Hands On: Louis Vuitton Tambour Twenty Chronograph

Marking 20 years with an El Primero-powered limited edition.

Louis Vuitton is now in its 20th year as a watchmaker. In that time it has gone from basic, ETA-powered watches to a variety of impressive complications, including its signature Spin Time, and even a minute repeater with automaton. To mark the occasion, Louis Vuitton (LV) has just announced the Tambour Twenty Chronograph, a remake modelled on the brand’s first serious mechanical timepiece.

The two-decade journey has seen LV’s watchmaking division evolve from a shared space inside TAG Heuer’s factory to its own expansive facility in Geneva that includes not only a complications workshop but also its own dial-making facility. While LV does make some of its own movements now, the Tambour Twenty is a nod to its origins as a watchmaker. The 200-piece limited edition is modelled on the Tambour LV277 of 2003, the brand’s first chronograph that was powered by the Zenith El Primero.

Initial thoughts

Despite its odd proportions – a big case with tall, sloping sides and narrow lugs – the Tambour case is attractive in my eyes. And it’s distinctive and recognisable although its form is fairly simple. In short, it’s a successful design. The Tambour works especially well with complications since that gives its size – especially its thickness – a sense of purpose.

Ordinarily I am not a fan of brown dials, but this is one of the few dials in the colour that looks good. LV executes its dials well – most of them are made in-house – and the reflective metallic brown on the dial is both nuanced and striking. At some angles it’s a muted, dark hue but when it catches the light just rich it’s a rich, reddish-brown.

Notably, the anniversary branding on the dial is inconspicuous. That runs counter to the usual LV branding, which is obvious. That would usually be a good thing, but here it leaves little to set this apart from the run-of-the-mill Tambour chronograph containing an ETA movement.

Like the very first LV chronograph, the Tambour Twenty is powered by the El Primero, a storied movement that’s been dressed up slightly more than usual so the view from the back is more attractive than for the typical El Primero.

The open-worked rotor in 22k rose gold

I like everything about the watch except the price of US$17,800, which is steep, but not exactly.

The Tambour Twenty is not only an El Primero chronograph with a steel case. Like all fancier LV watches, it is delivered in a trunk, one that’s mini in size but nonetheless a full-fledged trunk covered in monogram canvas with brass corners and hinges.

Comparably sized trunks cost about US$4,500 according to LV’s online store, so the box presumably accounts for almost a third of the retail price, which helps justify a good portion of the price.

The mini trunk is far nicer than majority of watch boxes, but it is still just a box for a single watch. So it has little use being being a decorative object. I would prefer the watch sans box for a third less, but the trunk is an integral part of the Louis Vuitton proposition so there’s no escaping it.

Two decades on

LV began its watchmaking division in 2002 in a modest manner by taking a space within TAG Heuer’s premises in La Chaux-de-Fonds. A year later, LV turned to another LVMH company for movements, which resulted in the COSC-certified Tambour LV277 Chronograph powered by the Zenith El Primero. Notably, it was around the period that a few notable brands also began using the El Primero movement for their automatic chronograph offerings, including Parmigiani in 2000 and Daniel Roth a few years before.

A decade later the division moved to Geneva and into the expanded La Fabrique du Temps (LFDT), which LV has acquired just the year before. With LFDT, LV has the capability to create movements far more complex than the El Primero, but the venerable chronograph movement is appropriate for an anniversary edition (and perhaps LV had 200 movements in a drawer somewhere).

Besides movements, the most impressive aspect of LFDT is the dial-making workshop. Few watch brands have a cadranier in-house, let alone one that is able to precisely machine delicate materials like mother-of-pearl and mineral stone, while also doing miniature painting in acrylic.

The dial workshop also has its own galvanic (and presumably PVD) coating department, which allows LV access to a full spectrum of metallic dial colours. So it’s unsurprisingly that the dial colours found on LV watches are often attractively executed in both finish and colour.

Echoing the colour of LV trunks, the brown dial has a radially-brushed surface with a galvanic finish, resulting in a metallic sheen that catches the light just right.

While the dial is excellent, the hands feel a bit too basic. Granted, they reproduce those found on the first-generation Tambour chronograph of 2003, but they still do feel out of place on such a watch in 2022

The dial layout is surprisingly balanced, despite the relatively small movement inside the case. While the two counters at three and nine do sit far from the edge of the dial, the counters themselves are compact so they appear relatively centred on each half of the dial.

At the same time, the camouflaged 12-hour register at six o’clock lightens the visual heft of the lower half of the dial and also serves to balance the two lines of branding under 12 o’clock.

On the subject of branding, the dial is perhaps too subtle in its anniversary notation on the six o’clock register. “Twenty” in yellow is discreet and invisible at a distance, making it difficult to discern between this and the standard Tambour chronograph powered by an ETA movement.

A big drum

Easily identifiable as a LV design, the case is modelled on a drum, hence tambour, which translates as “drum”. As is typical for LV, the branding on the case is bold – the 12 letters of the brand name are engraved on the case sides – although it is only visible in profile.

The outline of the case is simple, but it is rendered in a high quality manner. The polishing is done well, while the soldered lugs are slightly more challenging to pull off than integral lugs.

Already a chunky shape, the Tambour case becomes even larger with a chronograph movement inside. It’s 41.5 mm wide and
13.2 mm tall, with the sloping  sides accentuating its thickness.

But the large size works, both visually and ergonomically. This watch has presence on the wrist. Conversely, a scaled-down Tambour loses its character, as evidenced by past attempts to refine the original design. And it wears well, thanks in part to the short, low-set lugs.

What I would have wished for is a changed in materials. Polished titanium, for instance, would be indistinguishable from steel at a distance, but it would be substantially light in hand. That would have been a subtle but meaningful way of differentiating the anniversary edition from its predecessors.

El Primero

Christened the LV277, the inside looks substantially fancier than the average El Primero, primarily due to the open-worked rotor in 22k rose gold. Besides the rotor, the additional decoration applied to this version of the movement is modest, namely a reworked chronograph bridge with Cotes de Geneve and gilded engraving. But because the rotor occupies half the back, it gives the movement a wholly new look.

Visuals aside, the movement is identical to the standard El Primero. The balance runs at 36,000 beats per hour, or 5 Hz, while its chronograph is controlled by a column wheel and engaged via a lateral clutch.

That made the El Primero cutting edge in 1969, but it is now quite dated. The calibre also has elements that are now out of place in a high-end chronograph. That explains why fact Zenith itself is in the process of phasing out the original El Primero 400 in favour of the new El Primero 3600.

Consequently, the Tambour Twenty won’t win any prizes in terms of tech, but it is a fitting calibre for an anniversary edition that’s inspired by the 2003 original. At the same time, the El Primero is storied enough that is remains an appealing calibre, for its history if nothing else.

The blued steel column wheel

Concluding thoughts

Distinctively LV in terms of style, the Tambour Twenty is a good-looking watch with an especially appealing dial. At the same time, it has good technical content thanks to the El Primero within. The only downside is the price that is mitigated, but only partially, by the miniature trunk.


Key Facts and Price

Louis Vuitton Tambour Spin Time Air
Ref. QA174

Diameter: 41.5 mm
Height: 13.2 mm
Material: Stainless steel
Crystal: Sapphire
Water-resistance: 100 m

Movement: LV 277 (Zenith El Primero 400)
Functions: Hours on jumping cubes, minute hand
Frequency: 36,000 beats per hour (5 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 50 hours

Strap: Alligator inlay with pin buckle

Limited edition: 200 pieces
Availability:
Now at Louis Vuitton boutiques
Price: US$17,800, or 24,400 Singapore dollars

For more, visit louisvuitton.com


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Franck Muller Unveils the Fully Gem-Set Vanguard Revolution 3 Tourbillon

For the 50th anniversary of Cortina.

As Cortina Watch celebrates its Golden Jubilee this year, it has progressively rolled out a series of commemorative editions, including a pair from Patek Philippe in the form of a unique Dome Clock (that’s unfortunately not for sale) and a special Calatrava ref. 5057G (that fortunately is).

Now the Singapore retailer has taken the covers off its most extravagant anniversary edition yet, the Franck Muller Vanguard Revolution 3 Skeleton Cortina Watch 50th Anniversary. The anniversary lineup is made up of five unique versions of Franck Muller’s triple-axis tourbillon wristwatch, each set with 28.4 carats of baguette-cut gemstones. One of the five watches is complete – the others are still being put together – and is on display at an exhibition in Singapore taking place from now till September 13, 2022.

The diamond-set version with a rainbow-finished movement that’s now on show in Singapore

Initial thoughts

Franck Muller is one of the leading practitioners of lavishly-jewelled complicated watches, while Cortina Watch has long been a champion of high-jewellery watches, so the anniversary Vanguard tourbillons make sense both ways. While the large-format bling has a niche appeal, the Vanguard Revolution 3 movement is interesting in itself.

In fact, the movement is quintessentially Franck Muller in how it highlights the tourbillon. Here the tourbillon regulator is less about mechanics than visual spectacle. Not only does the tourbillon twi-axial and spherical, it also features twin retrograde minute scales that track the rotation of its constituent ages. And in a smart use of the ample space within the large case, the movement has a huge mainspring that gives it an impressive 10-day power reserve.

The Vanguard Revolution 3 movement freed of its case

Putting on a show

Fittingly for such an extravagant watch, the Cortina Anniversary tourbillon utilises the largest Vanguard case size that measures 46 mm by 55.9 mm and stands 13.7 mm, resulting in ample room for the 225 baguette-cut gemstones on the case.

Evolved from the brand’s signature tonneau-shaped case, the Vanguard does away with the lugs and instead has the strap integrated into the case. Another key feature of the case design are the anodised aluminium inserts on the case flank.

The diamond-set version has red inserts on the case side

The FM 2030 SMR-VS movement features a triple-axis tourbillon at six o’clock. Its innermost cage makes one revolution every minute, the intermediate cage does the same in eight minutes, while the outermost cage takes 60 minutes to complete one cycle.

Accompanying the cages on their revolutions are a pair of retrograde minute indicators on each side of the tourbillon. The display at four o’clock is connected to the intermediate axis and tracks it eight-minute rotation, while the display at eight o’clock does the same for the 60-minute cage.

And thanks to an enormous mainspring sitting at 12 o’clock that occupies almost half the movement’s volume, the Vanguard Revolution 3 has a ten-day power reserve shown on a display that sits over the mainspring.

Three of the five unique Vanguard tourbillons are set with diamonds but distinguished by the coloured finish on the movement. The remaining two, however, are perhaps even more striking because they are entirely covered in coloured gemstones. One is set with baguette-cut emeralds and the other, baguette-cut rubies.

The diamond-set anniversary tourbillon is the centrepiece of the Franck Muller Cortina Watch Golden Jubilee exhibition now taking place at Paragon Shopping Centre long Orchard Road. Focused on jewelled and complicated timepieces, the exhibition is on show from September 1-13 and open to the public daily from 11 am-8 pm.

From left: Nicholas Rudaz of Franck Muller; Sharon Lim and Jeremy Lim of Cortina Watch

The exhibition in the main atrium of Paragon


Key Facts and Price

Franck Muller Vanguard Revolution 3 Skeleton Cortina Watch 50th Anniversary

Diameter: 46 mm by 55.9 mm
Height: 13.7 mm
Material: 18k white gold set with baguette-cut gemstones (diamonds, emeralds, or rubies)
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: FM 2030 SMR-VS
Features: Hours, minutes, retrograde minutes on two scales, power reserve indicator, and triple-axis tourbillon
Frequency: 18,000 beats per hour (3 Hz)
Winding: Hand wind
Power reserve: 10 days

Strap: Alligator clad rubber strap with diamond-set pin buckle

Limited edition: Five unique pieces
Availability: Only at Cortina Watch
Price: Starting at 1.5 million Singapore dollars (equivalent to US$1.08 million)

For more, visit 50thanniversary.cortinawatch.com.


 

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