Editor’s Note: At Baselworld 2015, Louis Vuitton brought the heat. Fresh from the resounding success of the Escale Worldtime, the company – under the leadership of VP of Watches and Jewellery Hamdi Chatti – decided to back it up in a way that was both bold and beautiful. To adapt the Escale Worldtime into a more affordable range, but without sacrificing any of the watches significant charm, including that delightfully paint-applied kaleidoscopic dial. We wanted to know everything. We sat down with the devilishly handsome VP to find out. This story originally appeared Viva Magazine.
It’s only fitting that interviews with Louis Vuitton at Baselworld, the world’s largest watch fair, do not take place in a booth at the venue, but rather in a grand residence, a short, chauffeured drive away.
The vice-president’s assistant is waiting in the foyer and escorts us up a grand staircase. At the top of the stairs is Hamdi Chatti, wearing a neatly tailored suit and a broad smile. We shake hands and sit down before a small monument of LV travel goods.
My first reaction is that I want all of it. The Louis Vuitton steamer trunk, the “keepall”, the watch case in LV monogram canvas, with a cushion and compartment for each timepiece, the ultimate travel prospect for a watch lover. All of it, please.
My second reaction is, oh dear, luggage handling. Owners of such extraordinary (and expensive) luggage must live in constant fear of careless luggage handlers, right? Hamdi Chatti puts a hand on my arm. “My friend,” he says, slowly shaking his head. “If you own this luggage you have a private jet. Please, you don’t even carry it.”
Welcome to the romantic, rarefied world of luxury via Louis Vuitton, a place the VP himself only inhabits some of the time: “My travel can be on a private jet or on Easyjet,” Chatti says, mentioning that in summer he’ll often pack a keepall and fly from Paris to Sardinia on the budget flight carrier. Total travel time? Two hours door-to-door. “Time is the most precious luxury of all, especially when you’re as busy as I am, so how I get to a destination is not always as important as getting there quickly.”
Chatti is vice-president of watches and jewellery at Louis Vuitton. If an iconic LV timepiece is not springing to mind, you can forgive yourself; Louis Vuitton watches were introduced as recently as 2002. From the beginning, their approach was not to simply leverage LV’s cachet by branding generic fashion style watches. The Paris-based maison, founded in 1854 by “trunk-master” Louis Vuitton, went to the effort and expense of developing not only signature designs, but unique functions and features, known in the watch world as “complications”.
Though the heart of the house continues to beat in Paris, the watches are made in Geneva, Switzerland in workshops named La Fabrique du Temps. “The watch is the best travel companion, in a way,” Chatti says, tying the two worlds together. Even more than a bag? “Well, a watch is with you more of the time.”
Every relatively new luxury watch brand, and LV is among the youngest, is seeking one thing: a recognisable model. A timepiece that, at a glance across the room, or with its curvature partially concealed under a cuff, can be easily identified. Like an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, a Cartier Tank or a Rolex Daytona.
Despite having two previous collections, the Tambour and Emprise, both classically handsome but conservative in design, the concept watch released last year, the Escale, is the watch Louis Vuitton has been waiting for.
“It’s a concept that has become a collection,” Hamdi says of the Escale, a “worldtimer” in watch parlance, which indicates the time in all 24 time zones in one kaleidoscopic glance. Featuring a dial inspired by vintage trunk monograms and three rotating discs in the place of hands, it was available only in white gold and priced at $425,000. “It caused great frustration,” Hamdi says, “because everybody wanted this beautiful piece. And even if you could afford it, you would still have to wait six months because each one is hand painted.”
Enter the Escale Time Zone, which is, joyously, offered in steel at a “more traditional” size of 39mm (compared to the 41mm Worldtimer) and has a centrally placed hour disc and minute hand for the local time. There are also two rotating discs to indicate the time in each of the 24 time-zones.
Although it is not hand-painted, the dial still has the raised appearance of applied paint, which gives it a lovely texture. Most importantly, though, it is to be a standard production piece, available in Louis Vuitton’s 460 stores worldwide. Best of all, it is competitively priced at $11,100.
“This was the most challenging thing. How to keep the spirit, the strength, the quality of the Escale Worldtimer and to make it more available,” Chatti says. “Me, I love it. It’s cool. It’s thin, it’s light, it’s comfortable, you can change the coloured straps. I actually sleep with it on.”
The fact Louis Vuitton’s most controversial and successful timepiece yet is related to travel is not lost on Chatti. “Time and travel are intimately connected,” he says. “When you think about travel you think about time, always. You think about the time you’re going to spend on the plane, the time in the stopover, and when you’re going to land. The best thing you can have on your watch throughout this journey is your home time. This is where your loving people live.”
HAMDI’S TRAVEL TIPS
1. Do not try to immediately adjust to the timezone you travel to
When I land in a place, I never think about the time of the place. I don’t believe in that. The best way you can adjust to the local time is by keeping in mind your home time and adjusting more slowly if this is possible. This is of course greatly helped by a dual time zone or worldtimer watch like the Escale.
2. There is no easy way to master world travel
I don’t try and handle world travel, I just live with it. We live with travel in this company. There is no way to do it better than the next person really. At the end of the day you end up being very tired sometimes so you just live with it. But I like it, it’s exciting.
3. If you’re going to live out of a bag, do it in style
It is not unusual for me to travel to, let’s say Tokyo, for a meeting and then to leave within the day. I don’t even stay one night. So I need to have very easy luggage with me, something that will work for my meetings and for comfortable rest on the plane.