The Tambour has had a long and storied history of marching to the sound of its own beat, and even with Louis Vuitton‘s latest Tambour Damier Graphite Race, they are adamant that there is still more to come.
The days, the Tambour has pretty much become an icon. when it comes to Louis Vuitton watches. But as all stories have beginnings, so does Louis Vuitton’s “drum.” And this story starts at the turn of the 21st century when Louis Vuitton first set foot in the world of watches. Little did they know that their Tambour would become the starting point of a nearly two-decade-long adventure in watchmaking. A journey that will bring Louis Vuitton to have their own watchmaking manufacture, and in 2020 have a timepiece firmly set in the realms of haute horologerie. But even then, they say this is just the beginning.
The very first Louis Vuitton Tambour was introduced in 2002 and with it, came a new type of watch shape. The Tambour is the French word for drum, and it is a reference to both the watch component of the same name and the percussion instrument. Not only was the shape inspired by the drum but the Tambour also wanted to tell time just like how the percussion sets the tempo of the music. In other words, it wanted to march at the beat of its own drum.
The very first Tambour was sculpted from a block of metal. It had a round shape but the case was generous and sturdy. With a shape that expanded towards the caseback, it gave the designers enough room to engrave the 12 letters of the brand (a lucky coincidence) so it was visible near the top of the case.
As you would imagine, when the first Tambour was launched, many were sceptical about Louis Vuitton’s ability to make “proper” watches. So, to dispel this notion, Louis Vuitton introduced many complications to the Tambour case, all tied to the house’s heritage of adventure, travel and fine craftsmanship. There was an automatic chronograph, followed by a GMT displaying a second time zone and a world time watch. Respect had to be shown when they had a Tambour with a tourbillon in 2004, and they have even managed to produce, arguably the most complex complication in watchmaking, the minute repeater. In 2009 they also debuted the Tambour Spin Time which featured an exclusive complication, patented by Louis Vuitton, that told time via 12 rotating cubes which spin around in place.
All notions of the Louis Vuitton Tambour being a “fashion” watch finally dissipated when in 2011 they announced that they had acquired La Fabrique du Temps, literally a time factory, which had been a close partner to the brand since 2007.
2013 marked the start of a new chapter for the Tambour as the traditional shape was inverted to now have the bezel larger than the caseback. With a larger dial opening, Louis Vuitton also took the opportunity to showcase exquisite dials from mother of pearls to finely engraved ones with diamond indices. And with the savoir-faire within Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton, they were also able to pair these watches with extraordinary mechanics including one with a diamond-encrusted tourbillon carriage.
Fifteen years after the first launch, the Tambour Moon once again heralded a new identity for the collection, this time, putting the curve at the centre of the case, giving it a crescent-shaped profile. Needless to say, their watchmaking prowess had improved over the years when in 2018 the Mystérieuse Flying Tourbillon suspended the movement in the watch so it appears to be floating in mid-air. Then in 2019, in order to offer all their customers the choice of keeping up with the digital revolution, they unveiled their first smartwatch – the Horizon.
This finally brings us to 2020 and once again, this year Louis Vuitton writes a new chapter in the Tambour history with the Tambour Damier Graphite Race. At first glance, it would seem like they had brought back their early Tambour design with a case that grows larger towards its caseback and the letters of the brand circling the bezel. But that’s where the similarities end as this new Tambour simply screams of a dynamic and modern approach to aesthetic design.
Immediately, the first thing that jumps out at you is the Gaston V signature in an energetic hue of green, further contrasted by the dark shades of the Damier canvas check. Inspired by Virgil Abloh’s neon signature, this eye-catching design also extends to the back where it circles the tinted sapphire caseback. The bold case, measuring in at 41.5mm for the automatic, and 46mm for the chronograph movement further extends the watch’s dynamic demeanour by offering a sandblasted steel case that is coated with anthracite via PVD (physical vapour deposition).
With all they have achieved in the last two decades, one would think that the Tambour has reached the pinnacle of Louis Vuitton’s watchmaking capabilities. However, to them, they are firmly rooted in the idea that this is still only the beginning.
(All images: Louis Vuitton)