PARIS — Louis Vuitton is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its signature Tambour watch with the appointment of its first dedicated brand ambassador for timepieces.
Bradley Cooper will make his debut with a campaign video directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Damien Chazelle highlighting the Tambour Twenty wristwatch, a collector’s edition issued for the anniversary. The American actor also appears in an accompanying print campaign photographed by Boo George.
It’s the first major initiative launched by Jean Arnault since arriving at the brand, the crown jewel of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, as director of marketing and product development for watches one year ago.
The youngest son of LVMH chairman and chief executive officer Bernard Arnault, he joined his four siblings at the family-controlled luxury goods giant.
“The choice of Bradley Cooper is a match made in heaven,” Jean Arnault told WWD. “It was the perfect way to mark this 20th anniversary, which is an extremely important moment for us, by showing the house is very serious in the field of watchmaking and wants to make a strong commitment to the category.”
Cooper is garnering buzz ahead of the release on Netflix next year of his second directorial effort, “Maestro,” a biopic of composer Leonard Bernstein, whom he also plays in the film.
“He’s an exceptionally talented and versatile actor, and in that sense, you can draw a parallel with the Tambour watch, which has also revealed a variety of facets since its launch in 2002, both traditional but also extremely contemporary,” Arnault said.
The “Journey Beyond Time” campaign also marks the first time the watchmaking division has worked with a high-profile director. Chazelle, whose film credits include “La La Land” and “Whiplash,” worked on a storyline about the passage from boyhood to manhood, which contrasts images of a young boy playing in nature with footage of Cooper walking around New York City.
“We always wanted a campaign that wasn’t just Bradley Cooper’s face set against the New York skyline. We wanted something deeper than that,” said Arnault, comparing the storyline to Vuitton’s progress to young adulthood in watchmaking. “The reason it works is thanks to the genuine connection between Bradley and Damien, and all the talent that flows from that.”
The campaign will break across Louis Vuitton social media channels and on louisvuitton.com on Thursday, followed by print insertions starting Sept. 14.
Issued in a limited edition of 200, the Tambour Twenty chronograph reprises the design of the first Tambour, which marked the industry with its thick, round case design. The brown dial nods to Vuitton’s packaging color at the time — a shade that’s rarely paired with a steel case in watchmaking, making it extra collectible.
There are some tweaks: the original 2002 design has been updated with the mention “Twenty” on the dial, and the movement, an El Primero caliber from LVMH stablemate Zenith, has been modified with a rose gold rotor. “It was essential for us to present this piece to show clients that we remain very faithful to our origins,” Arnault said.
Looking ahead, he wants to double down on innovation, capitalizing on Vuitton winning two prizes at the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève last year. The brand took away the Diver’s Watch Prize for the Tambour Street Diver and was awarded the Audacity Prize for the Tambour Carpe Diem, a watch with four complications featuring a bold skull design.
“We have learned from our successes and mistakes in the first 20 years, and now the industry recognizes us. We have won our spurs and we will keep making efforts to surpass ourselves going forward,” he said.
While Vuitton produces an “extremely limited” number of high-end watches each year, Arnault described the activity as the “main pillar of growth” for the business, which draws much of its expertise from Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini, the founders of La Fabrique du Temps, the high watchmaking workshop acquired by LVMH in 2011.
In addition, Vuitton is one of just a handful of watch brands to be awarded the prestigious Geneva Seal, a high accolade in the industry.
“We’ve managed to grow a strong community of collectors of Louis Vuitton watches that is both distinct but increasingly integrated into the community of traditional watch collectors. We want to invest in order to promote the Louis Vuitton brand image, particularly in high-end watchmaking, to show we’re capable of doing almost anything,” Arnault said.
“We’re lucky not to have 250 years of history in watchmaking, which allows us to have daring designs and a freedom of expression in high watchmaking that is quite unique,” he added.
Arnault declined to say how many timepieces Vuitton produces overall, beyond saying it was in the same ballpark as Zenith, and connected watches account for close to half its output. “There’s an enormous amount of know-how and work that goes into the conception and creation of a connected watch — more than three or four years per iteration,” he said.
The brand’s global watch production fell between 20 and 30 percent in 2020 and 2021 as the coronavirus pandemic forced the 100 employees at its manufacture in Meyrin, Switzerland, to work in staggered shifts. Arnault expects to return to pre-pandemic levels this year, and is angling for greater efficiencies to fuel growth.
“The watch industry tends to be very slow and to launch products over three, four years, or more. I think we have a lot of work to do to accelerate all these processes and to be able to bring creative ideas to market much more rapidly,” he said, noting that the year he spent at Tag Heuer working on his master’s thesis helped him understand the industrial challenges faced by watch brands.
Unlike its competitors, Vuitton sells its timepieces exclusively through its own network of stores, of which 260 carry watches.
“The trend is stable for us,” he said. “Collectors are obviously most interested in our high-end watchmaking, which has seen quite a big rise in demand, to the point where our production can’t keep pace, so we’re very satisfied and we’re absolutely not seeing any slowdown on that front.”
He believes the market for secondhand luxury watches, where Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet models are particularly prized, will continue its recent correction to return eventually to pre-pandemic values.
“There’s still another 30 to 40 percent to go before we return to those levels, but even if prices drop by 40 percent, I wouldn’t be worried at all about the future of watchmaking. We’re looking at two separate markets and the primary market continues to thrive, with seemingly endless waiting lists in stores,” he said.
While the Tambour is set to remain Vuitton’s main pillar, Arnault wants to develop other house models like the Escale and the Voyager.
“I don’t exclude the idea of suspending the Voyager in its present form to relaunch it or to make room for another aesthetic,” Arnault added. “I think it’s extremely interesting to show what we’re capable of doing, both in terms of the craftsmanship of the movement, as we already do, but also in terms of the craftsmanship of cases.”
In order to deepen its in-house expertise, the brand in December acquired Microedge, a supplier that specializes in high watchmaking components. And it has plans to launch a competition for aspiring watchmakers, along the lines of the LVMH Prize for Young Designers in fashion.
The inaugural edition, scheduled for the end of 2023, will reward a young watch brand with a cash prize and mentoring from La Fabrique du Temps and a group of industry experts.
“The big trend in the industry today is for independent brands that work on extremely technical and avant-garde watches. We want to make sure that endures and that it doesn’t become just another passing fad for watch collectors,” Arnault said.