EXCLUSIVE: Louis Vuitton Continues Watch Repositioning With New Escale Design

PARIS — A year after radically cutting back on its watch references, Louis Vuitton is reintroducing its 10-year-old Escale line with a new look.

A 39-millimeter watch, the redesigned timepiece is a three-hand time-only model that takes its cues from the brand’s very first bestseller, the trunk.

References to its elements are distilled throughout a design that was three years in the making.

Satin-brushed lugs are modeled after the brass brackets and corners that reinforce trunks. The crown is octagonal and domed, like trunk rivets. The Escale’s hands are subtly shaped like tapered needles, nodding to leather-working, and each watch comes with a contrasting serial plate at the back, like the one in the historic luggage.

Even the cognac hue of one leather bracelet — there are 12 color options, another new development for the brand — is inspired by the natural leather dubbed Nomade that takes a tell-tale patina over time and use.

The brand’s famous canvas was reinterpreted as a finely grained texture on the dial of the two rose-gold versions. There are also two platinum versions, one featuring a meteorite dial, and the other with an onyx center dial set on its bezel and case-sides with 161 baguette-cut diamonds for a total of 5.65 carats.

For all that, the result wears its inspiration lightly, with a surprisingly streamlined aesthetic, particularly compared to its métiers d’art brethren released earlier in the year.

“I did not want a gimmick watch,” said Louis Vuitton director of watches Jean Arnault. “It wasn’t about replicating the trunk for the sake of it, every element had to be functional.”

The four models in the new Louis Vuitton Escale collection.

The four models in the new Louis Vuitton Escale collection.


Take the indices on the dial. In addition to nodding to the brass reinforcement plates on trunks, they hold the two-part dial together.

“Often, in dress watches, there’s a lot of empty space, there isn’t much [decoration]. We wanted something dressy and more sophisticated in the details,” he continued.

As a design, a three-hand watch was the ideal challenge to cement the new era in the luxury brand’s watchmaking, in his opinion.

Early on, there had been suggestions that GMT complications would fit the brand’s travel heritage. “A travel watch with a GMT or a World Time is certainly elegant, romantic. But does it have to be the foundation of a collection? I am not sure,” he said.

“I believe an everyday watch is the core of a travel watch today,” he continued.

Asked if this firm move into dress watch territory was a step into the growing conversations around female watch consumers, Arnault said he was “intimately convinced that it’s a boundary that no longer exists, even more so in watchmaking than other segments.”

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A rose gold Escale.

He added that given the still-recent change in strategy for Louis Vuitton’s watchmaking division, there was no point in setting customer segmentation yet. “We don’t know how to calculate this today as we are changing territory,” he said. “So we are busy making the best product possible and seeing who will appreciate [them], before adjusting the trajectory in years to come.”

With a $26,400 price point for the rose gold version, the new Escale sits alongside competitors in the dress watch space such as Vacheron Constantin’s Patrimony or Patek Philippe’s Golden Ellipse. But this isn’t something Arnault is contemplating at length.

Reiterating that Louis Vuitton had no intention of positioning itself as a pure watchmaking brand, he continued: “[Our goal] is ensuring this timekeeping accessory is the most beautiful possible and that any client that comes to Vuitton can say, without having to look into the details, that Vuitton’s watchmaking is of outstanding quality.”

Hence the use of the LFT023 caliber, a chronometer-certified self-winding mechanical movement with a microrotor that already powers the Tambour introduced last year.

There are other details that lean in that direction, such as the slight curve the seconds hand was given, to ensure a precise reading. As a cascading effect, preserving the 50-hour power reserve with the new hand meant a change in material — and a barely perceptible variation in color — as it had to be made from titanium.

“Even if we were to make only half the watches we should, half the turnover we should, it’s important for me to never deviate in terms of quality,” he continued. “Ensure that the product is flawless, a movement functioning perfectly according to chronometric standards and certification — and a five-year warranty.”

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The surface of the dial is inspired by the texture of Louis Vuitton’s canvas.

Having the watches made by the same craftsperson from end-to-end adds further constraint to production capabilities, although the watchmaking executive remained unfazed.

“Our message was quite public with Tambour. We have a limited production capacity with dedicated craftspeople and we aren’t going to go higher,” he said. “And that figure is going to go down as we add new collections so the production of Tambour [designs] will go down to leave space for Escale.”

Rather than be drawn into discussing how many watches were produced or sold so far, Arnault said a better yardstick was the growing interest from clients only a year into the repositioning.

“Being able to have this kind of enthusiasm from collectors who for the most part have all the watches in the market and wouldn’t have ever imagined themselves buying a Vuitton [quartz] watch 18 months ago is very positive,” he said.

In the same vein as Tambour, the new Escale won’t be seeing new releases at a fast clip. “I think we need to install these collections for a few years, or even decades, before changing something,” Arnault said.

“It was a bit [of a] challenge but we are happy that it has worked well so far,” he added. “That said, success is something we will be measuring in 10 years, not right now.”

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