fter the Tambour Carpe Diem, which won the Audacity Prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2021, Louis Vuitton has left Europe and its expressive Vanitas and embarked on a new journey in China, the land of “Bian Lian”. This “art of changing masks” characteristic of the Sichuan Opera is a major source of inspiration for the Tambour Opera Automata watch. In the same vein as the Carpe Diem figure that changed expression on demand, the Tambour Opera Automata highlights a remarkable discipline requiring unwavering dexterity.
During the opera, the performers can put on up to twenty different masks in a fraction of a second, revealing their wide range of expressions. Each has their own technique for making these painted silk figures appear and disappear with a quick hand gesture or a graceful fanning motion. In the 21st century, very few actors still master the ancient art of Bian Lian.
During the opera, the performers can put on up to twenty different masks in a fraction of a second, revealing their wide range of expressions.
To transpose this mysterious interplay of faces to a watch case, Louis Vuitton enlisted the help of the greatest contemporary craftsmen. Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini, Master Watchmakers at La Fabrique du Temps, created this exceptional watch movement, while Anita Porchet, Master Enameller, and Dick Steenman, Master Engraver, decorated the timepiece with virtuoso design.
“We wanted the Tambour Opera Automata to reflect the striking aesthetics and expressive movements of Bian Lian”, explains Michel Navas. “This extremely challenging art remains a secret, just as automaton mechanisms require a perfect knowledge of traditional watchmaking skills.”
Originally, jacquemarts were automata designed to strike the hour on church bells. When watchmakers miniaturised them on watches, they became essentially decorative, animating dials with theatrical scenes, while the time was still traditionally marked by classic hands.
“This extremely challenging art remains a secret, just as automaton mechanisms require a perfect knowledge of traditional watchmaking skills.”
This timepiece, which is the subject of several patents, took over two years to develop. As with the Tambour Carpe Diem, the time is only displayed on the dial – by means of a jumping hour and a retrograde minute mechanism – by activating the automaton. This calibre LV 525, totalling 426 components, has a power reserve of 100 hours.
As for the automaton mechanism, its five animations create a unique and unforgettable 16-second watchmaking spectacle, driven by this exceptional calibre with jumping hours and retrograde minutes. When the latch is pushed, the engraved pink gold dragon’s head rises to reveal the jumping hours inscribed on the forehead of the cloisonné enamel Bian Lian, while its tail indicates the retrograde minutes.
The mask’s expression changes dramatically – its eyebrows frown, its eyelid closes over its left eye, and the pupil of its right eye retracts to reveal a pointed Monogram flower. Going from joy to sadness through the movement of its chin, the Bian Lian mask expresses a wide range of emotions.
- LV 525 Calibre: mechanical movement with manual winding developed and assembled by La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton
- Automata mechanism featuring 5 animations, jumping hours, retrograde minute hand, power reserve indicator
- 426 components
- 100 hours of power reserve
- 21.600 oscillations per hour
- 50 jewels
- 18K pink gold case and horns
- 18K pink gold hand-carved crown and push-piece, push-piece set with 2 rubies and crown set with 1 ruby
- 46.8 mm diameter
- 14.4 mm thickness
- Domed anti-reflection sapphire crystal
- Water-resistant to 30 m
- Enamel and miniature hand-painting by Anita Porchet (dial, mask & fan)
- Hand engravings by Dick Steenman (dragon & calabash gourd)
- Calabash gourd made of curved glass
- Dial set with cabochon-cut rubies
- Black alligator strap
- 18K pink gold double folding buckle 6 cabochon-cut rubies for 0.06 carat