Louis Vuitton hosted an unveiling of the fashion house’s latest haute watches at the Place Vendôme salons last month. It was a pandemic-safe preview ahead of the Watches & Wonders luxury fair which streams live from Geneva, starting today.
Diamonds on a fully pavé rendering of the Vivienne mascot glinted in the spring sunshine, as it swung aside to reveal the mother of pearl watch face of the Bijoux Secret Vivienne, in a modern iteration of the ‘secret box’ tradition in fine jewelry. Elsewhere, the Tambour line—the backbone of the Louis Vuitton watch offering—got an urban update in the form of the Tambour Street Diver, while the visible movement of the oversized Tambour Moon PDG Sapphire whirred away underneath its sapphire case, the first time Louis Vuitton watchmakers have used sapphire crystal in this way.
But the jewel in the crown of the presentation, was the Tambour Carpe Diem, the result of two years of development and 320 hours of painstaking construction, engraving, enameling and gem setting. The house has made bespoke jacquemart watches—watches with automata—for private clients before, but this is the first one to emerge publicly from the ateliers of La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton, and it’s a masterpiece of engineering that centers on the symbolic art of the Vanitas.
Historically, jacquemarts or quarter-jacks, were automated figures on clocktowers, very often the bell strikers that rung the hour; but on watches, they are frequently decorative rather than functional, featuring alongside the hands used to tell the time. The automata on the Tambour Carpe Diem are different however, telling the time on demand in spectacular style: “we wanted to bring to the jacquemart our vision of the 21st century with all the energy and creativity characteristic of our brand since it began producing watches in 2002,” says Michel Navas, master watchmaker at La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton.
A touch of the snake push-piece triggers a 16-second tableau that brings the snake on the dial alive, slithering aside to display the hour in the middle of the skull, while the end of its tail, twined around a brilliant-cut diamond, flicks towards the minutes. Meanwhile, one of the skull’s eyes opens to reveal the House’s signature Monogram flower, and its jaw – complete with one gold tooth – drops to expose the kicker: the words ‘Carpe Diem’, and a reminder to make every day count.
The aesthetic is of a contemporary Vanitas, the symbolic art representing the transience of life, including the skull as a symbol of the certainty of death, and the hourglass to denote the shortness of life. Yet visually, it is anything but macabre, thanks to 50 hours of meticulously executed enameling by Swiss artist Anita Porchet who has infused both snake and skull with such movement and humor that it is impossible not to smile at the maxim to seize the day. Engraver Dick Steenman is behind the minutely detailed rattlesnake push-piece and Louis Vuitton Monogram flowers tattooed on the skull.
On the wrist, the 14mm thick rose gold case is pleasingly chunky on its black alligator strap, a contemporary gothic style statement with substance. Turn it over, and the hand-wound LV 525 Calibre mechanical movement inside has also been assembled as a skull, including 426 separate components and 48 jewels. With a jumping hour, a retrograde minute, power reserve display and the automata, the Tambour Carpe Diem combines four complications which according to Navas, have never been brought together before; further testament to the extraordinary craftsmanship at the haute horology division of the world’s leading luxury house.
The overall effect is one of extreme sophistication, from the elegant hourglass power reserve indicator to the miniature Monogram snakeskin; tempered by a hint of subversion in the grinning skull with those painstakingly enameled teeth. In the Tambour Carpe Diem, Louis Vuitton has produced a truly exceptional watch that melds the historic art of automata with 21st century design prowess, and a timely reminder to seize the moment.