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July 20, 2024

Louis Vuitton: Escale Cabinet of Wonders Triptych

The new Escale trilogyof Louis Vuitton maps the journey of Louis Vuitto through the realms of artisanal craft, each model a horological Cabinet of Wonders. Three limited-edition wristwatches, inspired by the personal collections of Gaston-Louis Vuitton and imbued with technique, combine a wide range of métiers d’art to represent the next chapter of fine watchmaking at Louis Vuitton.

Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders Triptych

The collection draws inspiration from Gaston-Louis Vuitton, third-generation member of the Maison’s founding family who led the company from 1907 to 1970, and whose love for artistry shaped the modern identity of Louis Vuitton. In his personal collection of fine and rare objects was a selection of antique tsubas (highly decorated Japanese katana sword guards), which directly influenced the design and symbolism of the Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders.

ESCALE CABINET OF WONDERS KOI’S GARDEN

In a case of white goldtwo carp are depicted in a swirling dance amid the gentle eddies of a pellucid stream, surrounded by colourful pebbles worn smooth by time. This calm, almost meditative, scene on the dial of the Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders Koi’s Garden is the result of 150 hours of meticulous hand-work. The carp are sculpted out of white gold – each scale, each fin and each whisker engraved by hand. The subsequent stage of kiln-firing imparts a fine layer of dark oxide to the carp, a touch of alchemy that amplifies the three-dimensional effect of the carp’s form.

Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders Koi's Garden

Hand-polishing follows, with the engraver assessing each piece with an expert eye to selectively remove the oxide layer, that the underlying white gold shows through to echo the lithe iridescent sheen of a carp’s scales. The final touch is imparted by a miniature painter, who coats the carp in translucent blue lacquer. This essential last step is what truly brings the carp to life, making them glisten under the light as real Japanese koi would in a garden pond.

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

The amber-coloured pebbles are of smoky quartz, while the white pebbles are of rock crystal. Diamond-set pebbles evoke the scintillating effect of sunlight on water, with simulated ripples added by blue pebbles of rock crystal layered over a mother-of-pearl disc engraved with Louis Vuitton Monogram flowers. The undulating lines of water are hand-engraved on a white-gold dial plate, where Gaston-Louis Vuitton’s personal monogram can be found at the 6 o’clock position, also sculpted from gold in contrasting finishes and set with onyx.

Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders Koi's Garden

ESCALE CABINET OF WONDERS SNAKE’S JUNGLE

In a different part of the world, an equally mesmerising (if slightly more savage) tableau is unfolding, in the heart of a verdant bamboo forest. A reticulated serpent in jewel-bright hues of blue and green rears its head, forked tongue and fangs extended. Its gaze is fixed on the hovering orb of gold and nephrite jade that forms the monogram of Gaston-Louis Vuitton.

Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders Snake's Jungle

The raw energy of this scene on the dial of the Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders Snake’s Jungle belies the complexity and subtlety of skill needed to execute it. The bamboo forest is in fact a composition of wood, parchment and straw, carefully selected, cut and seamlessly hand-assembled using marquetry techniques in order to depict all 14 shades of green required by the design. A total of 367 individual pieces comprise this intricate puzzle, in which four varieties of wood, three colours of straw and two types of parchment are used.

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

For the serpent, three exceptionally demanding techniques were combined in its final incarnation: micro-sculpture, engraving and champlevé enamelling. To give the serpent three-dimensional depth and the semblance of motion, the coils of its white-gold body were sculpted according to the rules of perspective. Its scales were hollowed out, then decorated with engraved V-strokes and Monogram flowers. Both the sculpting and engraving stages were executed with strict limits on the amount of white gold that could be removed, so that the surface would be optimised for the application of the champlevé-style enamel. A spray of bamboo leaves – also sculpted, engraved and enamelled in the same way – frame the upper right corner of the dial, enclosing the GLV monogram in the forest’s embrace.

Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders Snake's Jungle

The vitality of the scene cannot be contained by the dial alone; bamboo leaves burst out of their vitreous confines and spill onto the white-gold case itself, a potent allegory of untamed Nature.

ESCALE CABINET OF WONDERS DRAGON’S CLOUD

Completing the artisanal triptyque is a model in rose gold, depicting a majestic dragon, clutching a carnelian-set GLV monogram. Unlike their Occidental counterparts, Asian dragons are creatures of the sky and of the water, frequently illustrated near lakes or entwined in clouds.

Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders Dragon's Cloud

A rare technique known as damascening was chosen to reflect the traditional habitat of the Asian dragon. Damascening is a form of decorative inlay using metals of contrasting colours, resulting in a layered appearance echoing the organic textures found in nature. In the Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders Dragon’s Cloud, a dial plate is hammered to a matt finish before grooves are cut to receive different lengths of yellow-gold or rose-gold wires. The wires are cold-worked into the dial plate, then further worked by hand, using a burin to shape and finish the inlaid metal.

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

The dragon (and the clouds surrounding it) is engraved and finished with a range of polished and matt surfaces in order to bring out the details of this legendary animal. Its scales are enamelled, with the lower half of its body distinguished by the use of paillonné enamel. This extremely rare form of enamel contains tiny pieces of gold leaf (known as paillons) suspended between layers of translucent enamel, and is one of the most delicate decorative techniques used in watchmaking. Yellow-gold Monogram flower paillons adorn the scales of the dragon, gleaming against a black enamel background, while larger rose-gold Monogram flowers are applied on the dial.

Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders Dragon's Cloud

Echoing the carnelian-set GLV monogram, the dragon’s eye glows bright red with secret knowledge, a cabochon-cut ruby held in place with a fold of the dragon’s yellow-gold eyelid.Both damascening and paillonné enamel are strongly resonant with the dragon as a symbol of power and wisdom, being techniques that were considered lost arts before modern artisans were able to recover and revive them.

Following the redesign of the Tambour in 2023, the Louis Vuitton Escale is next in line to introduce a new aesthetic and mechanical approach. Details are at the forefront of the new Louis Vuitton Escale, which makes its debut housing the Cabinet of Wonders métiers d’art collection. True to its original inspirations, the Louis Vuitton Escale maintains the purity of its round case, with details on its hand-polished case horns that recall the metal brackets of the iconic Louis Vuitton trunks.

The polished bezel now features a subtle curve that leads into a lightly domed crystal that brings added softness and refinement to the case profile, an effect emphasised by the contrasting satin finish of the case middle. Drawing the eye towards the centre of the watch are the hour and minute hands, which have been reworked and now bear a lance-shaped form based on traditional Alpha hands, polished and faceted to reflect the light. Finally, the crown of each of the three models has also been embellished with the same stone as the GLV monogram on the dial.

Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders Triptych

The spirit of travel continues to inhabit the Louis Vuitton Escale; the Cabinet of Wonders collection is decorated around the case middles and buckles with three variations of Seigaiha waves, a stylized representation of the ocean found in traditional Japanese iconography. Even the bridges of the movement (the chronometer-standard manufacture cal. LFT023) are adorned with this talismanic motif, which is associated with good fortune and wellbeing.

Staying close to the detail-oriented approach of the new Louis Vuitton Escale, the three Cabinet of Wonders timepieces are paired with calf-leather straps, hand-braided to resemble the braided leather hilts of Japanese katana swords, using a technique developed specifically for this collection.

Each of the three models of the Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders collection is limited to 20 pieces only. The Koi’s Garden comes in a white-gold case (40mm) with blue strap; the Snake’s Jungle comes in a white-gold case (40mm) with green strap; and the Dragon’s Cloud comes in a rose-gold case (40mm) with brown strap.