LVMH Watch Week 2024: Daniel Roth Tourbillon Souscription and the gérald genta Mickey Mouse Repeater
Made by the world’s biggest luxury brand, but with all the emotional richness of the greatest independent watchmakers.
They might just be two watches, but what they symbolize is something extremely powerful. Together, the Daniel Roth Souscription Tourbillon presented for the first time in the metal, and the gérald genta Only Watch Mickey Mouse Jump Hour, Retrograde Minute, Minute Repeater clearly articulate Louis Vuitton’s unabashed mission statement that it intends to be a force of reckoning in the world of haute horlogerie or high watchmaking. Says Jean Arnault, “The significance of Daniel Roth and gérald genta is that allows us to bring into Louis Vuitton the highest level of technical watchmaking, hand finishing and metiers d’art. Neither of these will ever be volume brands but they allow us to strive for the highest level of excellence.”
With this objective set, Arnault massively re-energized two of the greatest living watchmakers today Enrico Barbasini and Michel Navas, the co-founders of La Fabrique du Temps and high complications specialists that worked at Patek Philippe, gérald genta, with the legendary Pierre Michel Golay, and also Franck Muller.
Says Barbasini, “Honestly before Jean arrived, I was on the cusp of retiring because there was this disconnect between the high complications we were making such as the Carpe Diem minute repeater with automatons and the entry level quartz watches. It was too confusing. But when Jean Arnault came, it changed everything. He gave us all a new sense of energy and the desire to take everything we’ve learned over our careers to express the highest level of watchmaking we could.” Says Michel Navas, “Jean is really a once in a generation leader. Someone who is immensely passionate, who has real watchmaking education, great taste, and is at the same time a person that inspires other through his kindness.”
Is the new Daniel Roth Tourbillon Souscription better than the original?
With their mission clearly delineated, the two set out to show the world the level of watchmaking they and Louis Vuitton were capable of. They set their focus on the recreation of one of the most beloved and iconic timepieces. Daniel Roth’s first tourbillon created a series of souscription watches for Asprey’s in 1988, featuring his signature double ellipse case and his elegant tourbillon with its signature three-sided second hand fixed to the cage. As the watch was brought to me by my friend Louis Westphalen who has now joined Daniel Roth and gérald genta, I was in the midst of asking my smart-ass journalist question: “What distinguishes the new watch from the original or is it just a simple facsimile of the past…” Then I stopped mid sentence. Because the new La Fabrique du Temps watch laid before me utterly took my breath away with its visual richness. “Damn that is spectacular,” I unconsciously muttered to myself.
To begin with, the watch is faithful in diameter to the original — but a full 2mm thinner. Importantly, the raised seam that ran the length of the case used to split the watch in the following way: The bezel would occupy one third of the case’s thickness while the remaining mid and back case would occupy two thirds of the volume. Says Arnault, “In some ways this felt unbalanced to us and so we worked so that this seam would perfectly bisect the case creating a greater visual harmony. In addition, we reworked the lugs to create a greater contour so that the watch fit the wrist better.” After Arnault and team had done so, they showed this to Daniel Roth who laughed, and said that these lugs were even better than the original, which are straighter, but that was what his casemaker was capable of at the time of production.
Compare the dial on the original watch with the new watch’s dial and you will similarly see a world of difference. There is a much greater sense of three dimensionality in the stunning guilloche à main pattern. The dials of the 20 souscription watches are all made by Kari Voutilainen, not at his dial making workshop Comblémine, but rather, his atelier at Chapeau de Napoléon in the Jura where his best craftsmen and vintage engine turning machines reside. Even more impressive is that La Fabrique du Temps has taken it upon itself to start producing its very own guilloche à main dials, and have sourced the machines and the artisans to create those dials for the production pieces to follow. Another small detail is the use of blue ink rather than black which produces a more dynamic effect on the dial.
Then there is the movement of the watch. Says Arnault, “In the context of the late 80’s Roth explained to us that he was limited in his choices for the movement and ended up using a Lemania calibre as his base. As such what you actually have in the double ellipse case is a round movement. Which you can’t tell because the timepieces have closed case backs.” Says Barbasini, “Jean, Michel and I were adamant that we would make a double ellipse shaped movement that perfectly matched the shape of the case.” To which Arnault adds, “In the production models, we will have a sapphire case back so that you can see this movement.” And what a movement it is. A chalice or repository for all of Barbasini and Navas’ know-how.
Barbasini elaborates, “The countersinks for every screw are concave and black polished. The flat bladed click for the barrel is similarly black polished. We wanted to push the level of hand finishing to the extreme.” Says Navas, “This is not a show off movement. It has a lot of very discrete handmade elements that not everyone will notice. But we wanted our colleagues and other watchmakers to look at it and say ‘Wow, respect. This is really well done. La Fabrique du Temps is serious about its watchmaking.’” But it is the front of the watch and specifically the tourbillon that is the star of the show.
Somehow even in comparison to the original, the tourbillon, bridge and cage seem more luminous, reflecting more light. The pillars of the bridge are also concave and black polished. This is incredibly hard to do but Michel and Enrico insisted on it because it brings something visually. Arnault points out that Barbasini and Navas didn’t want the screws for fixing the dial to the base plate to mar the beauty of the movement, so they devised a system for fixing the dial at the perimeter of the calibre instead so the screws would be hidden by the case.
On the wrist, the Daniel Roth has the feeling of being something very special. Not a watch that shouts but a watch that is perfectly executed in every way. And though it was made by the world’s biggest luxury brand, it has all the emotional richness of the greatest independent watchmakers. You might scoff when I compare it to a Kari Voutilainen or a Rexhep Rexhepi, but I challenge you to try it on and tell me what you think.
Return of the Mickey Mouse watch by gérald genta
“Dude am I seeing things or did you just make a cloisonné enamel Mickey Mouse watch?” I asked Arnault. He replied, “Of course we did. And that dial is made in-house in La Fabrique du Temps.” But I should point out that everything is enamel. The retrograde arm that jumps back to zero to indicate the minute, the underlying jump hour wheel… it is all enamel and incredibly well executed. It was at this point that Arnault handed me the first production watch featuring the same minute repeating jump hour retrograde minute movement found in the Only Watch timepiece featuring Donald Duck playing golf — a one-off prototype. “Look at Donald’s cap,” he said. The famous Disney character was wearing a checked gold cap and it had been rendered so that every tiny square in the checked patter was delineated using ultra-thin gold cloisonné wires before being filled with enamel.
What is important to understand is that both Barbasini and Navas spend many years at gérald genta working together with the famous Pierre Michel Golay on the most complicated watches in the world such as the first grande et petite sonnerie. Says Arnault, “No living watchmakers today understand the creative and technical spirit of the brand better than Michel and Enrico. Because they were a big part in the creation of Genta in its golden age.”
As such, it was relatively straightforward for the two watchmakers to create an all new calibre but reflecting the spirit of Genta. Says Arnault, “Even the shape of the movement’s bridges echoes the shapes that Genta loved. For example, we used an octagon to frame the repeater’s flying regulator.” Indeed, the obsessiveness around the creation of these timepieces was so intense that Barbasini who is a golfer adjusted the retrograde action of Donald’s arm to more accurately depict an actual golf swing. Activate the repeater using the crown on the left side of the case and the watch strikes out a deep but very clear note for the hours, two notes for the quarters and a high note for the minutes with impeccable timing.
Finally, both watches though expensive, represent what I consider to be strong value propositions relative to what they offer. The Daniel Roth in particular at 140 thousand Swiss Francs is spectacular value for a watch finished to that level. And the gérald genta repeater with its stunning cloisonné enamel dial and added dial side complication offers more than fair value. When I asked about this, Arnault explained, “There are a lot of brands that charge what I consider to be irrationally high prices we wanted everything we do to connected to authenticity and real value.” With these two watches, Arnault and La Fabrique du Temps have just earned their way into the rarified milieu of true high watchmaking and I for one can’t wait to see what comes next.
FROM THE SHOP
|Self-winding caliber PF703; 48-hour power reserve
|Hours, Minutes, Date
|40mm; polished and satin-finished stainless steel with platinum knurled bezel; water resistant to 100m
|Purple; rhodium-plated applied hour markers
|Polished and satin-finished stainless steel bracelet
|Limited and numbered edition of 50 pieces