It’s funny but when watch pundits toss around terms like horological audacity and technical innovation, the name Louis Vuitton doesn’t come up immediately. But the truth is that over the last 20 years of the Tambour’s history, the famous malletier has fired off a multitude of pretty damn epic watchmaking salvos. Want irrefutable evidence? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present the 2013 Tambour Twin Chrono, one of the greatest achievements in the realm of the mechanical chronograph. What the hell is it? OK, sit down, strap in and be prepared to be blown away, for the Twin Chrono — I love how minimalistically LV named its profound horological achievements — is a chronograph that allows you to time two simultaneous events. It has central hour, minute and seconds hands. What’s that, you say? Well, how do you read the chrono? Ah, young grasshopper, the two chronograph counters that have co-axial seconds and minute indicators are emblazed next to each other on the bottom of the grand feu enamel dial. Start the chrono and both advance. Hit the chrono pusher again and the left counter freezes, while the right counter continues to advance. But wait, because at the same time, the counter at the top of the dial starts and displays the difference between the two timed events. I see you rolling up your sleeves ready to dispute the mechanical soundness of such a device. “Won’t so many counters act as parasitical devices and rob the time-telling function of power, and undermine the underlying amplitude and isochronism of the watch?”
My response would be, “Bro, chill your ass out.” Yes, you might have a point. But actually not. Because the Twin Chrono comes with four — yes, I said four — balance wheels. One for the time-keeping function of the watch and three more for each of the counters in the watch. BOOM! Yes, I see the mushroom cloud over your cranium now coinciding with your mind being blown. And yes, I believe the Twin Chrono is one of the most significant achievements in chronographs since Nicolas Rieussec attached an ink pen to a hand to help his friends win their bets at horse racing.
Tambour Spin Time Air Quantum
Louis Vuitton’s latest watchmaking achievement, the Tambour Spin Time Air Quantum, is not without a soupçon of controversy. I’ll get to that in a bit, but let me describe the watch first. The Spin Time complication was created in 2009. The guys that created it for LV are Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini who, despite having flown decidedly under the radar, are absolute rock stars in their own right. They worked with the legendary Pierre-Michel Golay back at Gérald Genta, helping to create that brand’s Grande Sonnerie. They also worked with a little unknown brand named Patek Philippe, where they specialized in striking watches and high complications. They set up their high comp dream factory La Fabrique du Temps back in 2007, which was fully purchased and transformed into LV’s in-house watch division in 2012. Anyway, the Spin Time is a movement that is 30mm in diameter and features 12 rods projecting out of it like the rays of the sun. Each of these rods has a cube at the end of it that acts as an hour index. A traditional minute hand rotates around the dial and when it hits the 12 o’clock mark, the appropriate cube spins around at lightning speed in one of my favorite acts of horological dopeness. Over the years, they have continued to improve this mechanism. For example, initially, the cubes were driven by the hour wheel, but they switched it to the minute wheel for better accuracy. Also, the movement’s underlying isochronism — wow, I really like this word apparently — is not affected by the jump because the spring powering it is slowly loaded over each hour.
If that wasn’t already cool enough, in 2019, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Spin Time, Navas and Barbasini were given the challenge to create a Spin Time with maximum transparency and negative space. This resulted in the Spin Time Air, where the movement was diminished from 30mm to 21mm in diameter. Now, if that wasn’t already visually entertaining enough, this year, Louis Vuitton has created the Spin Time Air Quantum. This is a black DLC titanium version of the Spin Time Air with one very cool feature. When you press the crown, the whole Spin Time display of 12 cubes lights up. And when I say “lights up,” I mean that it emits enough megawatt power that you could use it to help land an airplane on an airstrip that had an electrical failure. The effect is that in any dark environment, every single eye will be drawn to your wrist. Why is this cool? OK, here I have to credit my buddy Brice Goulard of Monochrome Watches, otherwise, as my colleague Eléonor Picciotto pointed out, he will get pissed. When he saw the watch at its launch in Megève, France, he said, “This watch is great. It’s perfect for the guy that is in the nightclub ordering the bottles of Dom Pérignon with the luminous labels.” And he is absolutely right. Because when you press the crown, both you and your watch will be the immediate center of attention in any smoky boîte, discotheque or pavilion of nocturnal activity. It would, of course, be very entertaining to ignite the watch in the dark room in Berlin’s Berghain. Not that I’ve ever been to Berghain. I’m definitely not cool enough to get in. And anyway, I go to sleep at 10pm. And I hate techno.
OK, here comes the aforementioned controversial part. Instead of using a tiny mechanical dynamo like De Bethune uses for their sublime dive watch, the DB28 GS Grand Bleu, the Quantum uses two small batteries like those in a quartz watch. These are located in the caseback and can easily be replaced at any service center — so I’m told by LV’s main watch dude, my friend Thibaut Pellegrin. He explains, “The watch can be activated up to seven times a day. The light stays on for three seconds. Based on that, the batteries will last for three years and can be easily replaced. Of course, if you activate your watch more, the battery will need to be changed a bit sooner.” I am, of course, inclined to believe the owner of this watch will activate it much more than 10 times a day. Having it in my hands, I pretty much played with it constantly. Which also explains why LV decided to use batteries instead of a dynamo. The guy that buys this watch is going to want to illuminate it all night long in the club; he will probably pass it around and his friends will also want to play with it. I mean, how cool would it be to ignite your watch in a dark restaurant to read the menu? That guy is not going to want to hassle with rewinding his dynamo each time he wants to activate his watch. Which brings me to a larger point related to watches.
I think we can all acknowledge that the watch market is booming at a heretofore unprecedented rate. Now even though I’m a self-avowed, card-carrying watch nerd, that’s not because the number of watch nerds is multiplying at an unprecedented rate. We probably have the same reproductive multiple as say Dungeons and Dragons players. Watches are booming because they’ve crossed over and become the ultimate lifestyle symbol. They have also become — forgive my use of the urban vernacular — everyone’s favorite form of flexing. Because you can’t bring your mansion, your boat, your race horse or your “Lambo” into the Amnesia in Ibiza. But you sure as hell can bring your Louis Vuitton Spin Time Air Quantum with you. And when you light it up for all to see, in some ways, that even out-flexes the guys with their Richard Milles because no one can see them, because well…it’s dark. And this is the power and intelligence of Louis Vuitton in understanding the social dynamic behind what watches symbolize today.
But at the same time, the Spin Time Air Quantum is backed by incredible watchmaking authenticity, because it was created by two of the best watchmakers on the planet. And the way in which the light effect has been integrated speaks of their intelligence. Says Pellegrin, “The 12 LED lights are hidden in the inner flange of the bezel. We used fused silica for the cubes because when the lights hit them, it looks as if the light is being emitted from within the cubes themselves, which is precisely the effect we wanted.” If I have any small criticism about the Spin Time Air Quantum, it’s just that the minute hand could use a healthier dose of Super-LumiNova as it is, at the moment, a little overwhelmed by the massive light emission of the cubes. That having been said, I suppose the only information you really need in a nightclub is what hour it is. And also, the watch I played with was a prototype, so the good folks at LV will probably have this fixed by the time it lands on a customer’s wrist.
Tambour Slim Vivienne Jumping Hours
OK, the other watch LV launched in Megève was a timepiece that I actually think is a sublime jumping hour timepiece. It features a character named Vivienne. Who is Vivienne, you ask? To be fair, I asked the same thing. She is Louis Vuitton’s mascot introduced in 2017 and based on the monogram flower motif. Louis Vuitton began to give small leather Vivienne dolls to their best customers and she soon became the object of cult collectibility. She already made her appearance on a Spin Time Air last year, which featured 12 tiny sculptures of her in place of the complication’s spinning cubes. The result is actually pretty damn adorable. This year, Louis Vuitton, Navas and Barbasini created a Tambour Slim Vivienne Jumping Hours in three different iterations: Circus, Fortune or, my personal favorite, Casino.
What you have is a depiction of Vivienne combined with an “invisible” minute hand made of a transparent sapphire. The decorative elements — cards in the case of the Casino and Fortune, and a ball in the case of Circus — that lie flat around the dial conceal the two hour apertures. As the minute hand passes 12 o’clock, this triggers a jump hour mechanism that has the unique quality of shifting from the left to the right aperture on the dial. To be honest, the effect is very charming. Each of the watches is, as mentioned, themed. In the Circus model, Vivienne is a juggler tossing balls aloft. In the Fortune model, she is a fortune teller reading your tarot — apparently, readings are only positive, which is a relief. In Casino, she is a croupier. This is my favorite rendition of all the models, because whatever time is displayed in the alternative window, a card with the same number will appear, which is a great detail. The way in which the motifs are expressed and integrated with the time display is really charming and reminiscent of LV’s incredible GPHG Audacity Prize-winning Tambour Carpe Diem. It’s nice to see LV focusing on métiers d’art. The dials of the watches are mother-of-pearl for the Circus, aventurine for the Fortune, and green skarn for the croupier. I don’t know what skarn is, but according to Eléonor Picciotto, it’s very rare, and, I have to admit, the result is beautiful.
Louis Vuitton Tambour Spin Time Air Quantum
Movement: Self-winding caliber LV 68; 35-hour power reserve
Functions: Spin Time display of hours and minutes
Case: 42.5mm; titanium with black DLC coating; water resistant to 50m
Dial: Super-LumiNova treated
Strap: Mixed media rubber and alligator; stainless steel pin buckle with black DLC coating
Price: USD 93,000
Availability: Limited edition of 100 pieces, only at LV selected boutiques
Louis Vuitton Tambour Slim Vivienne Jumping Hours
Movement: Self-winding caliber LV 180; 42-hour power reserve
Functions: Jumping hours and minutes
Case: 38mm; 18K pink, yellow or white gold; water resistant to 50m
Dial: Aventurine set with both white and black diamonds, green skarn set with white diamonds and tsavorites, or white mother-of-pearl set with white diamonds and sapphires
Strap: Shiny blue, green or red alligator; 18K pink, yellow or white gold pin buckle set with diamonds