time-keeper


Louis Vuitton’s new trio of Escale Cabinet of Wonders

March 2024


Louis Vuitton's new trio of Escale Cabinet of Wonders

The three limited-edition wristwatches, each a horological Cabinet of Wonders, are inspired by the personal collections of Gaston-Louis Vuitton. Imbued with technical virtuosity, they combine a wide range of métiers d’art to represent the next chapter of fine watchmaking at the luxury house.

W

ith its innovative approach to trunkmaking since 1854, Louis Vuitton is synonymous with the philosophical elevation of travel to an art. In 2024, three exquisite new Louis Vuitton Escale models, each one a rich tapestry of the natural (and fantastical) world, bring further dimension to this concept. Their combinations of artisanal savoir-faire are unique to each model, advancing the Maison’s in-house mastery of traditional decorative technique.

The collection draws inspiration from Gaston-Louis Vuitton, third-generation member of the Maison’s founding family who led the company from 1907 to 1970, and whose love for artistry shaped the modern identity of Louis Vuitton.

In his personal collection of fine and rare objects was a selection of antique tsubas (highly decorated Japanese katana sword guards), which directly influenced the design and symbolism of the Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders.

Garden of tranquillity In a case of white gold, two carp are depicted in a swirling dance amid the gentle eddies of a pellucid stream, surrounded by colourful pebbles worn smooth by time. This calm, almost meditative, scene on the dial of the Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders Koi’s Garden is the result of 150 hours of meticulous hand-work. The carp are sculpted out of white gold — each scale, each fin and each whisker engraved by hand. The subsequent stage of kiln-firing imparts a fine layer of dark oxide to the carp, a touch of alchemy that amplifies the three-dimensional effect of the carp’s form.

The Bugatti Type 370 watch by Parmigiani Fleurier voted watch of the Year 2006 in Japan

Hand-polishing follows, with the engraver assessing each piece with an expert eye to selectively remove the oxide layer, that the underlying white gold shows through to echo the lithe iridescent sheen of a carp’s scales. The final touch is imparted by a miniature painter, who coats the carp in translucent blue lacquer. This essential last step is what truly brings the carp to life, making them glisten under the light as real Japanese koi would in a garden pond.

The amber-coloured pebbles are of smoky quartz, while the white pebbles are of rock crystal. Diamond-set pebbles evoke the scintillating effect of sunlight on water, with simulated ripples added by blue pebbles of rock crystal layered over a mother-of-pearl disc engraved with Louis Vuitton Monogram flowers. The undulating lines of water are hand-engraved on a white-gold dial plate, where Gaston-Louis Vuitton’s personal monogram can be found at the 6 o’clock position, also sculpted from gold in contrasting finishes and set with onyx.

The Bugatti Type 370 watch by Parmigiani Fleurier voted watch of the Year 2006 in Japan

In a different part of the world, an equally mesmerising (if slightly more savage) tableau is unfolding, in the heart of a verdant bamboo forest. A reticulated serpent in jewel-bright hues of blue and green rears its head, forked tongue and fangs extended. Its gaze is fixed on the hovering orb of gold and nephrite jade that forms the monogram of Gaston-Louis Vuitton.

The raw energy of this scene on the dial of the Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders Snake’s Jungle belies the complexity and subtlety of skill needed to execute it. The bamboo forest is in fact a composition of wood, parchment and straw, carefully selected, cut and seamlessly hand-assembled using marquetry techniques in order to depict all 14 shades of green required by the design. A total of 367 individual pieces comprise this intricate puzzle, in which four varieties of wood, three colours of straw and two types of parchment are used.

For the serpent, three exceptionally demanding techniques were combined in its final incarnation: micro-sculpture, engraving and champlevé enamelling. To give the serpent three-dimensional depth and the semblance of motion, the coils of its white-gold body were sculpted according to the rules of perspective. Its scales were hollowed out, then decorated with engraved V-strokes and Monogram flowers. Both the sculpting and engraving stages were executed with strict limits on the amount of white gold that could be removed, so that the surface would be optimised for the application of the champlevé-style enamel. A spray of bamboo leaves — also sculpted, engraved and enamelled in the same way — frame the upper right corner of the dial, enclosing the GLV monogram in the forest’s embrace.

The vitality of the scene cannot be contained by the dial alone; bamboo leaves burst out of their vitreous confines and spill onto the white-gold case itself, a potent allegory of untamed Nature.

The Bugatti Type 370 watch by Parmigiani Fleurier voted watch of the Year 2006 in Japan

Completing the artisanal triptyque is a model in rose gold, depicting a majestic dragon, clutching a carnelian-set GLV monogram. Unlike their Occidental counterparts, Asian dragons are creatures of the sky and of the water, frequently illustrated near lakes or entwined in clouds.

A rare technique known as damascening was chosen to reflect the traditional habitat of the Asian dragon. Damascening is a form of decorative inlay using metals of contrasting colours, resulting in a layered appearance echoing the organic textures found in nature. In the Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders Dragon’s Cloud, a dial plate is hammered to a matt finish before grooves are cut to receive different lengths of yellow-gold or rose-gold wires. The wires are cold-worked into the dial plate, then further worked by hand, using a burin to shape and finish the inlaid metal. The dragon (and the clouds surrounding it) is engraved and finished with a range of polished and matt surfaces in order to bring out the details of this legendary animal. Its scales are enamelled, with the lower half of its body distinguished by the use of paillonné enamel. This extremely rare form of enamel contains tiny pieces of gold leaf (known as paillons) suspended between layers of translucent enamel, and is one of the most delicate decorative techniques used in watchmaking. Yellow-gold Monogram flower paillons adorn the scales of the dragon, gleaming against a black enamel background, while larger rose-gold Monogram flowers are applied on the dial.

Echoing the carnelian-set GLV monogram, the dragon’s eye glows bright red with secret knowledge, a cabochon-cut ruby held in place with a fold of the dragon’s yellow-gold eyelid. Both damascening and paillonné enamel are strongly resonant with the dragon as a symbol of power and wisdom, being techniques that were considered lost arts before modern artisans were able to recover and revive them. These techniques now lie securely within the expertise of Louis Vuitton, as secure as the GLV monogram gripped in the dragon’s claws.

The Bugatti Type 370 watch by Parmigiani Fleurier voted watch of the Year 2006 in Japan

Following the redesign of the Tambour in 2023, the Louis Vuitton Escale is next in line to introduce a new aesthetic and mechanical approach. Details are at the forefront of the new Louis Vuitton Escale, which makes its debut housing the Cabinet of Wonders métiers d’art collection. True to its original inspirations, the Louis Vuitton Escale maintains the purity of its round case, with details on its hand-polished case horns that recall the metal brackets of the iconic Louis Vuitton trunks.

The polished bezel now features a subtle curve that leads into a lightly domed crystal that brings added softness and refinement to the case profile, an effect emphasised by the contrasting satin finish of the case middle. Drawing the eye towards the centre of the watch are the hour and minute hands, which have been reworked and now bear a lance-shaped form based on traditional Alpha hands, polished and faceted to reflect the light.

Louis Vuitton's new trio of Escale Cabinet of Wonders

A commitment to design coherence guides even the smallest details of the Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders timepieces, with the crown of each of the three models set with the same stone that adorns the corresponding GLV monogram on its dial. Fittingly, the crown capstone is engraved with the Louis Vuitton Monogram, establishing the collection as a contemporary creation of the Maison and highlighting the link between Louis Vuitton’s past and present.

The spirit of travel continues to inhabit the Louis Vuitton Escale; the Cabinet of Wonders collection is decorated around the case middles and buckles with three variations of Seigaiha waves, a stylised representation of the ocean found in traditional Japanese iconography. Even the bridges of the movement (the chronometer-standard manufacture cal. LFT023) are adorned with this talismanic motif, which is associated with good fortune and wellbeing.

The Bugatti Type 370 watch by Parmigiani Fleurier voted watch of the Year 2006 in Japan

Staying close to the detail-oriented approach of the new Louis Vuitton Escale, the three Cabinet of Wonders timepieces are paired with calf-leather straps, hand-braided to resemble the braided leather hilts of Japanese katana swords, using a technique developed specifically for this collection. Each of the three models of the Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders collection is limited to 20 pieces only. The Koi’s Garden comes in a white-gold case (40mm) with blue strap; the Snake’s Jungle comes in a white-gold case (40mm) with green strap; and the Dragon’s Cloud comes in a rose-gold case (40mm) with brown strap.

Born in 1883, Gaston-Louis Vuitton, perhaps more than anyone else in the history of the Maison, embodied the art of travel. No longer just a utilitarian means of getting from one place to another, travel could create worlds of its own — an intimate sphere of discovery, a floating escale filled with delights, a travelling cabinet of wonder.

The Bugatti Type 370 watch by Parmigiani Fleurier voted watch of the Year 2006 in Japan

Gaston-Louis Vuitton was many things: artist, historian, photographer, engraver, lithographer and, indeed, traveller — but he was foremost an aesthete and connoisseur who loved collecting and displaying the fine objects he acquired on his professional and personal excursions. The 800 or so antique tsubas that inspired the Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders were remarkable for their concentration of craftsmanship in pocket-sized dimensions. They became true heirlooms of his legacy as they were passed down through subsequent generations of the Vuitton family, transcending the physical boundaries of his cabinet of wonders. Nor were they the first tokens of Gaston-Louis Vuitton’s lifelong fascination with artistry and decorative technique to manifest beyond the walls of the Vuitton family home in Asnières. Under his direction, the store windows of Louis Vuitton transformed into splendid vitrines of the very best examples of craftsmanship, made both by in-house artisans and in collaboration with the most admired creative talents of the time.

The Bugatti Type 370 watch by Parmigiani Fleurier voted watch of the Year 2006 in Japan

Today, Louis Vuitton continues to perpetuate the legacy of Gaston-Louis Vuitton. The Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders pays tribute to his work and his story by once again uniting the pinnacle of artisanal craftspersons both within and without the company. Celebrated names such as Eddy Jaquet (engraving), Fanny Queloz (damascening), Rose Saneuil (marquetry) and Vanessa Lecci (enamelling) worked with La Fabrique des Arts Louis Vuitton to create these richly decorated wristwatches, following the aesthetic vision of Marie Boutteçon, the renowned and charismatic designer specialising in métiers d’art timepieces.

Louis Vuitton’s fine watchmaking department in Geneva, La Fabrique du Temps, orchestrated the blend of internal expertise and external talent working on the outer elements of the watches. This dual-aspect approach, combining rare levels of talent from every corner of the watchmaking world, elevates the collection to unprecedented heights of creative and technical mastery at Louis Vuitton.

The Bugatti Type 370 watch by Parmigiani Fleurier voted watch of the Year 2006 in Japan

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Reference
• Snake’s Jungle 20 pieces Limited Edition W3WG21

Case
• 18-carat white gold engraved with Japanese waves motif
• Hand-engraved bezel
• Nephrite jade crown
• Open case-back, engraved “1 of 20”
• 40 mm diameter
• 12.04 mm thickness
• Water-resistant to 50 m

Métiers d’Art dial
• Multi-material marquetry base (wood, straw, and parchment) by Rose Saneuil
• Snake and leaves in white gold hand-engraved by Eddy Jaquet and enamelled (champlevé enamel) by Vanessa Lecci
• Gaston-Louis Vuitton monogram in gold and nephrite jade

Movement
• Caliber LFT023: self-winding mechanical movement
• Functions: Hours and minutes, 22-carat rose gold micro-rotor engraved with Japanese waves motif
• 120 components
• 50-hour power reserve
• 28,800 vibrations per hour
• 31 jewels

Strap
• Hand-braided strap in green calf leather, inspired by katanas handles

Buckle
• White gold pin buckle engraved with Japanese waves motif

The Europa Star Newsletter