Louis Vuitton maintains haute momentum with the Escale Cabinet of Wonders Louis Vuitton maintains haute momentum with the Escale Cabinet of Wonders

Louis Vuitton maintains haute momentum with the Escale Cabinet of Wonders

Buffy Acacia

In one of the boldest business moves we’ve seen from a brand, Louis Vuitton decimated its watch catalogue in favour of a new vision. It wasn’t exactly a rebranding so much as a repositioning, clearing out all of their lower-end models so that their haters would have no ammunition left. Time will tell if the public will ever forget their derogatory cries of ‘fashion brand,’ but for now, the Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders collection is proof of absolute dedication to haute luxury.

The dial

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Previously, the Louis Vuitton Escale name has been associated with an elaborate world timer called the Escale Time Zone. A mix of city names and colourful symbols were used to signify a life of travel, as the French word Escale means stopover in English. These new watches don’t take the travel theme so literally, instead basing their designs on a collection of Japanese sword guards once owned by Gaston-Louis Vuitton. No expense has been spared in the creation of the dials, encompassing many areas of artisanal expertise.

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Considering that 2024 has now welcomed the Year of the Dragon, the watch named Dragon’s Cloud is up first for examination. Each dial focuses on an animal in its natural habitat, even if that animal happens to be mythological. Of course, the dragon model is absolutely saturated with differing tones of gold, from the pink hues of the 18k case to the coppery vines that snake beneath the creature, then the warm yellow of Gaston-Louis Vuitton’s monogram, and finally the bright yellow of the dragon itself. All of these tones orchestrate a grand display of decadence befitting a symbol of this majesty, as its long body coils around the swirling, fluffy clouds.

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Rather than a traditional pearl, the orb that the dragon covets is the angular rendition of the GLV monogram that has been set in carnelian stone, also known as red chalcedony. Louis Vuitton has also been generous enough to name some of the artists who worked on these dials, and in this case, the inlaying of the gold into the hand-hammered dial—in a technique called damascening, was performed by Fanny Queloz. The dragon is hand-engraved and enamelled, the lower portion of its body decorated with one of LV’s Monogram Flower designs, and its eye is a 0.03ct ruby cabochon.

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Moving on to something much less fiery in its subject matter and colour palette, we have the Koi’s Garden. This dial practically drips with contrast and sparkle, using a backdrop of round shapes and differing textures to elevate the spinning fish. Two koi encircle the dial as if frozen mid-swim, chasing each other in a display of harmony and balance. There’s such a great sense of depth to the sculptures themselves, deepened also by the ripples that are engraved across the white gold dial. It’s a highly meditative scene, which should serve to make the time seem less important whenever you check your wrist.

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The fish are also made from white gold, which go through a time-consuming process to decorate. After the engraving is done, they’re oxidised by a kiln firing. Then, the surface oxide layer is removed with some polishing, leaving behind a darkened colour in the crevices. After that, blue lacquer is brushed on by miniature painters, giving them that slightly pearlescent sheen which almost makes them look like live koi. The bubbles and pebbles of the pond they inhabit are represented by mother of pearl and various colours of quartz, as well as some clusters of diamonds. Atop the GLV monogram is onyx, which is a black form of chalcedony.

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The last watch in the trio is probably my favourite and titled Snake’s Jungle. I may be a reptile lover, but it also happens to be the most lavish dial of the lot—mesmerising with its onslaught of blues and greens. A background of deeply-textured woods and leaves highlight the monogram as a centrepiece, arranging the serpent’s head almost as if it were a wolf howling at the moon. The mosaic-like composition of the snake is a step away from the realism of the koi and the dragon, heading into a more interpretive or impressionistic territory. Its two-dimensional design is granted depth solely from the height of the engraving, which has been carefully planned to give a bowl-like reservoir for champlevé enamel.

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The snake and its foreground leaves were sculpted by Eddy Jacquet in white gold, while the backdrop was rendered in marquetry from wood, straw, and parchment by Rose Saneuil. The enamel work was done by Vanessa Lecci, again barely disguising the subtle LV monogram flower emblems throughout its body. The stone used for this GLV monogram is not another form of chalcedony, but nephrite jade with a deep, even, green lustre.

The case

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All of these watches share a set of quite wearable dimensions, with a diameter of 40mm and a thickness of 12mm. They’re also water resistant to 50m, which is more than most people would expect from a watch with this much artistry. But, the cases aren’t just vehicles for the decorated dials. They have also engraved the cases, with all of them proudly wearing a Japanese wave motif on the case sides.

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The Snake’s Jungle model is the only one of the three to not have a perfectly smooth bezel, as the leaf engravings break the barrier between the case and the dial. The cases are all 18k gold, whether it be a rose gold-tone as with the Dragon’s Cloud or white with the other two. The silhouettes are relatively standard, with medium-length lugs seemingly screwed onto the sides of the case, and a hexagonal crown embedded with a stone to match the respective GLV monogram.

The movement

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Being a time-only, two-handed watch, the Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders watches are powered by the same calibre LFT023 as the new generation of Tambour. Granted, the movements have been given some extra decoration, echoing the wave motif engraved into the case. It has a 50-hour power reserve that’s kept wound by the automatic micro-rotor, which beats at the smooth rate of 4Hz despite no seconds hand to watch. Thankfully, the movement and its beating heart are open to view through a sapphire display caseback.

The strap

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Usually watches like these will have show-stealing dials and a case that is equally as beautiful, but so much attention is rarely given to the straps. As the dials took inspiration from Japanese sword guards or tsubas, the straps have been wrapped in the same manner as a Japanese sword handle, or tsuka. Rather than silk rope wrapped around the skin of a stingray, these straps are made from colour-matched calf leather for reliable comfort and softness. The buckles are also made from the same coloured gold as the cases, with the engraved wave motif.

The verdict

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When I heard that Louis Vuitton was redefining their watch collections, I had expected the new Tambour model to be their sole focus. It made sense that slow expansion upon that single watch would drive up interest, however, I’m very glad that they’re also putting more effort into their high-art watches. They’re definitely not for the masses, and considering that each of these watches is limited to 20 pieces, it will probably be a miracle to ever see one in person. However, it’s the watches like these that will continue to elevate Louis Vuitton’s position in the minds of watch enthusiasts who can actually afford their offerings.

The Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders pricing and availability

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The Louis Vuitton Escale Cabinet of Wonders watches will be produced in a limited edition of 20 pieces each, with pricing and availability on request. Price: on request

Brand Louis Vuitton
Model Escale Cabinet of Wonders Koi’s Garden, Snake’s Jungle, Dragon’s Cloud
Reference Number W3WG11
Case Dimensions 40mm (D) x 12.04mm (T)
Case Material White and yellow gold
Water Resistance 50 meters
Crystal(s) Sapphire front and back
Dial Hand engraving, marquetry, champlevé and paillonné enamel
Strap Braided leather
Movement Calibre LFT023m, Le Cercle des Horlogers and La Fabrique du temps, micro-rotor
Power Reserve 50 hours
Functions Hours, minutes
Availability Limited to 20 pieces per model
Price POA