Louis Vuitton Brand
Louis Vuitton Unveils Its New Tambour Opera Automata Watch
In unveiling the Tambour Opera Automata, Louis Vuitton continues its journey through the exclusive world of high watchmaking timepieces with automata. Paying tribute to the Sichuan Opera’s Bian Lian, the virtuoso decoration of this specific watch presents a traditional mask that comes to life and changes expression on demand. An artistic performance driven by a virtuoso movement entirely conceived, developed, and assembled by La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton.
After the Tambour Carpe Diem, which won the Audacity Prize at the Grand Prix de l’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.
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.
With the Tambour Opera Automata, Louis Vuitton continues – in Asia – the daring journey it initiated in Europe in 2021 by creating of the Tambour Carpe Diem Automata dedicated to the Vanitas. By choosing to celebrate the Sichuan Opera today, La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton is taking its mastery of contemporary fine watchmaking to the next level. Indeed, 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.
The beauty of the dial and the lively rhythm of this miniature theatre leave the viewer spellbound.
The excellence of craftsmanship
To root this Tambour Opera Automata in the 21st century, Louis Vuitton has combined traditional Chinese symbols with the brand’s emblematic design elements, such as the canvas pattern and the Monogram flowers enamelled on the dial. Reigning supreme, the imperial dragon, a mythical creature associated with ancient Chinese emperors, represents strength, power and nobility.
The fan by its side is a sign of wisdom and authority. As for the clouds, they symbolise good luck, and the gourd in the shape of a calabash is believed to protect people from evil spirits.
As an ultimate refinement, the Asian unlucky number 4 in the time display is replaced by a four-petalled Monogram flower. Crafted in white, red and black cloisonné enamel separated with white gold threads, the mask owes its flawless workmanship to the master enameller Anita Porchet. The fan is given remarkable depth through the champlevé enamel technique, which involves removing some material from the surface in order to deposit colour pigments. The enamelling of the dial and crown took over seven days to complete.
Crafted over a period of nearly two weeks by the famous Swiss engraver Dick Steenman, the details engraved in the precious metal give the Tambour Opera Automata an unparalleled level of relief.
The pink-gold dragon displays its expressive character in the smallest of details (piercing ruby eyes, engraved and sandblasted scales, etc.). So much so that it appears to literally leap out of the Bian Lian’s mask to reveal, open-mouthed, the time display.
The push button of the automaton depicting a dragon’s head, as well as the winding crown and adorned with a champlevé enamel fan, are entirely hand-made.
Finally, pushing sophistication and technicality to the extreme, Louis Vuitton has reproduced the shape of the Chinese mask on the back of the movement, contrasting a shot-blasted finish with a perfect mirror polish, without the slightest flaw.
With the Tambour Opera Automata, Louis Vuitton has amplified the technical complexity of the automaton watch with a bold, powerful and contemporary aesthetic.
Tambour Opera Automata
• 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.