There is no small irony in showing up late to view a watch, especially a $350,000 one.
Yes, the Tambour Minute Repeater, a rarefied, customized timepiece from Louis Vuitton, costs as much as a condo in Toronto. Benoit Vuitton, great-great-great grandson of the brand's founding father, is its pedigreed pitchman. When we convened in a nondescript room in the firm's Paris headquarters recently, he didn't appear miffed by my tardiness, but he wasted little time before opening the coffer to reveal his pièce de résistance.
First impression: The Minute Repeater is a supremely attractive watch, boasting a substantial yet not gauche case (in this instance, it was rose gold) and a dial that shows off its intricate mechanisms under faintly smoky sapphire glass. Unveiled at the Basel Watch Fair last spring, it reads time musically thanks to a striking mechanism resembling a tiny gong. Hence its distinction as a "striking watch."
According to Vuitton, there are very few workshops skilled enough to make such watches. That's why the company acquired one of them, Fabrique de Temps of Geneva, this past July. This has allowed the luxury purveyor to enter into a new horological stratosphere.
"The idea was to create real watches, not accessories," Vuitton, 34, explains. "This is one of the best and hardest complications and now we can say Louis Vuitton is able to do these types of things."
As for the expense, Vuitton emphasizes the "emotion" inherent in the watch, which takes nearly a year to create and can be customized with Chinese characters and other designs. "An iPhone," he adds, "doesn't [hold such emotion]"
Ben Clymer, a New York-based watch expert and the executive editor of the online watch magazine Hodinkee, tends to agree, going as far as to call such timepieces financial boons as well as emotional ones.
"A watch in this category offers the chance to purchase the piece as both art and investment," he writes via e-mail, noting that rarity dictates value more than complexity, especially on the auction market.
For the deep-pocketed watch enthusiast, then, the Minute Repeater may prove a safer bet than any stock purchase, especially these days. Indeed, "that $300,000 investment could pay off quite well," Clymer says.
Editor's note: In the original version of this article, the Tambour Minute Repeater was referred to incorrectly as a tourbillon watch. This version has been corrected.