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Cartier is refreshing its classic timepieces for a new generation

After a few years of technical innovations, Cartier is back to focusing on aesthetically-led watches.

It might be due to a certain caution about how singling out a certain watch might affect the sales of other models: Most of the time, it’s a futile task for a watch journalist to get an industry honcho to name a favourite from his or her brand’s offerings. Which is why Cartier’s image, style and heritage director Pierre Rainero feels like a breath of fresh air when he immediately answers the question during an interview with The Peak at the Salon Internationale de la Haute Horlogerie 2019.

“The Tonneau Skeleton Dual Time,” says the smartly dressed Frenchman, without hesitation. “I love it.” This curved, barrel-shaped timepiece – which includes the skeletonised dual time zone model that Rainero mentions – is one of the key timepieces marking Cartier’s renewed focus on “traditional Cartier shapes” in watchmaking.

The Tonneau belongs to one of two key collections that are central to the brand’s heritage- and design-focused approach this year: Cartier Prive, and Cartier Libre. Echoing the Collection Privee Cartier Paris (CPCP) high-end mechanical watches that were produced for a decade from 1998, Cartier Prive is – according to the brand – “a select curation for collectors and connoisseurs… that celebrates the different shapes of men’s watches through the maison’s iconic models”. Hence the reintroduction of the Tonneau, which was the maison’s first serially produced watch in 1906.

(Related: Object of Desire: Panthere de Cartier Watch)

The Cartier Libre collection, on the other hand, might be seen as Cartier Prive’s more outrageous, sparklier counterpart. Launched last year, the series features creative new takes on classic Cartier women’s timepieces. The 2019 Cartier Libre collection includes updated versions of the oval-shaped Baignoire in the form of the Baignoire Allongee jewellery timepieces – elongated and studded with diamonds, and framed by gemstones mounted all around the bezel. Cartier Libre’s reinterpretations, however, aren’t limited to a literal reimagining of traditional designs. Another novelty within the series is the Diagonale, a dress watch featuring plenty of angles and criss-crossing lines – reflecting the maison’s heritage of strong design lines, as well as its bold use of colour.

Cartier might be refocusing the spotlight on design and heritage – long its key strengths – and moving away from the complex technical horology it was offering a few years ago under its renowned head of movement creation, Carole Forestier-Kasapi. (That was exciting to serious watch enthusiasts, but perhaps not the most commercially sound strategy for the house.) This does not mean, however, that the house will leave technical innovations by the wayside – as long as they complement planned designs.

(Related: Vintage Cartier Tank collector and expert Harry Fane is promiscuous when it comes to the iconic timepiece)

Says Rainero: “We want to put the complications at the service of the aesthetics. The Tonneau is a good example – the dual time zone movement is a complicated one, especially since it was designed to fill the curved shape of its case. Even the skeletonisation of the movement, which is also a complicated process, is a way of making the mechanism more distinctive and aesthetically coherent for Cartier.”

  • Cartier watches


    Immersed in history

    Aside from the two design-led pillars, Cartier Libre and Cartier Prive, the brand launched several refreshed versions of the Baignoire this year. The model’s name literally means “bathtub” in French, a reference to its oval, curved case shape. While the original Baignoire collection was first launched in 1958, this family has its roots in an oval watch designed by the brand’s designers in the 1910s. The watch shown here is a quartz-powered small model in yellow gold, and is also available in a diamond-set white gold variant.

(Related: The new Clash de Cartier jewellery collection is a study in chic contrasts)