Paying tribute to the Sichuan Opera’s Bian Lian, the virtuoso decoration of this specific watch presents a traditional mask that comes to life and changes expression on demand. An artistic performance driven by a virtuoso movement entirely conceived, developed, and assembled by La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton. After the Tambour Carpe Diem, which won the Audacity Prize at the Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie de Genève in 2021, Louis Vuitton has left Europe and its expressive Vanitas and embarked on a new journey in China, the land of Bian Lian. This “art of changing masks” characteristic of the Sichuan Opera is a major source of inspiration for the Tambour Opera Automata watch.
In the same vein as the Carpe Diem figure that changed expression on demand, the Tambour Opera Automata highlights a remarkable discipline requiring unwavering dexterity. During the opera, the performers can put on up to twenty different masks in a fraction of a second, revealing their wide range of expressions. Each has their own technique for making these painted silk figures appear and disappear with a quick hand gesture or a graceful fanning motion.
By choosing to celebrate the Sichuan Opera today, La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton is taking its mastery of contemporary fine watchmaking to the next level. Indeed, this timepiece, which is the subject of several patents, took over two years to develop. As with the Tambour Carpe Diem, the time is only displayed on the dial—by means of a jumping hour and a retrograde minute mechanism—by activating the automaton. This calibre LV 525, totalling 426 components, has a power reserve of 100 hours.
As for the automaton mechanism, its five animations create a unique and unforgettable 16-second watchmaking spectacle, driven by this exceptional calibre with jumping hours and retrograde minutes. When the latch is pushed, the engraved pink gold dragon’s head rises to reveal the jumping hours inscribed on the forehead of the cloisonné enamel Bian Lian, while its tail indicates the retrograde minutes.
The mask’s expression changes dramatically—its eyebrows frown, its eyelid closes over its left eye, and the pupil of its right eye retracts to reveal a pointed Monogram flower. Going from joy to sadness through the movement of its chin, the Bian Lian mask expresses a wide range of emotions. The beauty of the dial and the lively rhythm of this miniature theatre leave the viewer spellbound.
To root this Tambour Opera Automata in the 21st century, Louis Vuitton has combined traditional Chinese symbols with the brand’s emblematic design elements, such as the canvas pattern and the Monogram flowers enamelled on the dial. The fan by its side is a sign of wisdom and authority. As for the clouds, they symbolise good luck, and the gourd in the shape of a calabash is believed to protect people from evil spirits.
As an ultimate refinement, the Asian unlucky number 4 in the time display is replaced by a four-petalled Monogram flower. Crafted in white, red and black cloisonné enamel separated with white gold threads, the mask owes its flawless workmanship to the master enameller Anita Porchet. The fan is given remarkable depth through the champlevé enamel technique, which involves removing some material from the surface in order to deposit colour pigments.
Crafted over a period of nearly two weeks by the famous Swiss engraver Dick Steenman, the details engraved in the precious metal give the Tambour Opera Automata an unparalleled level of relief. The pink-gold dragon displays its expressive character in the smallest of details (piercing ruby eyes, engraved and sandblasted scales, etc.). So much so that it appears to literally leap out of the Bian Lian’s mask to reveal, open-mouthed, the time display.
The push button of the automaton depicting a dragon’s head, as well as the winding crown and adorned with a champlevé enamel fan, are entirely hand-made. Finally, pushing sophistication and technicality to the extreme, Louis Vuitton has reproduced the shape of the Chinese mask on the back of the movement, contrasting a shot-blasted finish with a perfect mirror polish, without the slightest flaw.