The horological world is so steeped in tradition that many brands reissue archival watches to drum up new business. Not Louis Vuitton.
Under the close eye of Jean Arnault, watch director (and youngest child of LVMH honcho Bernard Arnault), the French house is designing and producing some of the world’s most complicated and forward-thinking timepieces, including the crystal-clear Tambour Moon Tourbillon Volant models, three of which debuted in 2021. The two new versions that came out this spring brought the total to five and made them the first collection of sapphire-cased watches to obtain the prestigious Poinçon de Genève. Only timepieces whose case and movement components are made by hand in Geneva, to the highest possible standards, can carry this hallmark.
Many of these elements are machined and assembled at La Fabrique du Temps, a specialist manufacture acquired by LVMH in 2011. The facility was founded just four years before that by master watchmakers Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini, who set up shop after working together at Patek Philippe and Franck Muller.
“The philosophy of La Fabrique du Temps is to deliver a pure and perfect watch with zero faults,” Navas tells Robb Report, noting that craftspeople can spend the equivalent of weeks polishing and finishing the individual components before assembly has even begun. No doubt the proverbial juice is worth the squeeze. The tourbillon-equipped hand-wound timepiece has a case that’s almost completely transparent and formed from a material second in hardness only to diamond. Producing it is so intensive that company won’t reveal how many pieces it makes each year. And the watch is priced accordingly, at around $410,000.
“[Louis Vuitton is] very young in the watch industry—just 21 years—which could be taken as a handicap, as a problem,” Navas says. “But for us, it’s an opportunity. We can dare.”
Table of Contents
1. Color Correction
Five shades of sapphire crystal are used: blue, red, white, and the newest, green and yellow. The material starts as a powdered form of aluminum oxide, and each color has its own fabrication procedure, but blue takes the longest. Small variations in hue can occur, but a quality-control check ensures the utmost uniformity possible.
Once the powder achieves its color, it’s heated to over 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit, transforming it into blocks of sapphire crystal. Technicians then use diamond-tipped tools to carve cylinders out of the cooled blocks; from these columns of raw material, three components—the mid-case, the back, and the bridge—are manufactured.
3. On the Case
It takes 420 hours of milling with a diamond grinding wheel and polishing with a specially formulated mixture of diamond grinding powder and oil to create a single case: 250 hours for the mid-case; 110 for the caseback; and 60 hours for the bridge with the “LV” logo. The manufacture even had to modify one of its tools to polish the case’s distinctive concave shape.
4. Reaping the Whirlwind
The LV90 movement is designed to draw attention to the flying tourbillon—a device engineered to counter the effects of gravity on the escapement and balance wheel, thereby enhancing its accuracy.
5. Inner Workings
The manually wound LV90 mechanism has 165 components, each of which is finished by hand before assembly. Fewer than 5 of the 20 watchmakers in La Fabrique du Temps’s atelier, seen here, have the skills necessary to put the movement together.
6. Signature Style
The signed bridge, visible at nine o’clock, is an aesthetic decoration that helps visually connect the case to the gears within and is placed carefully as the movement is fitted.
7. Lending a Hand
While many of the watch’s components are created in-house, others come from outside partners. “We prefer to keep the company at a human scale and to work with the best providers,” says Navas. Here, Swiss-made hands are fitted to the movement.
8. Wrap It Up
After a month of work on the movement alone, the watch is sealed—a particularly satisfying moment for the artisans. “Our watchmakers love to work here because they begin and finish the watch,” Navas says, meaning one oversees the entire process for a timepiece. “I can tell you which watchmaker made which watch.”
9. Bearing Security
Once it has been cased, the watch is carefully inspected for cleanliness, waterproofness, and accuracy in six positions. Then it’s sent to Timelab, the organization that evaluates watches for Geneva Seal qualifications, which takes at least two weeks. If it passes muster, it’s returned with the Poinçon de Genève certificate.
Before it lands on the new owner’s wrist, each of the crystal-clear watches is fitted with an alligator strap, an elegantly understated accompaniment that allows the craftsmanship of the case and its interior components to fully shine.