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Unleashing Artistic Mastery: Louis Vuitton's Escale Cabinet of Wonders

THM Desk
8 Mar 2024 |
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In a bold celebration of artistic ingenuity and heritage, Louis Vuitton's watchmaking division has unveiled the Escale Cabinet of Wonders, a trifecta of upscale métiers d'art watches that pay homage to the house's storied past. This exclusive collection draws inspiration from an extensive assemblage of Japanese tsuba—intricately crafted sword guards—amassed by Gaston-Louis Vuitton, the visionary third-generation leader who helmed the French luxury empire from 1936 until his passing in 1970.

Limited to a mere 20 pieces per design and priced at an astounding $269,000 each, these horological marvels are a testament to Louis Vuitton's unwavering commitment to sustaining rare artisanal handicrafts. The three masterpieces, dubbed Koi's Garden, Snake's Jungle, and Dragon's Cloud, showcase an astounding array of techniques, including enameling, marquetry, miniature painting, engraving, and the intricate art of damascening, where precious gold wire is delicately hammered into a background material.

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The level of craftsmanship is nothing short of breathtaking. One dial, adorned with a serpentine motif, is said to have taken a staggering 260 hours to complete, a feat that underscores the brand's dedication to preserving traditional artistry.

An ensemble of six skilled craftspeople collaborated on these designs, each contributing their unique expertise. Among them is Rose Saneuil, whose multi-material marquetry work for Piaget earned her well-deserved recognition at the prestigious Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève industry awards last year. Marie Boutteçon, an independent watch design consultant based in Geneva, served as the project's artistic director, bringing her extensive experience from collaborations with esteemed brands like Parmigiani and Christophe Claret.

Gaston-Louis Vuitton, the grandson of the company's founder, Louis Vuitton, was an avid collector whose passion for gathering rare and exquisite objects during his frequent travels knew no bounds. While his legacy had little impact on the house's contemporary work until recently, the introduction of the Escale Cabinet of Wonders and the brand's first men's fine jewelry line, Les Gastons Vuitton, earlier this year, has firmly cemented his influence on Louis Vuitton's artistic vision.

The dials of these 18-karat gold watches are adorned with creatures that once graced some of Gaston-Louis's 1,000 tsuba, now preserved at the Asnières estate. These sword guards were not merely functional; they were designed to reflect the character of the samurai warriors who wielded them, serving as counterweights to balance the curved katana swords and protect their hands during combat.

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The Koi's Garden depicts two blue koi fish crafted from white gold, oxidized through heat treatment, and coated in a vibrant blue lacquer. These playful koi, significant icons in Japanese culture, circle each other amid a backdrop of smoky quartz, rock crystal, diamonds, and mother-of-pearl discs engraved with the iconic LV flower monogram.

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Throughout the collection, the GLV monogram of Gaston-Louis Vuitton is hand-engraved on each piece, paired with a semi-precious stone that complements the watch's color scheme, including a deep black onyx adorning the Koi's Garden.

The Snake's Jungle brings together micro-sculpture, hand engraving, and champlevé enamel to create a coiled serpent that slithers across a muted backdrop of woods, straw, and parchment, meticulously assembled using marquetry techniques evoking a bamboo forest. The three-dimensional effect extends to the white gold case, where bamboo leaves are hand-engraved, adding texture and depth. A subtle Easter egg lies in the snake's scales, composed of LV flower monograms and Vs, all hand-engraved with precision to allow the colored enamel to adhere flawlessly.

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Finally, the Dragon's Cloud is arguably the most evocative of the trio. A golden dragon clutches the GLV monogram, its cornelian stone matching the creature's ruby-red eye, as it soars through a cloud. Hand-engraved with exquisite detail, this piece also showcases the rare paillonné enamel technique, where small pieces of gold leaf are placed between layers of translucent enamel, allowing them to shine through, forming the shape of the LV logo and giving the illusion of the dragon's scales.

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To capture the wind's movement, Louis Vuitton turned to Fanny Queloz, an artisan who specializes in the delicate art of damascening. Her workshop in La Chaux-du-Fonds skillfully executed the hand-hammered dial, inlaying it with wires of yellow and rose gold.

In an unprecedented move, Louis Vuitton has named all the external artisans involved in creating these horological wonders, including Eddy Jacque, who carried out the engraving on the snake; Rose Saneuil, responsible for the marquetry; and Vanessa Lecci, who completed the champlevé enamel.

Powering these artistic marvels is the in-house LVT023 micro-rotor movement, also found in the new Tambour models. With a 50-hour power reserve and a frequency of 28,800 vibrations per hour, this movement has been further enhanced with an engraved pattern adorning the grained texture of its bridges, adding another layer of refinement.

With the Escale Cabinet of Wonders, Louis Vuitton has once again demonstrated its unwavering dedication to preserving the highest levels of artisanship. Drawing inspiration from the eclectic and visionary collection of Gaston-Louis Vuitton, this trifecta of horological masterpieces pays homage to the brand's heritage while boldly pushing the boundaries of artistic expression in watchmaking.