It was way back in 1847 that Louis-François Cartier named his jewellery brand. Leaving modesty aside, he quite rightly called his Maison Cartier the “Jeweller of Kings and the King of Jewellers”, a title it has kept to this day. At the beginning of the 20th century, Louis Cartier, the founder’s grandson who was in charge of the Paris branch, realised that success could flow in many directions. He accepted a challenge from a friend, Albert Santos-Dumont, a pioneer in flying, who ordered a wrist watch from him. In 1904, he created the first model of a wristwatch, which was launched seven years later under the name Santos. It was followed by other watches - Tonneau, Tortue and Tank all of which are now modern icons.
A significant part of the production builds on the brand’s lengthy historical experience, with a rich archive from which to draw from. The reason why Cartier watches are so popular is not just the centuries-old watchmaking tradition, it is also the hidden genius in the timeless designs.
Cartier watches have maintained their popularity thanks to the innovative solutions that go to their core, especially as concerns the technology. The watchmakers found inspiration in the alluring table clocks – known as mystery clocks – which the brand produced from 1912 until the middle of the last century. These original production methods are cleverly interwoven into beautiful creations of high watchmaking.
Cartier is one of the few brands on the market that has more square watches in its portfolio than round watches. Nor does it baulk from ovals and highly original shapes. The design is so iconic that you immediately recognise the watch.
The first models from the 1910s and 1920s played a fundamental role in defining the brand. Today, they determine the sublime aesthetics of the Cartier watch. Typified by their black Roman numerals, white dials, blue hands and a blue cabochon in the crown, these elegant cues make it easy to recognise a Cartier watch, even from a distance. More modern variations have partially bent these rules, but, of course, the real icons, referencing the original pieces, can still be found in the collections.
Gender balanced collections
There are few watchmaking companies that offer a similar number of women’s and men’s models. However, Cartier has gone so far as to make its collections for the fairer sex even more varied that those for men.
The modern Ballon Bleu de Cartier watch has carved out a vital place in the world of women’s watches. Likewise, the rectangular classicism of the Tank and the square Panthère de Cartier will definitely not go out of fashion. Men prefer the Santos and Tank icons, those customers who prefer sports watches go for the Calibre de Cartier, the only collection that stands out from the brand’s DNA of pure elegance.
For a long time now Cartier’s unconventional watch complications and complex mechanisms have put it at the forefront of the major watch manufacturers. Haute horlogerie or high watchmaking is simply an inherent part of the brand.
Many of Cartier’s manufacturing processes are trade secrets and its unique mechanisms are patented. The brand’s skeleton movements, dials and cases make them masterpieces in the art of decorative carving. At the same time, the production boasts flying tourbillons, which literally levitate in the “vacuum” of the case and dial.
Jewellery making know-how
The jewellers, still one of the most popular jewellery houses in the world, has passed an ample piece of this craft on to the watches. The women’s watches are often studded with diamonds, and these eternal gems can be found in some of the men’s ranges too.
Cartier produces masterpieces, which we cannot classify elsewhere than in the category of high jewellery, i.e. haute joaillerie. It often concerns what at first sight is similar to a superbly decorated bracelet but has an intricately hidden dial. This is an exclusive watch, produced in limited series or even just as a single copy.
Watches of the famous
They have found adoration among the British royal family, Hollywood stars and the elite of Europe. Princesses Diana and Kate, as well as Madonna, Gary Cooper, Andy Warhol and Igor Stravinsky ... They all wore or wear them.
The Cartier watch has long been highly popular among celebrities. This is because they are inimitably stylish and look great on both casual wear and formal suits. Proud owners include the fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and former US First Lady Michelle Obama.
More about the brand...It was no coincidence that Louis Cartier was readily persuaded to create a wristwatch. A man of his class, who mixed with the cream of Parisian social life and its intelligentsia, had both the vision and a good sense of its potential success. The Santos watch was the first to change the perception of Cartier forever. It was followed by other models that were equally distinctive.
Design was always key; it played a major role during the production of the watches. It had to be pure in form and stylish at the same time. Cartier watches were worn by global celebrities, despite, or precisely because, they are simple, timelessly elegant and show status. They are the ideal companion for women in skirt suits and men in outfits. At the same time, they send a message to the world about the owner’s cultivated taste.
The brand’s historyLouis-François Cartier took over the jewellery workshop from his master Adolph Picard in 1847. Cartier’s son and grandchildren continued in this promising line of business and were able to develop it further. It was Louis Cartier, the founder’s grandson, who, although not a watchmaker, left his mark on the watchmaking world. He was the first to make a wristwatch, not just in France, it was the first of its kind in the world.
At the time the pocket watch reigned, the production of timepieces for the hand was quite unusual. They were more the domain of women who wore the watches like a bracelet. Louis Cartier was well acquainted with the designer Gustav Eiffel and the pilot Albert Santos-Dumont, he saw that the world was changing, moving forward. Therefore, he acknowledged the requirement to make a wristwatch that would withstand the vibrations of an aircraft’s cockpit and show the exact time. He built the watch, put it in a tough square case and then launched it in 1911.
The interwar period was the most productive for Maison Cartier. Highly interesting creative works were made, such as a pocket watch and a table clock with a mysterious time indicator. One was an ornate clock, which told the time by the movement of a tortoise, which replaced the hour hand. At other times it was a transparent glass clock, the hands of which seemed to levitate in space. The entire movement was invisible, or rather it was hidden in the stand.
The brand still draws on these wonderfully playful tricks when making its unique models of high watchmaking.
In the 1920s, the Santos and Tank square watches gained in popularity as did the barrel-shaped Tortue. The brand bought the movements in Switzerland from leading suppliers, such as LeCoultre.
In 1928, Cartier introduced its first one-button wrist chronograph, and in 1936, the asymmetrical Tank watch, which over the years morphed into the surrealistic Crash. The brand expanded. Jewellery, clocks and watches, as well as travel accessories were gaining immense popularity.
In the 1970s, the production of leather goods was added, and the 1980s were cloaked in the sweet scents of Cartier. The launch of the Ballon Bleu de Cartier collection in 2007, which continues to gain admirers among female clients, was a major milestone.
Until the beginning of the seventies, i.e. until the descendants of the Cartier family sold it, the brand had been purely family-based for many years.
In 1993, it played a major role in the Vendôme Luxury Group, which we now know as the Richemont Group, and became its flagship brand.
And this is still the case today, although the brand now has its own watch factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the heart of Swiss horology.