The story of watchmaking is a tale told in the span of centuries. So when you get to witness the birth of a new(ish) one, it’s like being present at the birth of a star. Specifically a star shaped flower, among the world’s most recognisable motifs for the world’s most recognisable name – Louis Vuitton.
Unlike Vuitton, Michel Navas is a name not as widely distinguished in popular culture but among those who know (watch cognoscenti), its one accorded the highest levels of respect. Here’s another little heard name – La Fabrique du Temps. In an industry where lineages can be traced back to the arrival of Protestantism in Geneva, La Fabrique du Temps, literally “the time factory” is essentially two men, Navas and Enrico Barbasini. Both had studied under the master – Genta, both had worked for masters – Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet. Or worked beside masters, Michel Golay and Franck Muller.
Like the coronavirus, sometimes the unexpected happens: Oasis breaks up or at the height of Franck Muller, in-fighting between the namesake founder and business brains Vartan Sirmakes would send the pair in an entirely different direction – their own independent watchmaking enterprise and the eventual establishment of La Fabrique du Temps just under 20 years ago.
“Twelve people maximum,” said Navas on the planned size of La Fabrique du Temps. Obviously La Fabrique du Temps didn’t stay a 12 man outfit, growing orders and close cooperation with Laurent Ferrier, another Patek Philippe alum, made put them on the radars of anyone who had a passion for watchmaking: both in the making of, and the collection of.
Hamdi Chatti, the head watchmaking at Louis Vuitton (not to be confused with LVMH watchmaking) was looking for that analogous authenticity that had grown the Malletier brand from personal trunk maker and packer for the Empress of France, into the premier atelier for Parisian aristocracy with an eye for unconventional design.
And so there it was: if authenticity had been accrued and calculated in one-liners like “last family owned watchmaker” or “oldest continuously operating watchmaker”, the heart of credibility required to establish Louis Vuitton watchmaking needed to be beyond reproach, the first doors Chatti knocked on, were the ones at La Chaux de Fonds, where Louis Vuitton had worked with Navas since 2007 when La Fabrique du Temps was first established.
Importance of the Poinçon de Genève in Louis Vuitton watchmaking
Acquired in 2011, one of the first acts of La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton was to unify the entirety of the Maison’s watchmaking pursuits in Geneva. Louis Vuitton had been making the Tambour since 2002 but when one wants to show the world the seriousness and dedication of a “fashion brand” in the business of making watches, there’s no greater emblem than the ultimate mark of excellence and exemplary fine watchmaking.
Introduced by the Republic and Canton of Geneva in 1886, the famed Poinçon set exceptional watchmakers apart from the ones who made watches purely for its functional value: an important fact to consider given that for the last 300 years before its creation, goldsmiths (under Calvinist laws) had pivoted to watchmaking and farmers, who made watch components under an etablisseur model of assemblage, introduced timepieces at varying degrees of quality. The Poinçon de Genève is in essence, guarantee of authenticity, independently audited and a symbol of the finest craftsmen in Geneva. Only a few select watchmakers and “manufactures” based in the canton have been awarded this certification.
“We try to be different, because we are very young in the watch industry. Only 16 years,” – Michel Navas on the creation of the Voyager Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon
Housed in a 9.7mm case, the Louis Vuitton Voyager Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon is one of the world’s thinnest watches with both a minute repeater and a flying tourbillon. Louis Vuitton’s third minute repeater, is created in-house by none other than the man that specialist bespoke watchmakers like Laurent Ferrier used to turn to – Navas.
Minute repeaters with flying tourbillon escapements aren’t a watch which fashion houses typically make – and it’s important to say this because watchmaking at La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton is a serious craft. The Louis Vuitton Voyager Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon exists in a very small niche of timepieces made only by a handful of specialist watchmakers, many of them centuries older than Louis Vuitton.
As a singular complication, minute repeaters are the most commonly made for their sheer complexity: hundreds of components and if you’re going to want the vaunted Poinçon on your manufacture calibre, you’re going to have to slavishly finish and decorate the 345 components which comprise the LV-100 calibre, most of them unseen by eyes other than its watchmaker.
In a traditional minute repeater, the watch case acts as a resonance chamber of the audibility of the sound. The clarity of the sound is very much dependent on the hammers and gongs. The hammers can be adjusted to strike harder for a louder sound, but the gongs are ultimately responsible for the quality of the sound.
The sound of a minute repeater watch is produced by three components: the watchcase that acts as a resonance chamber; the hammers that strike the gongs; and the gongs, which emit sound. Hammers can be adjusted to strike with more power, boosting the volume of the chimes, and the case can be constructed to maximise sound transmission, for instance by hollowing out the inside or making it out of a lightweight alloy like titanium. But the key element that determines the ultimate quality of the repeater are the gongs.
A Voyage Flying Tourbillon sans minute repeater is a remarkable object to behold
With poincon de Geneve proudly emblazoned on the left on the inner case
Gongs of a minute repeater are essentially thin wires of steel that circle the calibre but these are not traditional gongs. The ones which reside inside the LV-100 calibre of the Voyager Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon are of the cathedral variety. While traditional gongs circle the movement once, cathedral gongs are twice as long, resulting in a longer reverberation and thus emitting a richer sound as a result of more harmonics in the strikes.
And its here where La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton really highlights its watchmaking prowess: if you think about it – traditional gongs circle the movement once and are only secured at one end. Cathedral gongs circle the movement twice and they have to do so without touching the case or the calibre or each other, while still being secured at one end.
Under the steady hands (metaphorical and literal) of Navas, the Louis Vuitton Voyager Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon is an accomplishment from a “fledgling” watchmaker running in a marathon which his veteran peers have started hours ago.
A work of 320 hours, the Voyager Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon can be personalised, with the option of replacing the LV-monogrammed circular plate on the back of the mainplate with initials of your choosing, engraved in perpetuity, beside the initials of a legendary craftsman from our modern history.
Louis Vuitton Voyager Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon Price Specs
Movement Manual winding LV-100 calibre with 100 hours power reserve
Case 42mm white gold with 30 metres water resistance
Price US$295,000 (diamond paved US$475,000)