By Maria Doulton
A visit to Louis Vuitton's supremely elegant mansion in the old quarter of Basel during the town's annual watch fair revealed an impressive collection of new watches in an equally spectacular location.
Forget the serried pop-up booths of the main watch fair - Vuitton was making a grand statement. In a cobbled square in old Basel, solid double doors opened onto a sweeping staircase, stuccoed ceilings and carefully chosen pieces of contemporary art. Through the French windows were vistas of a delightful, leafy, cool green garden.
The doors of the vast main room on the ground floor opened to reveal a firm commitment to fine watchmaking and a passion for doing things in Vuitton's very own beautiful way.
Since the introduction of Louis Vuitton timepieces in 2002, the house has established itself as a serious player in the world of watchmaking. And nowhere is that more evident to me than in the shimmering new collection of Tambour Monogram women's watches.
They are as pretty as a summer day yet highly sophisticated miniature machines, a feat that demonstrates Vuitton's prowess both in the complex world of watchmaking and as a purveyor of luxury goods. There are seven variants to this brand-new watch, which comes in either stainless steel or pink gold with different diamond settings as well as a range of sizes. The watches have just arrived in the UK and other European Louis Vuitton boutiques.
Those familiar with the horological career of Louis Vuitton will know that the Tambour was first launched in 2002. The sloping sides of the deep drum case allowed for complex mechanical movements, and the distinctive watch shape quickly became synonymous with the brand.
This year, the Tambour is quite literally turned on its head, with the wider side face up, allowing for a bigger dial. The case itself has been honed and refined to make it lighter, though the key design cues remain, including the octagonal crown, the distinctive compact horns that fasten the watch to the strap and, of course, the famous monogram pattern first used on steamer trunks since the early days of the maison.
The intricate opaline dials are etched with a subtle spray of sunrays, punctuated by the monogram pattern, which casts silver shimmers with each movement of the wrist. A gold central track is engraved with the well-known LV logo, which was first used around the protective edging of trunks.
All the movements used in the larger rose gold and diamond models are automatic, while the smaller versions in steel with diamonds are driven by a quartz movement.
Crowning the collection is the Tambour Monogram Tourbillon in pink gold with diamonds, and it is one of the most feminine tourbillon watches you are likely to encounter on your travels. This version has a mother-of-pearl dial, and here is a detail I love: the tourbillon bridge is in the shape of the Monogram flower and surrounded with diamonds.
But beauty is more than skin deep, and the LV80 calibre is proudly made in the house's very own haute horlogerie ateliers in Geneva, called La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton. As the house's second tourbillon movement, it is significant that it is dedicated to women, confirming Vuitton's commitment to offering the very best to discerning ladies. A further distinction is the fact that this tourbillon is self-winding. To save space, most tourbillons are hand-wound, thus eliminating the bulk of the rotor. The Tambour Monogram Tourbillon's rotor is proudly displayed through the sapphire case back, etched with the LV logo and sitting atop the lavishly decorated movement.
The sophisticated new Tambour Monogram range is being sold exclusively at Louis Vuitton's New Bond Street maison for the month of September and confirms that Vuitton is master of both luxury and the finest watchmaking crafts.