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The LOUIS XVI La Vauguyon Damascus Steel is a chronograph of a different kind. The centerpiece is the case with its unusual surface structure. Blue blood does not pulsate in it, but an automatic movement does. Let’s see if LOUIS XVI can gain a foothold in this segment as well.
A little history lesson
Does the term La Vauguyon mean anything to you? Not to mention that the chronograph in this watch review is called that. No? I hadn’t heard of it before either, which may be because my history lessons were a few years behind. The Swiss watch manufacturer LOUIS XVI has recently released a fairly new collection with this name. Representatives of this series are kept quite simple in design (for LOUIS XVI standards). You could almost speak of a certain austerity that runs through the lines of the models. And this is no coincidence.
Paul Francois de Quelen de la Vauguyon was governor of the French city of Cognac. The nobleman also maintained excellent contacts with the royal family and was responsible for the education of the heir to the throne (dauphin) at court as a so-called menin. Here he is said to have displayed a certain rigor and discipline. Heir to the throne in the mid-18th century was none other than Louis XVI, or Louis XVI in French.
The watch brand that chose the last king before the French Revolution as its namesake shares the monarch’s enthusiasm for watchmaking. Unlike the majority of established Swiss brands, LOUIS XVI is not much given to minimalism and functionality. They are more interested in attention to detail and exclusive designs. The manufacturer doesn’t skimp on golden hues and glittering elements either. But do not misunderstand: LOUIS XVI does not specialize in retro timepieces that revive a style of a bygone era. All timepieces are new designs and not homage watches.
LOUIS XVI reaches for the stars
Unlike less polarizing brands, watch fans can be primarily put into two camps when asked their opinion regarding LOUIS XVI’s design language. Some love it, others can’t do much with it. I have to admit that the LOUIS XVI Palais Royale also overwhelmed me a bit at the beginning. In any case, you have to approach the flashy watch brand with an open mind. Then you learn to appreciate and love the quirks of the watches. Thus, I found only one criticism of the Palais Royale: its 5030.D quartz movement from Ronda. There is nothing to say against quartz watches. However, since King Louis XVI loved mechanical watches and no one would have thought battery-powered watches possible at the time, a mechanical movement simply belongs in a LOUIS XVI watch, in my opinion.
The two La Vauguyon chronographs have such a mechanical movement. In addition, they stand out because of their appearance, which bears the royal signature of LOUIS XVI, but still looks quite different than, for example, the Palais Royale. Especially those who have so far given the brand a wide berth might like the chronographs – a conciliatory ending? In any case, the quality has to be right. Because compared to the three-hand watches, the models, which are limited to 1000 pieces each, come with a price premium of 1000 euros! Whether this is worth the money and what other special features La Vauguyon has to offer, you can read in the following.
It is important to briefly explain the model range. La Vauguyon comprises five references as of February 2023. What I find most interesting are the two chronographs, which differ in their choice of case material. Forged carbon and Damascus steel both captivate with their surface textures, which stand out with unique structures. More on that later, though. My test watch is the reference 1201 in the Damascus steel variant. Apart from the material, the dissimilar twins are very similar.
The LOUIS XVI La Vauguyon Damascus steel on the wrist
Although both timepieces are chronographs, the watches are compactly sized with a diameter of 41 millimeters. The size reminds me of historical wristwatches, which were usually smaller in the past. However, if you like it as practical as possible in everyday life, it’s best to go for the Forged Carbon. The lightweight construction pays off. Compared to my Damascus Steel (150 grams), the sister model weighs a full 35 grams less.
The LOUIS XVI La Vauguyon Damascus Steel looks technical on the wrist and almost futuristic due to the parabolic structures, which are reminiscent of wood. Its weather-resistant rubber strap also emphasizes the sporty character and makes La Vauguyon a reliable companion for varied everyday life.
The jewel of La Vauguyon
It is not simple stainless steel that is used here. Known primarily in the industry as Damascus steel, it consists of different layers of steel that form the characteristic structure. In Europe, welded composite steel has been used for 2000 years. Today it is mostly used for aesthetic reasons, primarily for utility items such as knives. These benefit from its properties such as flexibility and edge retention. In recent years, more and more watch manufacturers have also discovered the steel for themselves.
The Damascus steel used here is made from two different types of stainless steel. A characteristic pattern is created by the manufacturing process. The stainless steels are laid on top of each other, then fire-welded, forged and finally folded. In my opinion, the most important thing is the perfect implementation, which LOUIS XVI has clearly succeeded in doing here. On the part of the manufacturer, individuality is emphasized. LOUIS XVI is right about that. Each of the 1000 pieces differs slightly from the others in its surface grain. So you wear a unique piece on your wrist.
Further details of the case
Thanks to the notches, the bezel, which looks like a large cogwheel, can be operated optimally. The angular feature is the central distinguishing feature of the La Vauguyon collection. Sapphire crystal protects the dial and prevents annoying micro-scratches, provided you treat your chronograph well. Personally, I also like the pushers, which fit nicely into the angular design and are hardly noticeable.
Overall, the case stands out pleasantly due to its moderate appearance. Only the six-screw caseback is reminiscent of the ostentatious design language of LOUIS XVI. The three-dimensional crown in the center of the back has its charm and does not look out of place. La Vauguyon is water resistant up to a pressure of 5 bar. That’s easily enough for splashes of water or a few laps in the pool, but that’s about as far as it goes.
Mechanical power inside
The LOUIS XVI La Vauguyon Damascus Steel is powered by a Swiss SW500 automatic movement from Sellita. The SW500 is known for its robustness and is the epitome of a classic chronograph movement. It features 25 jewels, a shock protection system, as well as Glucydur balance and fine adjustment. In the basic version, the caliber has a power reserve of 48 hours. In everyday use, the SW500 covers the typical chronograph functions: Small seconds, 30-minute time and 12-hour time. At 4 o’clock, a date window has been set into the dial.
The totalizers with black background stand out from the dial with Damascus steel structure. Accordingly, the readability is good. Swiss Superluminova luminous material makes the hands and numerals glow in the dark.
My conclusion about the LOUIS XVI La Vauguyon Damascus Steel
Since I already know a chronograph of the Swiss brand with the Palais Royale, I was curious if and how much the approach to the LOUIS XVI La Vauguyon has changed. However, I would not have thought that La Vauguyon is so different. Mainly, the differences revolve around the design, which turns out edgy, technical, and almost futuristic. The gray grain, along with the bezel, is the most striking feature of this chronograph. Thus, I would recommend this watch even or especially to people who otherwise have little left for the regal design language of the Swiss manufacturer. You might like this chronograph!
The second aspect concerns the movement. A Sellita SW500 does justice to the king’s love of mechanical movements. The caliber delivers solid performance on the test bench.
Both as Damascus steel and in the Forged Carbon variant, La Vauguyon costs 1.540,00 euros. The chronograph meets the premium performance “required” for this. With an international warranty of 5 years, this quality claim is proven. All important links to the watch and LOUIS XVI can be found below.