Louis Vuitton’s Tambour Opera Automata

Louis Vuitton continues its journey into the exclusive world of fine watchmaking with automata pieces with the Tambour Opera Automata, a tribute to Bian Lian, the art of face-changing of the Sichuan Opera. The virtuoso decor of this specific timepiece features a traditional mask that comes to life and changes expression on demand. Featuring a 16-second artistic performance, the dragon’s head rises to reveal the jumping hours while its tail indicates the retrograde minutes on the fan.


Having already produced several bespoke watches with automata, Louis Vuitton embarked on multi-year developments of one-of-a-kind models that would bring the automata jacquemart concept to a new dimension. Originally created to strike the hours on church bell towers, jacquemarts then became decorative elements when miniaturized on timepieces. The Maison chose to return the jacquemart’s original automaton function of telling time but using its own way.


The distinctive “tambour” case – “drum” in French – has been a mainstay of the company’s watchmaking since its initial 2002 foray into luxury horology. Its quirky lug integration and voluptuous volume retain the bold shape of the original models.


The dragon imagery on the dial and the automaton charging button are engraved by Dick Steenman of Geneva studio Art & D, and no two dials will be identical. The red dragon eyes are composed of rubies and the dragon has the distinctive five-fingered claw of the Chinese imperial dragon.

The black, white and red gloss surfaces are fired enamel, executed in the studio of enameling master Anita Porchet, with elements of the bian lian opera mask involving the evacuation and enamel-filling of hollows known as “champlevé.” Translucent red enamel is employed over metal engraving – “flinqué” enamel – to create the image of the fan which facilitates mask-changing during operatic performances. The winding and setting crown incorporates the red flinqué fan in miniature alongside a set ruby.


The caseback sits beneath a large sapphire, and finishing techniques include rose gold gilding on bridges blazoned with deep Côtes de Genève stripes, mirrored bevels executed by hand, satin grained wheels, screws with black polished heads and chamfered slots, and a rhodium-plated base plate.

See also: Zheng Lu’s First UK Exhibition at HOFA


“We wanted the Tambour Opera Automata to reflect the striking aesthetics and expressive movements of bian lian,” says Michel Navas, master watchmaker and co-founder of Genève-based la Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton, which developed and assembled the timepiece. “This extremely challenging art remains a secret, just as automation mechanisms require perfect knowledge of traditional watchmaking skills.”

Around 15 of the watches will be made at a price of €520,000.

(All images courtesy Louis Vuitton)


  • LV 525 Calibre: mechanical movement with manual winding developed and assembled by La Fabrique du Temps Louis Vuitton
  • Functions: Automata mechanism featuring 5 animations, jumping hours, retrograde minutes, power reserve indicator
  • 426 components
  • 100 hours of power reserve
  • 21,600 oscillations per hour
  • 50 jewels


  • 18K pink gold case and horns
  • 18K pink gold hand-carved crown and push-piece, push-piece set with 2 rubies and crown set with 1 ruby
  • 46.8 mm diameter
  • 14.4 mm thickness
  • Domed anti-reflection sapphire crystal
  • Water-resistant to 30 m


  • Enamel and miniature hand-painting by Anita Porchet (dial, mask & fans)
  • Hand engravings by Dick Steenman (dragon & calabash gourd)
  • Calabash gourd made of curved glass
  • Dial set with cabochon-cut rubies


  • Black alligator strap


  • 18K pink gold double folding buckle


  • 6 cabochon-cut rubies for ~0.06 carat


Unique in its broad international coverage of both arts and cultural events, Arts & Collections covers fine art from antiquity to modern times, auction records, a special sale preview by Sotheby’s, as well as market trends that inform collectors of the world’s finest items.

© 2024 Arts & Collections - All Rights Reserved