Now Reading
Louis Vuitton Tambour Opera Automata

Louis Vuitton Tambour Opera Automata


With the new Tambour Opera Automata, Louis Vuitton plays on the theme of art imitating life and life imitating art. Drawing upon elements of Chinese culture and mythology, the watch presents the wearer with a Bian Lian performance. As part of Sichuan opera, Bian Lian is the art of face-changing, having been around for more than 300 years. What makes this art form so unique is that the performer switches between a variety of vibrantly coloured masks to express an array of emotions within the blink of an eye. Thus, the swapping of face masks assumes the sensations we experience throughout time – and Louis Vuitton’s Tambour Opera Automata brings this performance to life.

The case of the Tambour Opera Automata

Protecting the elaborate dial and the delicate movement, the case is made of 18-carat pink gold. The push-piece resembling an imperial dragon’s head with two rubies as eyes functions as a symbolic guard, as the creature represents power and virtue in Chinese mythology. Meanwhile, a push of the mighty dragon
activates the automaton and sets the Bian Lian show into motion. In addition, the case has a rose-gold hand-carved crown with one ruby. The case measures 46.8 mm in diameter and possesses a thickness of 14.4 mm. The case is water-resistant to 30 m. 

Credit © Piotr Stoklosa

An expressive dial

While a Sichuan opera performer captures the attention of the public with expressive moves and colourful masks, the Tambour Opera Automata draws all eyes onto it with its intricate dial, which is hand-painted by none other than famed enameler Anita Porchet. A black background with grey Louis Vuitton logos constitutes the stage for the timepiece’s very own Bian Lian performer. 

Credit © Piotr Stoklosa

Taking up almost half of the dial is a hand-painted red, black, and white enameled mask with a gold-iris eye on the left and stylised flower pistil as a pupil on the right. In Sichuan opera, different colours represent different emotions. Here, the red mask can symbolise courage, loyalty and sincerity. Although the mask is not replaced by another one as it would in a real-life performance, it is capable of showing different emotions ranging from happiness to sadness. This is thanks to the workings of the automaton. After the mechanism is activated, the left eyelid shuts, the right pupil turns into a monogram flower, and the Louis Vuitton emblemed chin moves up and down, showcasing different moods through a closed or open mouth. 

Credit © Piotr Stoklosa

Reading the dial

Yet a Bian Lian performance would not work quite as well without the swift movement of a fan, which enhances the dramatic effect when revealing a new face and stands for wisdom. Therefore, a red-enamelled fan can be found nestled by the left side of the mask on the dial. Golden numerals on the fan, which also stands for wisdom and authority, represent the minutes in intervals of ten. The tail of a pink-gold dragon wraps itself around the ruby handle of the fan, while the rest of the dragon’s body elegantly winds around the mask, its head resting protectively on top of it. 

Not only is this mythical creature a masterpiece engraved by famous Dick Steenmann: it also serves as an example of the finest watchmaking craftsmanship. As with the award-winning Tambour Carpe Diem Automata, time is only displayed on the dial through the activation of the automaton. The tail of the dragon operates as a retrograde minute hand, moving from 0 to 60 minutes on the fan before jumping back again and starting anew. Meanwhile, a swaying motion of the dragon’s head reveals the hour. Instead of presenting the hour through a hand, a jumping hour complication is used to display time through a moving disc. One exception is made with regard to the numerals, as the number 4 is perceived as unlucky in Chinese culture. Therefore, a typical Louis Vuitton blossom is placed in its position instead. 

Credit © Piotr Stoklosa

Other symbols of luck can be found above the fan and next to the mask: pink-gold clouds and a bottle gourd plant. While the former signifies good luck, the latter serves as defence against evil spirits (or in this case, as a disguised power reserve and defence against running out of time).

The movement

How Bian Lian performers manage to change the masks so fast that even cameras cannot capture the exact workings of the trick remains a well-guarded national secret. Equally shrouded in mystery are the complexities of the patented movement developed by Michel Naval and Enrico Barbasini at La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton, over the course of two years. What can be revealed about the mechanical movement is that the Tambour Opera Automata’s calibre LV 525 with manual winding consists of no less than 426 components, along with 50 jewels.

Credit © Piotr Stoklosa

The power of automata

As indicated in the model’s name, the movement also contains an automaton mechanism that sets the opera performance into motion. Rich in its history, this kind of mechanism has existed since Renaissance times and can fulfil a task on its own. For instance, singing, drawing or, in the case of church bells, striking the hour in form of a male figure that hits the church bell with a hammer (a jacquemart). Thus, an automaton can be described as a machine or even a predecessor of today’s more complex robots as it acts fairly independently, aside from having to be activated.

Credit © Piotr Stoklosa

In terms of the Tambour Opera Automata, the wearer can witness the dial come to life after pressing on the push-piece. For precisely 16-seconds, the automaton presents five animations that let the mask change its expressions, the pink-gold dragon’s head rise, and finally designate the time through jumping hours and retrograde minutes.

Credit © Piotr Stoklosa

Last but not least, the power reserve of the calibre LV 525 keeps the watch running for 100 hours, while the amount of power remaining is indicated by the calabash plant on the dial. The movement has a frequency of 3 Hz. 

Credit © Régis Golay

Tambour Opera Automata: Price and strap

Finally, a black alligator strap completes this timepiece while also accentuating the dial. The price of the Tambour Opera Automata is 520,000 euros.

BRAND Louis Vuitton
MODEL Tambour Opera Automata
CASE MATERIAL 18-carat pink gold
DIMENSIONS Diameter: 46.88 mm
Height: 14.42 mm
WATER RESISTANCE 30 m (~3 bar)
DIAL Black cloisonné enamel
STRAP/BRACELET Black alligator leather with 18-carat pink gold buckle
FREQUENCY 3 Hz (21,600 vph)
FUNCTIONS Jumping hours, retrograde minute hand
PRICE EUR 520,000