November 18, 2017
by Ariel Adams
“All black!” Each time I see or hear the phrase, I imagine Jean-Claude Biver loudly proclaiming it with wide eyes as his clenched fist slams on the nearest table, emotively. Even though Louis Vuitton isn’t controlled by Mr. Biver, the man is the Head of Watchmaking at LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy). Clearly, he has had some influence. The Louis Vuitton Tambour All Black Petite Second and Tambour All Black Chronographe are the first “all-black” colored Louis Vuitton timepieces. Jean-Claude Biver didn’t necessarily invent the concept of a watch that was all black in color, but he certainly helped popularize it with the Hublot Big Bang All Black.
Since then, pretty much all the brands at LVMH have all-black models, including Hublot, TAG Heuer, Zenith, Bulgari, and not Louis Vuitton. It only took them 15 years. Louis Vuitton as a serious watchmaker began in 2002, and their very first case was the Tambour (“drum,” but I like to call it the “dog bowl”). I own one of the early Louis Vuitton Tambour Dive watches and I absolutely love it. Even though pretty much everything about the Tambour has changed since the first models came out, the case shape (though not always the size) has blissfully remained in the Louis Vuitton watch collection.
This particular Tambour All Black Petite Seconde watch comes in a smaller Tambour case than I am used to, which is 41.5mm wide. Note that with a Tambour, they always wear small for two reasons. First is because the lugs are relatively stubby and not particularly large (though they are cool looking). Second is because the case tapers and thus the bezel is narrower than the base of the case. My 44mm wide Tambour doesn’t wear like a 44mm wide watch, and this 41.5mm wide Tambour certainly feels “medium” in size. Not a bad thing, but it is something to consider if you like wearing a 39-40mm wide watch normally and would like something that feels the same.
If you want a larger case wearing experience, the Tambour All Black Chronographe comes in a 46mm wide case (that does indeed feel a lot larger). For me, the ideal case size of a Tambour remains 44mm wide. The matte black finish of the All Black’s steel case is well done, and applied using a PVD application process. The strap buckle is DLC-coated black, which is probably a good thing since it offers more wear-resistance and buckles tend to get the bulk of wear and tear on a timepiece.
The Tambour case is water-resistant to 100m and has a screw-down crown. Over the dial is a flat AR-coated sapphire crystal. A welcome new feature to the Tambour case is Louis Vuitton’s patented quick release system for the strap. If you are the type of customer who loves on-brand accessories, then you will appreciate the ability to easily swap out your strap. The system is proprietary, meaning that you can only use other Louis Vuitton straps (of the right size). But given that this is Louis Vuitton, you can count on a selection of fun and fashionable (and expensive) options. I first noticed this new strap changing system on the Louis Vuitton Tambour Horizon Smartwatch (debut here).
Louis Vuitton watches are among the better kept secrets for serious watch lovers, because they make some truly excellent, modern, and complicated stuff that combines design and art. With that said, Louis Vuitton watches range from a few thousand dollars to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. So it is important to position each piece accordingly. The brand’s bread and butter for watch sales aren’t occasional high-end enthusiasts with money to burn, but rather younger fashionistas who are drawn to the lifestyle and aesthetic of the Parisian brand.
Louis Vuitton is aiming for that audience with the Tambour All Black Petite Seconde – meant as a modest men’s size or even women’s size timepiece with a macho all-black personality. The dial evokes the more contemporary design aesthetic of many Tambour watches that seeks to be edgy (with sharp lines) and bold (with that large Louis Vuitton “V” in the middle). A younger me loves the look of the dial the most, but the today me wishes the dial was just a bit more legible. Why exactly did they need to skeletonize the hour and minute hands?
It isn’t as common as I’d like to find modern-looking watches with subsidiary seconds dials over 6 o’clock. It would have looked even better if the date indicator window was integrated into the subsidiary seconds dial, so that the entire dial was totally symmetrical. It isn’t a big deal, but I do think that if Louis Vuitton refined this dial concept a bit more, they would be on to a potential modern design classic.
Inside the Tambour All Black Petite Seconde is a base Swiss ETA movement, an ETA 2895 automatic, I believe. It is a 4Hz high grade movement with 42 hours of power reserve. The strap that comes with the watch is an attractive matte black alligator, and Louis Vuitton will sell you an assortment of other straps if you ask. I bet a glossy yellow alligator strap with black stitching would be good. Price for the Louis Vuitton Tambour All Black Petite Seconde watch is $5,195 USD. louisvuitton.com