How Louis Vuitton Created 3-D Fish, Dragons, and Snakes for Its Latest Watches

A trio of watches in Louis Vuitton’s Escale collection, called Cabinet of Wonders, is closer to the world of decorative arts than to the pursuit of chronometry. The pieces are all about the three-dimensional dial compositions, with narratives involving two fish, a dragon and a serpent in a bamboo forest. They are brought to life using every category of métiers possible: gem-setting, engraving, micro-sculpting, champlevé enameling, miniature painting, marquetry, damascening and paillonné enameling.

The three pieces, Koi’s Garden, Snake’s Jungle and Dragon’s Cloud, were inspired by the rare objects in the personal collection of Gaston-Louis Vuitton, particularly his collection of 800 tsubas (highly decorated Japanese katana sword guards). Gaston-Louis Vuitton was a third-generation member of the company’s founding family. He led the company from 1907 to 1970, and his love for artistry shaped the modern identity of Louis Vuitton. The Cabinet of Wonders trilogy is thus dedicated to Gaston-Louis – each dial has a plate somewhere bearing his initials – but these are not the first modern Louis Vuitton watches with wildly creative, colorful, three-dimensional dials. Past creations include the Tambour Opera Automaton, with a traditional Chinese opera mask and a moving dragon’s head, and the Tambour Carpe Diem, a memento mori piece featuring a skull and a serpent. These and the new Cabinet of Wonders trilogy are quickly becoming the signature aesthetic of La Fabrique du Temps, Louis Vuitton’s modern manufacture in Switzerland. They were made and decorated in-house, with the help of some outside collaborators, including engraving by Eddy Jaquet, enameling by Vanessa Lecci, damascening by Fanny Queloz and marquetry by Rose Saneuil.

Koi’s Garden

Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders Koi's Garden
Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders Koi's Garden

The action on this dial involves a pair of three-dimensional carp fish swimming in a stream surrounded by colorful pebbles. The fish are hand sculpted in white gold, with scales, fins, and whiskers all engraved by hand. After being oxidized in a kiln, the fish are polished and painted by hand using a translucent blue lacquer. The amber-colored pebbles are made of smoky quartz, and the white ones are from rock crystal. Others are set with diamonds to create the effect of sunlight on water. The light blue pebbles are rock crystal layered over a mother-of-pearl disk engraved with Louis Vuitton monogram flowers. The undulating lines of water are hand-engraved on a white-gold dial plate. The plate bearing Gaston-Louis Vuitton’s monogram is in the 6 o’clock position, sculpted from gold in contrasting finishes and set with onyx. The watch is set with 105 diamonds totaling 0.24 carat. The case is 18k white gold.

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Snake’s Jungle

Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonder Snake's Jungle
Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonder Snake's Jungle

The scene is a bamboo forest, in which a reticulated serpent in bright hues of blue and green, rears its head. Its forked tongue and fangs are in full view, poised to chomp down on the gold and jade logo plate that bears Gaston-Louis Vuitton’s initials. The forest is created using marquetry, with 367 individual pieces of wood, parchment, and straw inlaid by hand. They include four varieties of wood, three colors of straw, and two types of parchment. The serpent was created using three techniques: micro-sculpture, engraving, and champlevé enameling. The body is engraved with coils and hollowed-out scales, and decorated with engraved V-strokes that include Vuitton monogram flowers. The bamboo leaves were sculpted, engraved, and enameled in the same way. The leaf motif carries over onto the bezel, hand engraved into the 18k white gold.

Dragon’s Cloud

Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders Dragon's Cloud
Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders Dragon's Cloud

The dragon in this energetic narrative is carved out of gold over a background made using a rare technique called damascening, a form of decorative inlay using metals of contrasting colors, resulting in a layered appearance meant to resemble the organic textures found in nature. The dial plate is hammered to a matt finish, and then grooves are cut to receive different lengths of yellow-gold or rose-gold wires. The wires are cold-worked into the dial plate, and then shaped and finished using a burin. The dragon’s scales are enameled, with the lower half of the body decorated using paillonné enamel – tiny pieces of gold leaf (paillons) are suspended between layers of translucent enamel, forming the floral monogram. Larger rose-gold Monogram flowers are applied elsewhere on the dial.
The dragon’s eye is a ruby cabochon.

All three pieces come with calf-leather straps that are hand-braided to resemble the braided leather hilts of Japanese katana swords. The 40 mm cases are engraved around the middle with three variations of “Seigaiha” waves, a stylized representation of the ocean found in traditional Japanese iconography. The bridges of the movement are also adorned with this motif, which is associated with good fortune and well-being. In a final flourish, the crown of each model is set with the same stone that adorns the corresponding GLV monogram on the dial. Each will be produced in a series of 20 pieces. Price on request.

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