Why Louis Vuitton Is Carving A Niche For Itself In Watchmaking
Queenstown in the south of New Zealand is some 18,000km—and a full day’s flight—away from Geneva, Switzerland, where La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton, the watchmaking subsidiary of the fashion giant is based. But this distance was not going to deter the fashion house from showcasing its horological prowess to the cognoscenti as it organised a regional high watchmaking presentation in the Kiwi resort town in March.
Master watchmaker Michel Navas, the creative mind behind some of the brand’s most innovative pieces, flew in from Geneva, bringing with him a host of timepieces, including new blockbuster releases such as the Tambour Spin Time Air, the Voyager Automatic Flying Tourbillon and the Voyager Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon. But Vuitton being Vuitton, holding such a showcase in the ballroom of a five-star hotel was not going to quite cut it. Besides its outstanding product line-up, the venue where the presentation was held had to be spectacular enough to leave guests mesmerised and spellbound.
By choosing the Hill’s Lodge, the private home of the retail magnate, Michael Hill, one of New Zealand’s most prominent tycoons, the brand certainly hit it on the bull’s eye. The ultra‑contemporary house, with its industrial‑inspired design elements, sits on a massive plot of land with beautifully manicured lawns, patches of flowers and wild grass, as well as various varieties of trees. And that’s not all, the mansion shares the land with The Hills, a sprawling 18-hole private golf course also owned by the Kiwi billionaire.
Securing the Hill’s Lodge for the event did not come easy. While the house was available to members of The Hills golf club for short-term rentals, Hill was particular about who stayed there. Story has it that he only approved Louis Vuitton’s proposal after he understood the event concept, agreeing that the showcase, with its slant towards savoir faire, was aligned with his personal art philosophy. For a whole week, the entire mansion was transformed into a Louis Vuitton universe with each area decked out with the maison’s iconic trunks, fashion items, and pieces from its Objets Nomades collection such as the Cocoon swing seat by Brazilian designers Fernando and Humberto Campana and the Diamond Screen modular room divider by Dutch designer Marcel Wanders. If this set-up did not leave a deep impression on guests, made up of top Louis Vuitton customers and press members from the region, almost nothing else would.
Such a showcase is nothing new for the luxury giant. Since it stopped presenting its novelties in Basel, Switzerland in 2016, at its own events that ran alongside the Baselworld watch fair, Louis Vuitton has been holding intimate regional events to impress its top‑tier clientele with its watchmaking prowess. This is clearly a strategy that is working for the brand for we have seen an increase in the frequency of such showcases, and the game plan replicated for its other product lines too—and with a similarly high success rate.
Time to watch
While the Louis Vuitton universe of trunks, furniture and objects captured a lot of attention, the stars of the show at the Hill’s Lodge were still the watches. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Tambour Spin Time, the brand breathed new life into the icon with the Tambour Spin Time Air, which was first launched at its European high watchmaking event in the French ski resort town of Courchevel earlier this year. The Spin Time Air features the new self-winding calibre LV88, which is built in the centre of the case between two sapphire crystals, and the cubes that display the time appear to float in mid-air.
At the event, Navas also presented two new members of the Voyager collection, which boasts an unusual case shape that is a cross between a circle and a square. The Voyager Automatic Flying Tourbillon, which is equipped with the self-winding calibre LV81, comes with a 40-hour power reserve and is driven by a flying tourbillon at 6 o’clock. The watch comes with either an onyx or white mother-of-pearl dial with baguette-cut diamond hour markers, and its white gold case is set with brilliant-cut diamonds.
The piece de resistance among the novelties is the Voyager Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon, which is quite possibly the most complicated movement La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton has created yet. There are two white gold versions of the watch: the classic one comes with alternating polished and satin-brushed surfaces, while the more flamboyant variant has its case set with eight carats of baguette-cut diamonds. Its manual‑winding calibre LV100, which measures a mere 9.7mm in thickness despite housing two complications—a flying tourbillon and a minute repeater—is developed and assembled entirely in-house at its Geneva manufacture.
Another notable feature of the calibre LV100 is its striking mechanism, in which a cathedral gong is used. Cathedral gongs are typically longer than classic ones. In the calibre LV100, the minute gong makes one-and-a-half rounds around the movement, while the hour gong coils one-and-three-quarter times. With this, the watchmakers must ensure that the gongs have sufficient space to vibrate without them touching one another or any other component of the movement and case.
For many watch brands, launching a high complication once every few years is already a tough ask. To do what Louis Vuitton did in Queenstown, New Zealand—launching not one but three top-of-the-range horological mechanisms—is unheard of. While it is still a young brand in the watch world, with slightly more than a decade under its belt, the French giant is definitely not holding back; it is in fact flexing its muscles to make an impact on the horology world with its whimsical timepieces packed with top‑drawer quality.