The Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie event, which took place in mid-January, is the watch industry’s six-star occasion. Held in Geneva each year, the huge Palexpo expo complex becomes a lavish mall of no expense spared booths, each one fitted out in keeping with the brand’s identity
In the second of our three features from SIHH 2018, we take a look at what we can expect from Cartier this year; a marque that, for more than one hundred and seventy years, has been adored by royalty and icons of the silver screen, and today still oozes that same classic allure which makes it one of the most recognisable and in-demand creators of luxury goods in the world.
While boasting such a high-class clientele guaranteed exclusivity for its exotic jewellery and watches, the Cartier name remained well out of the reach of most, and it was really only in the 1970s when it began experimenting with stainless steel and two-tone models that the Cartier for the modern age was born. Of course, still luxurious and always symbolic of reserve and sophistication, and of course still available in precious metals and gemstones, its collections found a new dynamic while still possessing that esoteric quality of timeless chic.
Although there have been recent exceptions to the rule, an all-new collection from Cartier is a fairly rare occasion, as its portfolio is largely comprised of legendary collections whose origins are to be found well back in the brand’s history. More often we see its existing creations evolve with subtle refinements which ensure that it’s always in touch with changing times and tastes, although always unmistakably Cartier, and always signed off with the famous cabochon set crown. In recent years, the most notable point about la Maison’s watch collection has been the swing towards developing and implementing its own in-house mechanical watch movements, which not only carries a lot of prestige as a watch brand but also allows it to be more independent and self-contained.
In the splendour of the Cartier SIHH 2018 showroom, and amid the extraordinary high jewellery of the Libre collection, the slinky feline features of Cartier’s adopted Big Cat, or maybe a colourful hand painted dial of straw marquetry, with of course lashings of diamonds and precious stones, for the mere mortal it’s almost surreal being surrounded by so much uncompromised, overt luxury wherever the eye comes to rest.
There was certainly a lot to take in, including the welcome return of an icon (which never really went away), a masterpiece of feline mystique, and eye-deceiving horologic trickery the standouts among this year’s novelties.
One of its best-known collections is the Cartier Santos; one of the very first men’s wristwatches, and named after the daring Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont. Perplexed by the difficulty in manoeuvring his pocket watch whilst trying to keep his primitive flying machines airborne as he flew into the history books, Santos-Dumont wondered aloud to his friend Louis Cartier how he could get around this nagging problem. The latter got to thinking, and so in 1904, what would become a truly groundbreaking classic was conceived.
If ‘fortieth anniversary’ and 2018 don’t quite tie in with a watch first made in the early 1900s, it’s because it was the reimagined 1978 iteration which would define the modern Santos, when its signature features such as the use of screws as a feature on the bezel plate and bracelet first appeared. Since then it has been revised, even renamed (as the Santos-Dumont, Santos Galbée and XL), but over the past couple of years, there has not been anything new in the collection. Now we know why.
And so, in 2018 an all-new Santos is the most significant news from Cartier’s SIHH, and it’s sure to be a huge success. With its distinctive square case profile and neatly rounded angles, the large perfectly appointed dials with signature Roman numerals, it’s an even more refined piece than its forty year old predecessor, although the design essentials, which made this one of the most recognisable and popular luxury watches of a generation, have remained faithfully intact.
Equipped with in-house self-winding mechanical movements it will be available in two sizes; a midsize (at 35.1 x 41.9mm), and large (39.8 x 47.5mm) with a choice of 18Kt pink or yellow gold, all steel, or classic two-tone steel and gold. Featuring a new quick-change system, switching between bracelet or strap is simple to do, making this legend even more versatile.
Most striking of all is the Santos Skeleton, a spectacular piece, with stripped back openworked dial based around the roman numerals, and offering a technical three dimensional showcase of Cartier’s contemporary in-house hand winding movement.
On the subject of the spectacular, the Cartier Révelation d’Une Panthère is a truly exotic and quintessentially feminine piece. With a flourish of diamonds surrounding a clear liquid filled dial, inside of which hundreds of minuscule gold beads cascade through an invisible glass stencil, above a black or emerald green background, the face of the big cat, which has been an emblem of the brand since the 1920s, appears and disappears with each movement of the wrist. The constant ‘now you see me, now you don’t’ animation is mesmerising and irresistible in what is a unique and utterly captivating concept.
Somewhat more restrained, yet still a piece with considerable presence, another enduring Cartier hallmark is the Tank collection, which celebrated one hundred years in 2016. Angular, formal and timeless, the Tank has grown to become a comprehensive range of watches of varying sizes and styles. With its long and slender rectangular shape now available in pink gold, yellow gold or platinum, the elegant Cartier Tank Cintrée makes its return to the stable proper after a long absence. In a world of round executive watches, Cintrée stands out with authority in any boardroom or society occasion. Effortlessly stylish and inherently classy, its 47.3 x 23.4mm case is curved to hug the wrist for perfect comfort, and inside beats a hand winding calibre.
In one of those rare occasions when something completely new does come along, the brand new Drive de Cartier collection made its debut in 2017, and it’s quickly become a hot favourite among the marque’s fans and collectors. It’s the only (almost) round men’s watch in the portfolio, and with subtle and softened angles blending beautifully with flowing contours, and a gloriously large dial which seems almost disproportionate to the 39mm case, it’s a really handsome piece with executive presence.
Strengthening this new collection, at not much thicker than a couple of coins, the Drive de Cartier Extra Flat is now available in a choice of white or yellow gold with silver dials. These stunning time-only pieces feature a superb ultra slim hand winding movement in a case of just 6.6mm tall.
Finally, we all know that everybody loves a good mystery, and so do Cartier. With its golden sun and moon deceptively suspended on a clear sapphire disc the fabulous Rotonde de Cartier Mysterious Day/Night displays the time with its dial split in two halves for the retrograde minutes at the bottom, and the rotating hour pointers, with the moon emerging to replace the sun as the day ends and night begins in a twenty-four hour cycle.
On saying our goodbyes, it’s time for a coffee outside on the mall and a few minutes of reflection. What Cartier does is quite unlike any other. In fact, it is its own fashion language, and across its spectrum of exquisite collections, as well as the timeless chic which is intrinsic throughout, there is also still the real and inimitable sense of joie de vivre which has made it so beloved by its devotées for so long.
– Written by Johnny McElheron