Back in 2002, Louis Vuitton unveiled the Tambour, a luxury watch quite unlike any other. Bold and innovative, with a round case sculpted from a block of metal and signature applied horns, this instantly recognisable timepiece ushered the globally renowned fashion house into the rarefied world of high-end watchmaking.
Now, two decades later, Louis Vuitton celebrates the 20th anniversary of this landmark release with the Tambour Twenty, a stunning, 200-piece limited-edition chronograph that pays loving tribute to its predecessor, boasting the same distinctive drum-shaped case (in French, a tambour is a type of drum that was used in ancient times).
Along the sides of this deep, flared case are the 12 letters that spell out ‘Louis Vuitton’, just as they appear on the 2002 version, while also making a comeback are the pair of elegant sub-dials on the watchface at 3 and 9 o’clock. This exclusive new collector’s item also features a sumptuous brown sun-brushed dial, against which the chronograph’s long yellow seconds hand stands out; the colour being a nod to the thread historically used in fine leatherwork.
“To me, as well as celebrating our anniversary, this watch also paves the way for many future decades of fine watchmaking, staying true to Louis Vuitton’s values of creativity, craftsmanship and excellence,” remarked Jean Arnault, Marketing and Development Director for Louis Vuitton watches, in an interview with Financial Times.
The youngest son of Bernard Arnault – the billionaire owner of luxury parent group LVMH – Jean is, himself, a mere three years older than the watch brand he’s working for. Not surprisingly, he equates the development of the maison’s watchmaking endeavours so far to that of a promising young adult, pointing out some obvious parallels.
“Twenty years of watchmaking is obviously not a long time,” he says, “but if you compare it to a human being, when you’re 20, you’ve got a lot of tough choices to make: either you’re going into advanced academics, or you decide to start working straight away and begin your career path.”
Regardless of the actual choice one makes, both higher education and entering the business world require one to “get serious”, and that’s an attitude Louis Vuitton has definitely taken to heart.
Of course, that’s not to say that LV’s watch division hasn’t been serious up until this point. Quite the contrary, in fact, and as such the Tambour line has, over the years, become a valued symbol of the overall watch collection. The Tambour has also seen different expressions over time, while always remaining true to the maison’s DNA: a dedication to the ‘Art of Travel’ and the kind of bold creativity that fuses technological innovation with exceptional craftsmanship.
Take for instance the Tambour Spin Time, revealed in 2009, which you could say “reinvented” how time is displayed by employing rotating cubes in lieu of clock hands and indexes. Two years later, La Fabrique du Temps in Geneva, and its master watchmakers Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini, joined the team and in 2014 the Tambour Evolution was launched, creating a stir with its strong, masculine lines and 45mm diameter case.
Sleeker, and a touch more discrete on the wrist, was the Tambour Slim, a tourbillon version that appeared in 2016. This was followed a year later by the Tambour Moon, which kept the signature round case while reversing its caseband’s curve. More recently, in 2020, the Tambour Curve pushed the boundaries even further with its titanium and Carbostratum case, its elongated convex curve, and the phenomenal flying tourbillon calibre housed within.
Things got even wilder in 2021 when the Tambour Carpe Diem – complete with its half-million Euro price tag – received the aptly named ‘Audacity Prize’ at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (while the Tambour Street went on that same year to take home the ‘Diver’s Watch’ prize). This year, meanwhile, in addition to the Tambour Twenty, LV has already unveiled the third generation of its travel-friendly, entirely customisable, Tambour Horizon Light Up model.
It’s safe to say that Louis Vuitton has, over the past 20 years, proven its legitimacy within the watchmaking world, introducing lines that embrace masculine, feminine, GMT, diver-friendly, and other stylistic modes. Thus, it seems only fitting this year to celebrate the watch that started it all – the original and still iconic Tambour – with an appropriately elegant successor.
“Watch enthusiasts will recognise all the features that made the Tambour’s design so unique,” Jean Arnault explains. “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.”
Robust in its construction, and water- resistant up to 100 metres, the watch’s stainless steel polished case has a thickness 13.20mm and a diameter of 41.5mm. Sequestered within is the La Fabrique du Temps LV277 high-frequency automatic movement (based on the famed Zenith El Primero, the first automatic chronograph ever). This movement, with its 22-carat pink gold oscillating weight and 50 hours of power reserve, keeps perfect time – exact to the tenth of a second. Add to that a 50-hour power reserve, sapphire glass with reflection proof coating, and a dynamic dark brown alligator strap, and it’s easy to see why serious collectors are going to be thoroughly enticed.
Furthermore, as specified by its engraved caseback, the Tambour Twenty is also available with another iconic Louis Vuitton staple: a miniature trunk in monogram canvas that is a tribute to Louis Vuitton’s legacy, allowing clients to protect their precious belongings in cases that will stand the test of time.
Another indication that Louis Vuitton’s watchmaking division is ramping things up – taking things even more seriously than before – was the recent, headline-grabbing announcement of actor Bradley Cooper as new house ambassador. A true global superstar, with a total of nine Oscar nominations to his name, as well as a British Academy Film Award and two Grammy Awards, the acclaimed actor’s debut campaign is, coincidentally, the one that celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Tambour timepiece.
The special campaign video, released in September, was directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Damien Chazelle and is accompanied by still images lensed by photographer Boo George. It honours the Tambour’s milestone anniversary by evoking a sense of youthful optimism and of dreams taking flight. As a parallel odyssey of man and boy unfolds, the narrative leads from lush forest to urban jungle, from the endless possibilities of imagination, to a dream accomplished, set amidst the streets and skyline of New York City, in the shadow of the iconic Chrysler Building.
As for LV’s future watchmaking plans, one goal is to have almost every component designed, manufactured and assembled at La Fabrique du Temps, the brand’s eight-year- old factory in Geneva. At the same time, Jean Arnault admits he has even bigger plans for the factory, wanting to “turn it into an academy for high watchmaking”. With this idea in mind, yet another part of the 20th anniversary celebrations will be a competition – yet to be announced – inviting young independent watchmakers to present their creations to the public and a panel of experts, with Louis Vuitton offering support to the winner.
Displaying obvious passion and enthusiasm for both the culture and history of the craft, Jean appears set to drive the brand’s horology division in bold and brilliant new directions, even if he’s not quite ready to reveal all the juicy details.
“Today we’re focused on the anniversary,” he says, “but next year is going to be something interesting.”
This story first appeared on PrestigeOnline Hong Kong