According to the Vogue Business Index (summer 2022) and Forbes, French fashion house Louis Vuitton is the world’s most valuable luxury brand. As the undisputed king of luxury, Louis Vuitton is associated in every corner of the globe with high-quality leather goods and accessories emblazoned with the iconic LV monogram. Somewhat surprisingly, given its presence on the market since 1854, Louis Vuitton only started making ‘serious’ watches twenty years ago. In a departure from some luxury emporiums that prize design over substance, Louis Vuitton took the bull by the horns and decided that its watches had to be as good on the inside as out. Louis Vuitton’s first watch, the Tambour, and its incursion into big-league watchmaking consolidated with the acquisition of La Fabrique du Temps have resulted in a unique, potent design that is impossible to confuse with anything else on the market. The Tambour, which means drum in French, marched out with its distinctive drum-shaped case and a GMT complication in 2002. Coming up for its 20th anniversary this year, the Tambour returns with iconic LV livery and a high-frequency chronograph movement based on Zenith’s El Primero calibre: meet the new 200-piece Louis Vuitton Tambour Twenty Limited Edition.
Given the brand’s historical ties to travel (see above), it makes sense that the first Tambour watch released in 2002 was a GMT. Fitted with a lustrous brown dial (quite bold at the time) and a mustard yellow GMT hand and matching 24-hour scale, the colour scheme of the Louis Vuitton 39.5mm Tambour GMT (ref. Q11310) was a nod to the iconic Monogram canvas developed by Louis Vuitton’s son in 1896. As the blueprint for the Tambour family, it’s worth looking at the design features that have made it such a unique, somewhat quirky design that looks as fresh today as it did two decades ago.
Some sources attribute the inspiration for the deep, round, drum-shaped steel case of the Tambour to the silhouette of Japanese taiko drums. As Jean Arnault pointed out to MONOCHROME, the design of the Tambour was entrusted to a Parisian design studio (BBDC – Berra Blanquer Design). The result was a singular, unprecedented case shape that did, effectively, look like a drum. Its unusual flared profile, which was wider at the base than at the top, included a wide caseband, the perfect canvas to engrave the 12 letters in the name ‘Louis Vuitton’, aligned with the hour markers on the dial. Crafted from a single block of metal, the tall sloping flanks of the deep case also proved an ideal container for all sorts of complications (some Tambour models, like the Carpe Diem, have a height of 15mm). Practically every surface of the Tambour case was decorated with some form of branding, including the LV monogram on the crown, motifs from the Monogram canvas on the caseback, the brand name on the buckle and obviously, the dial.
A year after its debut, the Tambour returned with a high-frequency COSC chronometer-certified chronograph complication, a model that has a direct bearing on the latest Tambour Twenty anniversary piece we are covering today. Known as the Tambour LV 277 chronograph, the model took advantage of the synergies in the LVMH group and powered its chronograph with Zenith’s famous El Primero high-frequency calibre.
Perhaps one of the most delightful Louis Vuitton Tambour watches and the one that would determine the new direction for the collection was the 2009 Spin Time. With 12 miniature rotating cubes revealing the hours, the Spin Time reinvented the concept of jumping hours in a fresh, new language. Developed and patented by La Fabrique du Temps, a specialist complication workshop based in Geneva set up by master watchmakers Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini, the 44mm Spin Time put a playful spin on time, but it also signalled a more creative approach to complications in the hands of Navas and Barabasini.
Just two years later, in 2011, Louis Vuitton upped its watchmaking antes by acquiring La Fabrique du Temps. To mark its commitment to creative high-end watchmaking, the brand unveiled the complex Tambour Minute Repeater, a fascinating GMT complication that chimed the wearer’s reference (home) time instead of local time on demand.
Determined to acquire even more independence, in 2012, Louis Vuitton bought Léman Cadran, a renowned dial maker, and in 2014, inaugurated the La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton workshop in Meyrin, Geneva. Other standout Tambour models over the years include the Tambour Twin Chrono, a monopusher split-seconds chronograph, a skeletonised Flying Tourbillon with a cage shaped like the Monogram flower, the 2020 Tambour Curve Flying Tourbillon with Poinçon de Genève certification, and the sportier GPHG award-winning Tambour Street Diver of 2021.