Up Close: Louis Vuitton Tambour Carpe Diem Automaton Minute Repeater

Artisanal, complicated, and over the top.

Unveiled during Watches & Wonders 2021, Louis Vuitton Tambour Carpe Diem Automaton Minute Repeater made its debut alongside highly complicated watches from mainstream watchmakers – but it holds its own in mechanical complexity and metiers d’art decoration against the best of them.

Initial thoughts

Louis Vuitton’s mechanical watches are impressive, and often don’t get enough respect from watch enthusiasts because of the often ostentatious design. But I respect the quality of concept and execution, and like several of the watches (and own one of them). The flagship complication for 2021 is typical Louis Vuitton in terms of design, but creative in its mechanics and polished in its artisanal decoration.

The Carpe Diem is essentially a modern day vanitas – a work of art symbolising the transience of material goods and fragility of life. At the same time, it encapsulates many of the favoured themes in modern-day watchmaking – complex movements, artisanal decoration, and over-the-top style.

Although the Carpe Diem is massive and extreme, the craftsmanship evident on the dial is delicate and refined. The engraving on the skull is fine, and even more intricate on the snake, which is enamelled in exceptional detail.

All of the metiers d’art on the dial is as good as that on watches from mainstream watchmakers. At the same time, the movement is technically competent and properly finished, given its La Fabrique du Temps provenance.

But the watch is a lot of watch, in terms of size and style. It’s probably outlandish for many – it’s certainly too much for me – but the quality is excellent. But for someone who appreciates artisanal decoration and mechanical complexity, while finding classical minute repeaters too mundane, this is certainly it.

One of the most surprising details of the Carpe Diem is the hand-engraved relief emblem on the crown

Automaton action

The dial of the Carpe Diem is actually comprised of automata – mechanisms that move when the minute repeater is activated with the the snake-shaped button at two o’clock. Unfortunately the example in the photos was a non-functional prototype, so we weren’t able to capture the watch in action.

Sometimes known as a jacquemart (which traditionally refer to moving human figures on clocks), the automata move simultaneously over 16 seconds as the repeater strikes the time. The operation of the repeater thus tells the time in two ways: sounded out with the hammers and gongs of the repeater, and visually as the automata reveal the hours and minutes on the dial.

Revealed as the snake pivots away from the skull’s forehead, the hour numeral is visible in a diamond-shaped aperture. At the same time, minutes are indicated by the snake’s tail, which travels upwards to point to the correct marking on the minute scale, before returning back to zero in a retrograde motion. The scant markings on the minute scale means that the minutes can only be read approximately, but the time can still be told precisely by listening to the minute repeater.

The other automatons on the dial are for pure visual spectacle. A lattice with eight pivots contracts over the left eye socket, transforming the emblem within from the rounded, four-petaled flower into a four-pointed star, both elements of the Louis Vuitton monogram. And the jaw of the skull opens as if to speak, proclaiming “Carpe Diem” between the two rows of enamelled teeth.

The final display on the dial is the power reserve indicator, which is not part of the automata and within the hour glass at 11 o’clock. It’s indicated by the levels of gold dust within the hour glass, with the upper half of the hour glass indicating full wind, and the lower half filling up as the mainspring unwinds.

The minute scale has Arabic numerals for the tens and red diamonds for the half hours

Tambour

The signature watch case of Louis Vuitton, Tambour is French for “drum”, explaining the large diameter and sloped sides. Simple but distinctive, the Tambour case is attractive – I like it – but it is appears large, even when moderate in size.

As a result, the Carpe Diem seems even bigger than its large 46.8 mm diameter. That said, the case wears reasonably well, because the Tambour relies on short, narrowly-spaced lugs. The lugs are one key element of the Tambour case, another is the brand name on the sides of the bezel, with each letter representing an hour.

The size is a necessity resulting from the movement, which fills up most of the space within the case. Few, if any, automaton-repeater wristwatches from the last couple of years are small. Jaquet Droz, for instance, makes a variety of minute repeaters with automatons, which are 43 mm at the smallest and 47 mm at the most complex.

Memento mori

Though the skull motif is popular enough today to seem fashionable, it is a classical theme in Western art. And it is rendered with classical techniques, namely enamel and hand engraving, each done by a noted specialist.

The entirety of the dial is engraved, from the surface to all of the elements over it. That was the work of Art&D, a Geneva workshop led by Dick Steenman that has long been one of the leading specialists for decoration work that also includes gemstone setting.

Most striking is the skull, which is solid gold and finely textured to resemble bone, but with polished sections in the Louis Vuitton monogram.

Much of the rest of the dial is engraved and then enamelled by Anita Porchet, who often works with Mr Steenman on dials. Ms Porchet, whose workshop includes a handful of fellow artisans, is the most famous enameller in watchmaking, and a brand unto herself.

Several enamelling techniques are applied to the dial. The dial itself, for instance, is engraved with the Louis Vuitton monogram and then covered in translucent grey enamel, a method known as champleve. Even more appropriately, the teeth are each finished in glossy white enamel, typically known as grand feu enamel, with the amusing exception of a single gold tooth.

The dial is enamelled and then the power reserve scale and brand name are added as flat metal appliqués in appropriately Gothic font

The sapphire bubble of the hour glass means the power reserve is visible only from the front

Also finished in champleve enamel is the star of the dial, the golden serpent. Hand engraved with a finely-scaled skin that incorporates the brand’s monogram, the snake is slender and quite flat, but appears three-dimensional and vibrant as a result of the colour and intricate detail.

Admittedly, the watch is pictured is the non-functional prototype, and snake is not quite perfect upon extreme magnification, but it remains an impressive sample of the Porchet workshop’s art.

The snake’s forked tongue is almost a hair’s width in size

LFDT

The LV525 movement within is based on the minute repeater calibre constructed by La Fabrique du Temps (LFDT), the Geneva-based complications specialist that Louis Vuitton acquired in 2012 as the foundation of its watchmaking division.

LDFT is still led by its founders Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini, both veteran watchmakers whose resumes include stints at Patek Philippe and Gerald Genta in its 1990s heyday. Amongst watch enthusiasts their best known work is perhaps the tourbillon as well as micro-rotor automatic movements of Laurent Ferrier.

Found in its standard configuration in several other minute repeaters, including those of Laurent Ferrier, the movement is paired with an automata module that drives all of the moving parts on the dial. The automata up the part count of the movement by about half – the base minute repeater calibre is made up of approximately 300 parts, while the part count here is 426.

The aesthetics of the movement echo the dial, thanks to a skull-shaped plate installed over the bridges. With the base movement rotated 45 degrees from its usual position, resulting in the crown sitting just past four o’clock, it’s neatly positioned such that the apertures in the skull reveal key parts of the movement. In between the jaws sits the balance wheel, while the nose reveals the centre wheel of the going train, and the left eye contains the pivot jewel of the mainspring.

The screwed balance wheel in between the jaws

With two arms that spread as it spins, creating air resistance, the governor regulates the striking of the repeater

Precise and clean, the movement decoration is also thorough. Jewels and screws sit in countersinks, while the wheels have chamfered spokes in inner edges. But the finishing feels mechanical, and lacks the artisanal refinement of hand finishing. The bevels on the bridges, for instance, are accomplished with a milling machine, creating wide, flat bevels that have fine vertical striations that are traces of the milling process.

A notable detail is the skeletonised escape wheel made via LIGA

Concluding thoughts

Technically impressive with its repeater and automata, the Carpe Diem is as notable for the fine dial decoration. And it is also interesting in both design and complication. It is stands apart from most many highly complicated watches, which tend to be traditional in all respects.

But the showy aesthetic of the watch means its appeal is narrow. Though what it does is not for everyone, the Carpe Diem accomplishes what it set out to do in style.


Key facts and price

Louis Vuitton Tambour Carpe Diem
Ref. Q1EN0Y

Diameter: 46.8 mm
Height: 14.42 mm
Material: 18k pink gold
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: LV 525
Functions: Minute repeater, and jacquemart with four automatons – jumping hour, retrograde minute hand, power reserve indicator, and jaw of skull
Frequency: 21,600 beats per hour (3.5 Hz)
Winding: Hand wind
Power reserve: 100 hours

Strap: Leather with pink gold folding clasp

Limited edition: No but very limited production 
Availability:
 At Louis Vuitton boutiques
Price: US$475,000

For more, visit Louisvuitton.com.


 

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Yema Ties Up with French Navy for Dive Watches

The Navygraf X Marine Nationale.

Established in 1948,  Yema was once a French watchmaking giant, having equipped the French Air Force and the first French astronaut, Jean-Loup Chrétien. It entered a long decline in the aftermath of the Quartz Crisis, but was revived under its current French owners who took over in 2009.

Now Yema is once again making tool watches for professionals in a tie up with the French Navy, or Marine Nationale. A collection of dive watches “jointly designed with French Navy personnel for marine professionals”, the Navygraf X Marine Nationale is led by a time-only, automatic dive watch, as well as a variant with a GMT function. It also includes a less expensive quartz model and a ladies version, though they will not be covered here.

The Navygraf Marine Nationale Automatic (left), and GMT

Initial thoughts

Along with fellow French brand Baltic, Yema is one of my favourite brands at the US$1,000 price point. Its watches are well designed and executed for the price, often offering strong value.

Given Yema’s historical relationship with the French military – the brand supplied watches to French air force helicopter pilots in the 1970s – Yema has legitimacy in military watches, and its collaboration with the navy makes sense.

The white and blue combination – a nautical palette modelled on the emblem of the French Navy – is familiar but stands out on the wrist, being immediately reminiscent of the oceans. The maritime theme of the symmetrical and legible dial is reinforced by the Marine Nationale logo at six. In addition, the model name in gold italic script adds a dash of richness to an otherwise functional dial.

Unlike most other watches at this price point that use an off-the-shelf movement, Yema equips the Navygraf with a proprietary calibre developed by its parent company, Montres Ambre, which owns several French watch brands.

According to Yema, the movement is assembled in France, presumably from imported components since France lacks a substantial watchmaking supplier network. Though details on the movement are thin, it is likely similar in architecture to one of the common ETA calibres.

Sensibly sized

At 39 mm wide, the Navygraf X Marine Nationale is a great option for those looking for a compact dive watch for everyday wear. In fact, it’s similar in both look and proportion to the much-lauded Tudor Black Bay 58 Navy Blue, though at a significantly lower price point as a result of the simpler construction and finish. At just US$790 for the time-only version and US$1,049 for the GMT, the Navygraf models are great value propositions.

Marine Nationale

The “Marine Nationale” dial features indices shaped like exclamation marks, an unusual feature inspired by Navygraf of the 1970s. Its vintage inspiration extends to the sapphire-covered bezel that’s meant to evoke the glossy bakelite bezels found on the vintage originals.

The time-only Navygraf features a diving bezel

While the GMT features a 24-hour bezel

Simple in form, the case is stamped and brushed on all surfaces. Like most dive watches, it has guards to protect the crown from impacts that may cause water to penetrate the case.

The YEMA2000 movement powers the time-only Navygraf, while the YEMA3000 – essentially the same movement but with a GMT mechanism – is found in the GMT. The movements are regulated to within 10 seconds per day and have a power reserve of 42 hours.


Key facts and price

Yema Navygraf X Marine Nationale
Ref. YMN39-GMS
Ref. YMNGMT39-GMS (GMT)

Diameter: 39 mm
Height: 12.5 mm, 12.85 mm (GMT)
Material: Steel
Water resistance: 300 m

Movement: YEMA2000 or YEMA3000 (GMT)
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds (YEMA2000); hours, minutes, seconds, date, and second time zone (YEMA3000)
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 42 hours

Strap: Steel bracelet, with additional Marine Nationale parachute strap

Limited Edition: Time-only is regular production, while GMT is limited to 1000 pieces

Availability: Direct from Yema online
Price: US$790 for time-only, and US$1,049 for GMT

For more, visit yema.com.


Correction May 13, 2021: The YEMA2000 and YEMA3000 movements are proprietary, but not manufactured in house as stated in an earlier version of the article. Instead, they are assembled by Yema’s parent company in France using imported components. 

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Hermès Debuts Sci-Fi Pop Art in Miniature Painting

With the Arceau Space Derby.

Defined by its refined and occasionally whimsical style, Hermès emphasises whimsy with the new Arceau Space Derby, which reinterprets the Space Derby scarves, repurposing the sci-fi motif as miniature paintings for the wrist.

The Arceau Space Derby will be available in two sizes: the smaller 38 mm with a diamond bezel and pink opaline glass dial, as well as two larger 41 mm models with dials in aventurine glass. The small model is limited to 24 pieces, while only 12 each will be made of the large models.

The smaller version with a pink opaline glass dial

Initial thoughts

I absolutely love the Arceau Space Derby. Hermès makes a diversity of goods, from leather to clothing to high-end homeware, but often sharing the same motifs that are typically appealing and original. So its habit of looking into its past designs for its wristwatches is brilliant.

The illustrator of Space Derby, French comic artist Ugo Bienvenu, drew inspiration from 20th-century American comics for the derby set amongst the stars. Depicting a robot horse yet so sci-fi it’s not immediately obvious, the painting is both overt and subtle in its reference to the longstanding equestrian history of Hermès, which was was founded as a saddle maker. And that also explains the signature Arceau watch case, which has an asymmetrical outline inspired by a stirrup.

Detail rendered spectacularly by hand

The diamond-set, 38 mm variant is clearly for women, while the 41 mm versions are unisex. Between the two larger models, my pick would be the iteration with the blue and purple painting. The colours complements the blue aventurine glass dial, creating in a sophisticated but unusual look that captures the spirit of the brand.

The Arceau Space Derby does have a hefty price tag of CHF62,700, approximately the same as the brand’s past watches featuring miniature painting. That being said, watches with such artisanal dial decoration are inevitably costly – and miniature painting is usually less costly than enamel or engraving – so the price of the Arceau Space Derby is reasonable all things considered.

Race amongst the stars

The bright colours capture the spirit of the comic book inspiration, strongly evoking 20th century pop art. Each dial is artisanal in nature, explaining the extremely limited run of the Arceau Space Derby.

Crafted entirely in-house by skilled painters, the dials are essentially a tiny canvas for miniature painting. Layers and colours are painstakingly applied by hand with a tiny brush (likely with acrylic paint), before the dial is fired in a hot kiln to set the paint. Minute details such as the creases in the jockey’s uniform and shadows on the horses are all rendered in great detail.

Under the hood is the H1837, a calibre produced by movement specialist Vaucher – which is partially owned by Hermès – that has a handy 50 hours of power reserve. Interestingly, while both versions are powered by the same movement, the smaller model features a moon phase complication, but the larger variants do not.


Key Facts and Price

Hermes Arceau Space Derby

Diameter: 38 mm (pink opaline glass), 41 mm (aventurine glass)
Height: Unavailable
Material: White gold
Crystal: Sapphire
Water-resistance: 30 m

Movement: H1837
Functions: Hours and minutes; additional moon phase for 38 mm model
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 50 hours

Strap: Alligator

Limited edition: 24 pieces (pink opaline glass), 12 pieces each (aventurine glass)

Availability: Starting June 2021 at Hermès boutiques
Price: Estimated to be CHF62,700; price to be confirmed at delivery

For more, visit Hermes.com.


 

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