Only Watch was created in 2005 to increase awareness of Duchenne muscular dystrophy and to raise funds for clinical research into this debilitating terminal disease that affects young children, primarily boys.
This year marks the 10th consecutive participation of the Maison in the biennial Only Watch charity watch auction. On that occasion, Louis Vuitton celebrates the push towards a better future with the Tambour Einstein Automata, showing the Maison’s ongoing evolution in innovative in-house automaton watches, and symbolizing the close ties between the charity and the Maison it has unwaveringly supported since its inception.
Time for Action
There are no overnight geniuses. For the best minds to be recognised, their internal thought processes must be made external. Even the most groundbreaking ideas are destined to remain unfulfilled, unless they are brought to fruition by action, faith and perseverance. Albert Einstein did more than theorise — his published work shaped modern physics and underpins our current understanding of the world around us. Luc Pettavino did more than dream of a miracle cure for the disease that afflicted his son Paul — he created the world’s most successful watch charity auction and raised enough funds that researchers financed by Only Watch are now putting a potentially life-saving drug through clinical trials.
It is within La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton, a few hundred 7 kilometres from Einstein’s study place, that the Tambour Einstein Automata Only Watch 2023 came to life. The development of Louis Vuitton’s watchmaking expertise is manifested in this unique timepiece, and is a testament to the talents of watchmakers and craftsmen.
The highlight of this one-of-a-kind watch is a dial of remarkable craftsmanship, incorporating the techniques of micro-sculpture and grisaille enamel. These two historic artisanal skills are used to depict the likeness of Albert Einstein, an interpretation based on one of his most recognised photographic and mischievous portraits, sticking his tongue out in an unexpected moment of levity.
To the left of his face, chalk-like scribblings evoke his era-defining academic research, one of them reading “E = LV²” — a playful allusion to Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence formula “E = MC²”. Near the bottom of the dial, a model of an atom with four valence orbitals acknowledges Einstein’s formidable contributions to quantum mechanics, and close observers will also note that the atom model incorporates the form of a pointed Louis Vuitton Monogram Flower. In the middle of Einstein’s forehead, an aperture displays the unsolved equation “T = ?” — reflecting the thoughts of anyone else who might be looking at the watch and wondering what time it is. Einstein’s left eye has been replaced by a Louis Vuitton Monogram Flower in blue lacquer, one of the only two coloured elements on the dial. The second coloured element is, of course, Einstein’s pink tongue, half-extended as if unsure of our reaction to what he is about to reveal…
Echoing his out-of-the-box and revolutionary work, Einstein’s famous mop of hair crafted in steel – requiring intricate and meticulous engraving work – extends beyond the 46.8mm case, with one particular broad lock being a playfully disguised automata pushpiece. When this push-piece is actuated, four animations spring to life on the dial, and all our questions are answered, as the Tambour Einstein Automata is a watch that, thanks to its technically complex movement, provides time on demand.
Manufactured by La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton, the calibre 525 beats within this iconic Tambour case and brings the dial to life. The Tambour Einstein Automata watch shares the same movement that propelled the Carpe Diem Automata to win the Audacity Prize at the 2021 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG).
Once the lock of hair is pushed, the forehead aperture display changes to show a number between 1 and 12, telling us the hour. The atom model rotates, with one of its valence orbitals (distinguished by a lacquered, pointed end) moving to the appropriate position on a 0–60 scale to provide us with the minutes. Einstein’s Monogram Flower eye narrows its petals, hinting at the razor-sharp precision mechanics under the dial. And finally, his tongue extends fully, in jubilant certainty of having delivered the correct solution. Why would you go anywhere else to get the time when you could receive it from Albert Einstein himself?
One last secret remains hidden, to be discovered in time; information as potent as it is uplifting. When the 100-hour power reserve dips low, the indicator transitions from LV to OW. E no longer equals LV², instead, the letters are replaced with the initials of the Only Watch charity auction. It is a visual cue that prompts the wearer to replenish the watch with mechanical energy.
The Maison has its watchmaking headquarters in Geneva, where the workshops of La Fabrique du Temps, the prestigious movement development department of Louis Vuitton, are also found. The expansion of Louis Vuitton into automaton watches was (and continues to be) driven by the co-founders of La Fabrique du Temps, Master Watchmakers Enrico Barbasini and Michel Navas.
The exceptional work of the Maison’s artisans can be seen in the Tambour Einstein Automata Only Watch 2023. The task of replicating the face of the world’s most famous scientist fell to engraver Dick Steenman from La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton workshop, whose talent in three-dimensional engraving exceeds the boundaries of this craft and crosses into micro-sculpture. A total of 80 hours of work went into turning the flat photographic image into a fully contoured and lifelike representation of Einstein in white gold. The level of detail in Einstein’s face is astonishing, as Steenman meticulously engraved the facial lines on the forehead, around the eyes and at the sides of the mouth. Individual strands can be discerned in Einstein’s hair and moustache — even his eyebrows are engraved hair by hair. The locks of hair that form part of the steel watch case and automata push-piece took Steenman an additional 40 hours of engraving, as the material is significantly harder than gold.
Enamelling Einstein’s face required the skilled touch of Nicolas Doublel from La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton workshop, using a rare technique called grisaille, a historical technique once thought lost and revived just over a decade ago. It involves a base layer of deep black enamel, upon which layers of translucent white enamel (Blanc de Limoges) are slowly built up to create an image in black, white and all the shades of grey in between. Each application of enamel has to be followed by kiln firing, making this process one of the most complex and time-intensive enamel techniques ever known.
The Tambour Einstein Automata Only Watch 2023 marks the first time that grisaille enamel has been used in a Louis Vuitton timepiece, and Doublel’s extraordinary work is immediately apparent in how Einstein’s face and expression have been brought to life. The level of refinement extends even to anatomical verisimilitude, as the texture of human skin is conveyed in minute grains of vitrified enamel. The tongue, enamelled in hues of pale to robust pink, is equally detailed, an incredible achievement considering the size of the white-gold canvas. All in all, 50 hours of enamelling went into Einstein’s face alone, with an additional 80 hours dedicated to the base dial in translucent black enamel with overlay of white enamel “chalk” scribbles.
- Tambour Einstein Automata Only Watch 2023
• LV 525 calibre: mechanical movement with manual winding developed and assembled by La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton
• Automata mechanism featuring 4 animations, jumping hours, retrograde minutes, power reserve indicator
• 426 components
• 100 hours of power reserve
• 21,600 vibrations per hour
• 50 jewels
• Stainless steel case and horns
• Stainless steel crown set with one diamond and push-piece, both hand-engraved by Dick Steenman
• 46.8 mm diameter
• 14.4 mm thickness
• Domed anti-reflection sapphire crystal
• Water-resistant to 30 m
• Enamel dial, using miniature and grisaille handmade technics, by Nicolas Doublel (Einstein’s face & base dial)
• 18K white gold hand engravings by Dick Steenman (Einstein’s face & minute hand)
• Dial set with 1 diamond
• Black alligator strap
• Stainless steel double folding buckle
• High watchmaking special trunk with hand painted Monogram canvas 5 round diamonds for ~0.06 carat