5Hz for the timekeeping.

Zenith offers the Defy Extreme Felipe Pantone as a limited edition of 100 pieces, available exclusively at Zenith boutiques and online. Price: CHF 29,900.

Optical artist Felipe Pantone at work.

 

Specifications: Zenith Extreme Defy Felipe Pantone

(Reference: 03.9100.9004/49.I210)

Movement: El Primero 9004, 1/100th-of-a-second chronograph, one rotation per second for the chrono hand, one escapement for the watch (36,000 VpH – 5 Hz); 1 escapement for the chronograph (360,000 VpH – 50 Hz). Certified Chronometer, power-reserve of 60 hours.

Functions: Hours and minutes in the center. Small seconds at 9 o’clock. 1/100th of a second chronograph: Central chronograph hand that makes one turn each second; 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock; 60-second counter at 6 o’clock; Chronograph power-reserve indication at 12 o’clock.

Finishes: Ruthenium colored main plate on movement + special “Rainbow” PVD-colored oscillating weight with satined finishings.

Case: 45mm polished steel & blue YAS, water resistant to 200 meters.  

Dial: Tinted sapphire with Felipe’s iridescent effect artwork pattern,  Rhodium-plated, faceted and coated with Beige SuperLuminova hour markers and  Rhodium-plated, faceted with “Rainbow” PVD coating & SLN C1 hands. 

Bracelet: Transparent blue Rubber. 2 straps included: 1 rubber with folding buckle & 1 Velcro, stainless steel folding clasp.

Price: CHF 29,900. 

Zenith’s third special edition Defy Extreme, with copper brown accents and recycled components, commemorates the watchmaker’s role as a partner of Extreme E electric rally racing and its latest race in the Atacama Desert in Chile.

The new Zenith Defy Extreme E Copper Prix.

Zenith unveils the new watch, called the Defy Extreme E Copper  Prix, alongside the Chilean copper mines that dot the South American desert where the next Extreme E championship races are underway.    

Based on Zenith Defy Extreme Carbon, a lightweight carbon-cased high-frequency chronograph series, the new watch incorporates recycled elements from championship race environment within its strap and packaging, all echoing the coppery-brown official race color.

 

Zenith has infused materials of Continental CrossContact tires used in the first season’s races into the watch’s Velcro strap. Zenith will also deliver the watch with two additional straps in black rubber and black Velcro, which can be easily swapped without any tools.

The case for the watch is made using components from E-Grip recycled tires while the plate covering for the box is made from parts of an Extreme E racing tarpaulin.

 

Zenith creates the 45mm Defy Extreme E Copper X Prix edition with carbon fiber pushers, crown and case, all protected with a twelve-sided bezel made of micro-blasted titanium. The watch’s openwork, multi-layered dial is built with tinted sapphire crystal embellished with coppery-brown accents meant to evoke the copper mines of the Chilean desert.

Inside Zenith fits its El Primero 9004 high-frequency chronograph movement, which offers 1/100th-of-a -second time measurements with two independent escapements. One beats at 5Hz (36,000 VpH) for timekeeping while the second vibrates at 50Hz (360,000 VpH) to activate the chronograph function. Zenith makes the nicely finished movement, a certified chronometer, visible through the sapphire display back, which is emblazoned with the Copper X Prix logo.

Zenith will release the new Defy Extreme E Copper X Prix as a limited edition of twenty. Price: $27,100.  

Earlier this summer, Zenith hosted collectors and enthusiasts at its Master of Chronographs exhibition in New York. During the special three-day pop-up exhibit and watchmaking clinic, the Swiss watchmaker hosted hands-on demonstrations of chronograph movements and displayed a room full of historical Zenith chronographs.

Zenith CEO Julien Tornare.

We spoke with Zenith CEO Julien Tornare during the event to learn more about the purpose of the exhibit. His responses are below.

 

IW: What do you hope people will learn about Zenith when they see this exhibition?

Julien Tornare: If they know about Zenith, then they probably already know about the El Primero. But they may not know about our history before 1969. My objective is to show that starting from the end of the 19th-Century the race for precision and chronometry began. That’s how we got to the El Primero.

In the 1960s we did not wake up and suddenly decide we were going to make super precise integrated chronographs. No. This started much earlier in the minds of our watchmakers.

This exhibit is to show existence of our heritage and where we got to where we are today.

At the turn-of-the-century, the only argument for the best watches focused on the most precise. In those days precision not only meant accuracy but also security. Sometimes it was a question of life or death, for example in an airplane or in a train it was very important to be precise.

There was no digital backup or satellite at that time. That was the ultimate proof of quality. Zenith has won with so many chronometry prizes, 2,333, out of which 233 or ten percent, were won by the Caliber 135.

Today most clients aren’t going to check the super precision of their watches. During those years this was key and Zenith was the leader. In this exhibition we display this point clearly.

 

Is Zenith planning additional vintage caliber projects similar to the Caliber 135 Observatoire Limited Edition with Kari Voutilainen?

I wish we had more of these. This is unique. When we started the project we begin talking about the commercial versions of the Caliber 135. But the extra-specialized versions of that caliber, which were made strictly for racing contests, will never be done again.

The Zenith Caliber 135 Observatoire Limited Edition, now sold out.

We have only a limited quantity of those. We use these to get them on people’s wrists because we believe this is the best testimony to our incredible past achievements. The remaining pieces we will keep in our museum. All of the recent debut pieces are already sold out.

The Zenith Caliber 135.

We will however have one more unique piece later this year with a different material, and a different dial, also by Kari Voutilainen. Phillips will auction that piece at the end of the year.

Many people wrote to me to obtain one of the ten limited-edition pieces. I told them you still have a chance when this piece comes to auction later this year.

 

Have the Skyline and new Chronomaster debuts met with your sales expectations in stores?

The Chronomaster Sport we cannot deliver fast enough. Our Defy Skyline is also very much in demand. The Chronomaster Open is just hitting the market now.

The Zenith Chronomaster Original.
The new Zenith Defy Skyline, also available in black or silver dial.

Is the Zenith Icons program growing?

This is a fantastic program, one of the most exciting projects we have started. It is more than a project, it is happening. But we don’t produce those watches so we have to look for them and acquire them. The main challenge is the sourcing. Most of the time we have to find their watches and go to acquire them.

Last year, we acquired between twenty-five and thirty watches and ninety percent of those sold out. So if you go to one of the five Zenith boutiques today where we have these icons, you will see a few, but many of them are empty. Sold out.

We cannot produce these, so this is a great concept but we need to acquire more of the pieces. We are fully prepared with the restoration capabilities.

The Zenith Defy A364-2 revives a 1969 Defy nicknamed the ‘bank vault” due to its rugged construction.

What are collectors looking for among the vintage Zenith pieces?

They are looking for a nice vintage watch that they know it is fully guaranteed and restored and certified by the brand. Many of them have purchased a vintage watch at auctions in the past. Or they bought them on other resale sites.

And when they receive their watch, it was not working properly. Or they realize much later that some of the parts in those watches are not genuine.

Available on the Zenith Icons site, this G581 was among the very first El Primero chronographs from 1969.

So we thought why not guarantee that you were getting something fully perfect. I’m not excited as much about the revenue from this project, but more about the concept and the message we give to our clients.

 

What is that message?

The message is that Zenith does commit. We will restore and repair every single watch since day one. You know there are some brands that just will not repair their own watches after twenty or thirty years. I don’t want to do that. I want to be sure that if anybody buys our watches, old or new, we can always restore them.

That is a strong message. The inspiration is there. When one of our employees is wearing an A386 from 1969, and we want to sell a new Chronomaster Original, the speech is right there. Just the presence of the vintage pieces in the stores will help sell the new pieces.

The Zenith A386 was launched in 1969 in a more classical round-case with straight lugs. This example is offered at the Zenith Icons boutique in Shanghai.

 Are the late 1960s pieces currently most in demand among the vintage items?

Yes, primarily the A386, A385, A384. We are just starting to see interest in some of the vintage Defy pieces. The A277, the earlier Chronomaster Sports.

Next year we will begin the new generation of pilot watches, so I expect vintage pilot watches to also come back in demand.

The Zenith Defy 21 Chroma.

Why should a watch collector today choose a new Zenith Watch?

When you buy a Zenith you buy three things. You’ve buying a brand that has a strong heritage. And when you get to know the brand, our history is so rich. This is a very important and it speaks to our legitimacy.

The new Zenith Defy Extreme E Island X Prix.

Second, look at our authenticity. At Zenith I can tell you that all of our stories are authentic. There are other brands that are successful commercially based on good marketing. Do you want to buy a marketing story or a true story?

Finally, we express our history in a very contemporary manner. We have, for example, the big Defy Extreme but also the Caliber 135, which is super elegant and decorated by Kari Voutilainen. We can do both of these things. We have the heritage, we focus on authenticity­ – and we exist in the 21st-century.

 

Zenith invites collectors and enthusiasts to stop by its “Master of Chronographs” exhibition and workshop on June 15 through June 17 to learn all about the Zenith El Primero direct from Zenith’s own experts.

During the special three-day pop-up exhibit and watchmaking clinic, Zenith will host the public during a multi-faceted display and hands-on demonstration of chronograph movements in watchmaking history. Zenith CEO Julien Tornare, Zenith Product Development and Heritage Director Romain Marietta and U.S. Zenith Brand President Ellen Sorensen will host the event.

The new Zenith Chronomaster Open.

Visitors can expect a slate of chrono-centric activities starting at 10 a.m. each day of the event, which takes place at 
Phillips Auction House,
 432 Park Avenue at (at 56 Street), New York, NY 10022.

Schedule:

10 a.m. to 5 p.m.: A watch clinic 
(every hour).

In the 30-40-minute hands-on clinic a master watchmaker will discuss the inner intricacies of the chronograph complication, with focus in the El Primero movement.

11 a.m.: Tour of Exhibit

Zenith’s Product Development and Heritage Director Romain Marietta will guide guests through a series of historically significant archival timepieces. These rare timepieces, the legacy of the watchmakers that propelled the brand into the future, take visitors on an ‘unforgettable journey through time.’

4 p.m.: Product Presentations

Romain Marietta will present Zenith’s 2022 debuts.

To attend Zenith’s Master of Chronographs pop-up exhibition at Phillips Auction House, register online  here.