Luxury Unlocked: The Unexpected Secrets Behind a Louis Vuitton Timepiece

We explore the artistry and technical prowess behind these luxury timepieces with master watchmaker Michel Navas.
Published: June 27, 2024
Luxury Unclocked: The Unexpected Secrets Behind a Louis Vuitton Timepiece
Aman Resorts’ Amanpuri offers spectacular views.

It’s hot and humid in Phuket. Despite having been forewarned to dress light for the weather (and having duly listened), I’m still grateful to be taking in the sights that Aman Resorts’ Amanpuri has to offer from within an air-conditioned room. The view, overlooking the azure sea, is spectacular and Louis Vuitton (LV) has spared no expense to deck out an entire villa for a thoroughly immersive LV experience. 

The long, narrow pool outside is adorned with Monogram structures that peek out of the water like serene metal lily pads. The interior is outfitted with the brand’s Home collection of furniture and decorative objects—foosball and table tennis tables included. Couple all that with a glittering showcase of the House’s latest watch and high jewellery creations, and it makes the relentless heat almost bearable. Not that the high temperatures seem to be at all bothering Michel Navas, master watchmaker and co-founder of LVMH-owned La Fabrique du Temps (LFT).

Related article: Milly Carnivora Is Back With Three New Jewellery Designs

Walking into the room looking as fresh as a European springtime, Navas is all smiles and primed to answer questions about LV’s plans for its horology arm. It’s clear within minutes of our chat that he has the utmost respect for Jean Arnault, the 26-year-old wunderkind scion (and youngest of Bernard Arnault’s five children) who was appointed watch director at LFT in 2021. Not to mention that he is also extremely happy with the direction that the Maison is taking with their tickers. (Since taking up the mantle, Arnault has not only discontinued 80 per cent of LV horology product lines but also announced LFT’s plans to revive the highly respected independent brands of Gérald Genta and Daniel Roth.)

Related article: Louis Vuitton Presents Its Most Ambitious High Jewellery Collection Yet

Luxury Unclocked: The Unexpected Secrets Behind a Louis Vuitton Timepiece
Voyager Flying Tourbillon “Poinçon de Genève” Plique-à-jour watch in platinum and white gold; LOUIS VUITTON.

Related article: The Timeless Allure of Venice and Buccellati: A Meeting of Heritage and Modernity

When I ask Navas about his immediate reaction to the news of LV streamlining its watch products, he unhesitatingly replies: “I agreed! When Jean asked me if I would follow him [down this path], I said, of course! I love LV and, as a watchmaker, I love purism.” 

Nava’s love for simplicity is no industry secret; he has declared in many of his past interviews that he prefers the subtle over the obvious, and discretion over pageantry. He explains: “At LFT, we have all the skills to make the most complicated watch in the world because we have, of course, the best engineers. But it’s not so difficult to make complicated watches.” With a glance at the Tambour Automatic on his wrist, he adds: “The most complicated [thing to do] is to make one simple watch, a successful watch. It is my dream to realise simple but successful watches that clients are very happy to have on their wrists, such as the Tambour.”

This sounds like an ironic statement coming from a man whose name has been linked to horology wizardry and complications for the past three decades. Before founding LFT together with fellow watchmaker Enrico Barbasini in 2007 (it was acquired by LV in 2011), Navas’ hands and prodigious talent helped bring to life many wonders at Gérald Genta, Patek Philippe and Franck Muller, among many other notable brands. Michel Navas, it would seem, is as complicated a man as the watches that bear his touch.

Luxury Unclocked: The Unexpected Secrets Behind a Louis Vuitton Timepiece
Tambour Slim Vivienne Jumping Hours — Sakura watch in white gold and diamonds, LOUIS VUITTON.

101One just needs to look at LV’s 2024 timepiece lineup to understand the breadth and depth of his talent. The 41mm platinum Voyager Flying Tourbillon “Poinçon de Genève” Plique-à-jour, for example, bears a fully skeletonised white-gold movement with a time display at the 12 o’clock position, balanced with a flying tourbillon at six o’clock, and surrounded with plique-à-jour enamel (a highly difficult decorative art technique) that mimics the beauty of stained glass. “I love flying tourbillons as I do the traditional tourbillon. Everybody knows that the tourbillon started my career when I assembled the first wristwatch tourbillon in the world in 1986. But our tourbillon is unique because it’s a flying tourbillon [presented] with the DNA of Louis Vuitton with the V-shape [bridges],” he says.

LV’s other flying tourbillon for the year is found in the Tambour Moon Flying Tourbillon Poinçon de Genève Sapphire Frank Gehry, which, as its name suggests, was created in collaboration with the legendary architect and design maestro. “I was very happy when he agreed to this collaboration with Louis Vuitton. It is the first time that Mr Gehry has collaborated on a high watchmaking project,” says Navas.

The result is sensational. Balancing volume with lightness, the 43.8mm watch’s case, crown, and “very, very thin, crisp-like dial” are constructed from sapphire crystal, allowing maximum light to enter from all angles for unparalleled luminosity. Wave-like patterns, mattified by hand, adorn the watch and recall the undulating planes that characterise Gehry’s architectural works, not least the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris and Louis Vuitton Maison Seoul. 

Luxury Unclocked: The Unexpected Secrets Behind a Louis Vuitton Timepiece
Tambour Moon Flying Tourbillon Poinçon de Genève Sapphire Frank Gehry watch in sapphire crystal, LOUIS VUITTON.

In the Tambour Slim Vivienne Jumping Hours watches, LV’s adorable Vivienne mascot makes an appearance yet again to embark on two new adventures. In the Sakura version, a kimono-clad Vivienne is set against a pink mother-of-pearl Monogram dial that has been achieved through the Maison’s “Holomonogram” sand-polishing technique. In the Astronaut version, blue mother-of-pearl is paired with an aventurine to enhance the sparkle of the Milky Way dial, which is further dressed with miniature paintings of a rocket and planets. 

LFT developed, created and assembled a new jumping hour movement for these two watches—just so the hour numeral would appear alternately in the two apertures found on their dials. Meanwhile, the almost transparent minute hand is tipped with a sakura or a comet that makes its way around the watch face as if by magic.

Then, there is the trio of watches in the Escale Cabinet of Wonders collection that was released earlier this year and reported about in our April issue. Inspired by Gaston-Louis Vuitton‘s vast collection of Japanese katana sword guards, the watches showcase LFT’s impressive menu of metiers d’art (traditional decorative art techniques) that can be accomplished in-house.

“At LFT, we have the opportunity to have all these skills—not only the watchmakers but also the dial makers, the engravers, the guillocher, the enamellers—under the same roof. When you wear an LV watch on your wrist, it has to be instantly distinctive, unique, and beautiful, of course. The criteria we have for our watches are the highest that you can have in the industry,” notes Navas. “Louis Vuitton is quite new in the watch industry with only 22 years [behind it]. But this is an opportunity for us to offer daring watches and ideas. This is a chance to grow that heritage and respect it.” If this year’s timepiece offerings are an indication of anything, it’s that LV, with LFT by its side, is well on its way to achieving all that—and more.

Stay ahead of the latest news, hottest trends, and dopest drops.
Subscription Form