Cartier has always generated mixed emotions in the world of watches. Some see it as a jeweller with limited horological credentials, whilst others stand by the power and longevity of their designs. Throughout its hundred-year history of creating wristwatches, the French jeweller has ebbed and flowed in its commitment to the timepiece. Throughout the early 20th century, Cartier watches were true objects of craftsmanship and refinement, inside and out. Later, as the brand went mass-market, volume seems to have taken precedence over quality.

 

On the agenda 

Before the Collection Privée Cartier Paris | The core principles | The key models - The Tank Cintrée - The Tank à Guichets - The Monopoussoirs - The Tank Chinoise - The Tank Asymétrique - The Tank à Vis - The TortueParting Thoughts

 

Cartier CPCP Tortue Monopoussoir with blue printing on dial In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

The Tortue Monopoussoir with blued accents on the dial, one of the more contemporary designs from the CPCP period.

 

Then came Collection Privée Cartier Paris, or CPCP for short. After years of building a reputation for quartz-powered, ladies’ watches, Cartier went back to their core principles, with a renewed focus on design and mechanics. From 1998 to 2008, they revisited their archives, bringing-back historic designs that had lain dormant for years, from the Cintrée, to the Tank Chinoise. Following a long period of disregard in the wake of the Quartz Crisis, consumers were beginning to appreciate mechanical timepieces once more. Cartier had taken notice and integrated manually-wound calibres across its Collection Privée range, working closely with specialised manufacturers such as Piaget, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and even Renaud & Papi.

Whilst vintage Cartier watches from the early 20th century have long been sought-after by a small, dedicated group of collectors, the pieces from the Collection Privée era have received a renewed focus as of late. In order to better understand why they came to be, how they were first received and what lies behind them, we thought we’d take a closer look at the story of the Collection Privée Cartier Paris.

 

Before the Collection Privée Cartier Paris


 

Watchmaking at Cartier dates back to the friendship between Louis Cartier and Alberto Santos-Dumont, when Louis helped the Brazilian aviator design a watch which he could wear during his early flight experiments. Since then, the French jeweller has demonstrated a mixed commitment to horology. Throughout the 1920s, their Parisian workshop reworked the classic Tank design into a whole range of innovative shapes, such as the Cintrée, Baignoire and the Tank à Guichets. Some 40 years later, when the brand was under the custodianship of three brothers located in Paris, London and New York, some of the most creative designs began to emerge from these autonomous workshops. With models ranging from the Crash, to the Asymétrique, the New Bond Street branch carried forwards Cartier’s previous approach of experimentation and inventiveness.

 

Cartier London flagship store on Bond Street In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

The newly refurbished London store on New Bond Street, courtesy of Cartier.

 

Many describe this earlier period as the “Golden Age” of Cartier watches, when the jeweller’s production was truly limited and artisanal. To put things into perspective, between 1919 and 1960, the Paris branch only made 1,803 Tanks – less than 44 a year. Then, things gradually began to change. After the death of Pierre Cartier in 1964, the remaining members of the family, who headed-up the different branches in London, New York and Paris, sold the businesses.

 

Cartier watch on wrist In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London
Cartier watch on box In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

Two vintage Cartier pieces from the "Golden Age", owned by Harry Fane.

 

Harry Fane, a long-standing expert in vintage Cartier, explains that “in the ‘60s, there was a big turmoil inside Cartier. They were changing ownership and going towards the mass market. This was a brilliant idea, and they were the first people to really do it successfully.” This move to a more commercial approach saw the demise of fine watchmaking from the French jeweller. While they maintained a heritage line of sorts, with the Collection Louis Cartier, they began to focus on quartz-powered models, ramping-up production to an unprecedented scale.

 

Cartier Tank Cintrée watch design drawings In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

Design sketches for a Tank Cintrée from 1935, courtesy of Cartier.

 

Then came the ‘90s, which stands out as one of the most interesting decades in recent watchmaking history. Following years of instability, in the wake of the Quartz Crisis, a new spirit of experimentation was coming through. Independents such as Daniel Roth, François-Paul Journe and Roger Dubuis started their own brands, putting forward a renewed vision for what mechanical watchmaking could look like. Even the more established manufactures, such as Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin, came up with distinctive, unusual models, with a focus on complications. The industry was gradually building itself back up again, with consumers once again taking an interest in mechanical timepieces. Against this backdrop, Cartier introduced the Collection Privée Cartier Paris, in an effort to renew its credentials as a true watchmaking brand.

 

The Core Principles


 

So, what did the Collection Privée Cartier Paris stand for? Digging into its rich archives, the jeweller recreated some of its most iconic pieces, many of which had been ignored for several decades.

This spanned from their more classic designs – such as the Tank or Santos – to more obscure ones, such as their Tank Monopoussoir Chronograph, which was first produced as a unique piece in 1935. Due to the prolific output of the early Cartier workshops, there was plenty to build on for the collection. There’s no exact figure for how many different models were produced, but we were able to find at least eight different executions of the Tortue, which gives you a sense how many different expressions were imagined.

 

Cartier CPCP watches on a table

A selection of pieces from the Collection Privée Cartier Paris family.

 

Many of the designs that were called-upon by Cartier were also given a subtly more modern touch. The Tortue Monopoussoir was released with a range of different dial configurations, including a distinctively more contemporary one, with blue accents, oversized numerals and an unusual placement of the Cartier signature. Some of these watches were also scaled up, in order to match the tastes of consumers of the time. For example, when the Cloche was recreated in 2006, it was about 15% larger than the original from 1922.   

Beyond its dedication to recreating iconic designs, the Collection Privée also displayed a renewed focus on what lay behind the caseback. Having long relied on quartz technology sourced externally, Cartier did not possess the watchmaking know-how or facilities to create high-quality movements. As such, they relied on a range of specialised manufacturers, who supplied the French jeweller with manual-winding, time-only calibres, whilst also helping them develop a range of complications, from jump hours to monopusher chronographs. Though the idea of in-house watchmaking has gained traction in recent times, relying on external suppliers has long been the favoured approach for those looking for high-quality movements. Until recently, even Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin still used a Lemania 2310 base for their chronographs.

 

Cartier square watch movement In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

Close up with the calibre 437 MC, based on a Piaget ébauche, powering the Tank à Vis Dual Time.

 

Sourced from both inside and out of the Richemont group, these ébauches came courtesy of some recognisable names such as Jaeger-LeCoultre, Piaget and Frédéric Piguet, among others. Meanwhile, some of the more demanding complications were developed especially for Cartier by Renaud et Papi – who were then owned by Audemars Piguet – and Techniques Horlogères Appliquées, the movement maker founded by François-Paul Journe and Denis Flageollet, later joined by Vianney Halter. At the time, both of these specialists represented the height of complicated watchmaking, with Renaud et Papi being at the inception of Richard Mille and the watchmakers behind THA later leaving their mark with their own brands.

While these movements began their life outside of the Cartier walls, they were all decorated in the brand’s workshops. This included traditional techniques – such as bevelling and perlage – as well as the brand’s distinctive “double C” decoration which was applied across the collection. The regulator index, which is used to adjust the rate of the movement, is also shaped like a “C” on some of the pieces. Made out of blued steel, it is angled and polished by hand, appearing across the 437 MC, 9901 MC and 9902 MC calibres that we know of. In order to showcase this level of craft, almost all of the CPCP models were equipped with a sapphire caseback, with the exception of the platinum models. After being hidden-away for an extended period of time, the movements were finally given centre-stage.

 

Dominique Renaud and Giulio Papi at the workbench In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

Dominique Renaud and Giulio Papi at the workbench of their newly founded company in 1988, courtesy of Dominique Renaud.

 

The workmanship involved in these watches was much higher than anything else Cartier was doing at the time. This is apparent in their dials, which were made out of 18 carat gold and decorated by hand. Almost all of them feature a central rose motif just beneath the hands, which radiates into a classic guilloché pattern. Evidence suggests that the inspiration for this rosette came from vintage Cartier clocks, which often featured the distinctive decoration. Another characteristic feature of these models was the inclusion of “Paris” under the brand name. This can be found on every model in the collection, bar the Cintrée. According to a catalogue from 2002, this was intended as an homage to the city where Louis Cartier imagined the majority of the models which would form the foundation of the Collection Privée.

As these pieces were intended to highlight quality, all of them were made out of precious metals, at a time when Cartier was producing quite a few steel and gold-plated pieces. As is to be expected, these included yellow, rose and white gold, as well as platinum. A high level of attention was also paid to the smaller details on these cases. For example, the caseback engravings opted for a more traditional style, making use of script-like typeface and hand engraving on the back of their unique pieces. All the limited edition models were individually numbered in their series, whilst the others were simply given ascending case numbers. 

 

Tank à Guichets and Cintrée dual time with paperwork In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

The paperwork which accompanies the limited pieces from the Collection Privée.

 

Beyond the watches themselves, close attention was also paid to the box and papers which accompanied them. They were delivered in slightly larger boxes than Cartier was typically using at the time, all of which were made out of a higher grade of leather and signed “Collection Privée Cartier Paris”. This increased box size was intended to highlight the greater significance of these pieces, while also giving space to accommodate the additional literature which accompanied them.

Over time, we’ve been able to identify two different types of boxes, which are distinguished by the font and size of the text on the front cover. All of them came with a leather document holder, which also housed a certificate and a manual specific to the Collection Privée. Checking that one of these pieces is accompanied by the correct box, manuals and certificate can be an important step when looking to source an example. 

As we mentioned earlier, these watches were produced in fairly limited numbers. A few of them were individually numbered limited editions, produced in series of 50, 100 or 150 pieces. As for the other watches, it is estimated that around 200 to 500 were made in any configuration. Between 1998 and 2008, it is understood that about 3,000 pieces were produced every year as part of the Collection Privée. It can safely be assumed that slightly fewer were made in the first year, due to the lower number of models which existed then. When you consider that these were only sold in 300 locations worldwide, this goes to show that there weren’t very many to go around.  

 

Cartier CPCP catalogue of watch movements In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London
Cartier CPCP catalogue of watch movements In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

A Cartier catalogue which highlights the features of these pieces, notably the 18k gold dials and the finely finished manual winding movements. 

 

This limited production was partly due to the fact that Cartier still hadn’t managed to bring the majority of their production in-house by this point, according to George Cramer, a long-standing collector of the brand. “As this was before they built their facility in La Chaux-de-Fonds, they could only get a certain number of components. This also caused bottlenecks in the supply-chain, as Cartier had little control over what they could get and when,” Cramer tells us.

 

Cartier CPCP red box In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

The larger red leather box that the CPCP models were delivered in.

 

According to Malcolm Gillan, a previous co-owner the jeweller Hamilton & Inches, who used to sell pieces from the Collection Privée, retailers didn’t have much say over what they were given to sell either. “Arnaud Bamberger was the UK Executive Chairman of Cartier, and so he decided who the key retailers for the CPCP range were. Retailers were expected to buy about 8 to 9 pieces a year, which was then augmented by additional stock from Cartier,” he tells us.

The limited nature of these pieces was also certainly due to the fact that they were quite niche in appeal. After all, precious metal, mechanical dress watches were only sought-after by a small group of collectors at the time. “I don’t feel that there was much demand outside of London and Paris,” Gillan tells us. “Most sales would have gone to clients that already owned a Patek Philippe, and simply wanted something else which was special.”

 

Cartier CPCP Tank Chinoise Rose Gold watch movement In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

A look at the calibre 437 MC that powers the Tank Chinoise.

 

The collection wasn’t widely advertised at the time either. In fact, in 1998, it was announced rather quietly, Cramer recalls. “I remember in the first year for the CPCP at SIHH, there was a room where the models were displayed, but it wasn’t really introduced as a new high-end series. It took a while for people to start talking about them and so it’s possible that they weren’t seen as a huge success in their early years inside Cartier.”

They were also comparatively expensive, when benchmarked against other watches sold by the jeweller at the time, on account of their high-end mechanical movements and precious metal cases. For example, in 2004, you could buy a stainless-steel Cartier Roadster for £3,250 or a Tank Chinoise in rose gold for £7,200 – both time-only watches, though aimed at very different sorts of clientele.

 

The Key Models


 

Quite a range of pieces were created during the decade of the Collection Privée Cartier Paris. Though they are too numerous to list, a few of them stand-out as being particularly noteworthy. As Cartier designs from this period have gained a renewed interest as of late, a handful of them appear to have been singled-out by collectors. Whether it be for their rarity, distinct aesthetic or the continuation of a historic model, all of them seem to have their own appeal.

 

The Tank Cintrée

 

The curved sibling of the original Tank, the Cintrée was first released one hundred years ago, in 1921. When it was introduced, it ushered in a new way of looking at wristwatches, as more than just functional objects to be strapped to the arm. In the early days of wrist-worn timekeepers, most designs were adaptations of pocket watches, designed with utility and purpose in mind.

However, the Cintrée argued for a rather different idea of what a wristwatch could be, born from the mind of a jeweller, rather than that of a traditional watchmaker. Throughout its long history, Cartier has only ever produced the Cintrée in extremely limited numbers, protecting it from the commercialisation which other models have endured. As such, it most likely felt like a natural candidate for the Collection Privée.

 

Cartier Tank Cintrée Platinum watch on wrist In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

A platinum time only Cintrée, with the distinctive brick-style bracelet which accompanied some of the pieces.

 

They created two versions of the Tank Cintrée – a simple time-only piece and a dual-time. The former was released in 2004, featuring distinctive Arabic indexes. Modelled off of the original, full sized “9 ligne” variant from the 20th century, Cartier produced 50 in platinum and 150 in yellow gold.

The inspiration for this piece was a Cintrée bought by none other than Fred Astaire, the renowned dancer, singer and actor. Sold in 1929, the watch was gifted by Astaire to a friend, with a simple engraving on the back reading “Felix from Fred ’29”.  Some of the platinum CPCP pieces are known to have been delivered with a brick style white gold bracelet, a nod to earlier vintage pieces.

 

Steve McQueen wearing Cartier Tank Cintrée watch In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London
Stewart Granger  wearing Cartier Tank Cintrée watch In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

Both Steve McQueen and Stewart Granger were known to wear the Cintrée.

 

A few unique creations also appeared between 1998 and 2008, featuring original dial designs. One such example was a platinum Cintrée with the Roman numerals printed in red ink, which stand-out quite dramatically against the white background. On the caseback, it's engraved with “2007/n.1”, referencing the year it was made, as well as the fact that it is the first and likely only piece to exist in that configuration.

 

“Most sales would have gone to clients that already owned a Patek Philippe, and simply wanted something else which was special.”

 

Another one has also appeared with Urdu numerals, also printed in red ink. Interestingly enough, this one bears the “Cartier Paris” signature on the dial, which further sets it apart amongst the other CPCP Cintrées. All of these were powered by the calibre 9770MC, a manual winding movement based on a Jaeger-LeCoultre ébauche.
 

Cartier Rose Gold Tank Cintrée dual time watch with Chinese numerals In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London
Cartier Rose Gold Tank Cintrée dual time watch with Chinese numerals In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

A Tank Cintrée dual time in rose gold with Chinese numerals on the bottom dial, limited to just 100 pieces.


The dual-time ones are noticeably more contemporary, with two dials sitting on top of one another, powered by separate movements. The case was altered slightly, with squared off lugs and sharper angles. As for the movements, these are set by two different crowns on the side of the case. The crowns were also altered for this model, Cartier opted for a flatter octagonal design with a flat cabochon, whereas the time only models had the more classical knurled crown with a pointed cabochon.

There are a few interesting dial variations to note here. There’s the classic and most common configuration, where the top dial has full Roman numerals and the bottom one only has Roman numerals at 12, 3, 6, and 9. Another layout integrates art deco style Arabic numerals on the bottom dial.

A Cintrée created as a custom order, with red ink and Urdu numerals, courtesy of George Cramer.

Another far rarer variation has Roman numerals at 12, 3, 6 and 9 on the top dial, and then Chinese numerals at the same positions on the bottom. These are believed to only have been sold in the Asian market, limited to 100 in white gold and 100 in rose gold. Some platinum pieces were also produced with a distinctive salmon dial, though only 50 were ever made.

The Tank à Guichets

 

The Tank à Guichets is perhaps one of the most singular designs ever imagined by Cartier. Launched in 1928, it takes it lines from the classic Tank, whilst closing off the dial completely and only displaying the jumping hour and wandering minutes. Despite the limited quantities it was produced in, the original version found its way onto the wrist of jazz pioneer Duke Ellington and Hollywood front man Gary Cooper.

 

Cartier Tank à Guichets watch in Platinum In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

A platinum example of the Tank à Guichets, limited to 150 pieces, courtesy of Haute Time.

 

Though many might think that the Tank à Guichets only came back for the Collection Privée, it was actually recreated just prior. In 1996, Cartier made three pieces in platinum and three in yellow gold, all of them distinguished by their crown at 12 o’clock, as found on the original. One year later, in order to help celebrate the brand’s 150th anniversary, a different platinum version was released. Limited to 150 pieces, this one had the crown placed at 3 o’clock. Though these actually appeared a year before the formation of the CPCP, they’ve widely been attributed to the same collection.

 

Cartier CPCP Tank à Guichets watch in rose gold on table In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London
Cartier CPCP Tank à Guichets watch in rose gold on table In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

The rose gold Tank à Guichets that was produced as part of the CPCP range.

 

In 2004, now firmly into the Collection Privée era, the same design was recreated in rose gold, though with slightly larger proportions this time. This configuration was limited to 100 pieces. Rather curiously, this is one of the only instances where the rose gold variant is rarer than its platinum equivalent. Purely anecdotally, Brad Pitt has actually been spotted wearing this rose gold Tank à Guichets, which has surprised a few people, to say the least.

 

Cartier CPCP rose gold Tank à Guichets watch close up on minute window In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

The running minutes window at the bottom of the closed off rose gold dial.

 

Mechanically, the Tank à Guichets is also rather interesting. These were powered by the calibre 9752 MC, based on a Piaget ébauche. The complexity of this movement lies in the great precision and energy needed for the hour disc to “jump” suddenly when the hour changes, which makes it a subtle but powerful complication. As much of Cartier’s contribution to watchmaking lies in their innovative and daring designs, from the Crash to the Cintrée, the Tank à Guichets feels like one of the truest incarnations of their ethos.

 

The Monopoussoirs

 

There are two watches – the Tank Monopoussoir and Tortue Monopoussoir – which deserve to be discussed together, because of the movement that they share. As mentioned earlier, Cartier worked closely with a range of specialised manufacturers to develop high quality movements they could use. The Monopoussoir stands out because Cartier collaborated with THA Ébauche, a movement manufacture which involved François-Paul Journe, Denis Flageollet and Vianney Halter, before their respective brands became household names.

 

Cartier CPCP white gold tortue monopusher handheld In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London
Cartier CPCP white gold tortue monopusher on wrist In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

Two different dial variations of the Tortue Monopoussoir in white gold.

 

The Monopoussoir has a long and storied history at Cartier, with examples of the Tortue and Tank versions appearing in 1928 and 1935 respectively. During this time, Cartier worked closely with Jaeger to develop the movements behind these complicated timepieces. Years later, as part of the Collection Privée, Cartier collaborated with a group of talented watchmakers to bring it back to life. Flageollet and Journe worked on the project together, before Halter had joined THA Ébauche. Rather amusingly, Flageollet claims that it was the watchmakers who suggested to Cartier that they should recreate the design, as the people in charge at the time did not have an extensive knowledge of their archives or heritage.

 

Cartier CPCP Yellow gold and white gold Tank Monopoussoir watches

The rose and a white gold Tank Monopoussoirs, introduced in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

 

Named by Cartier as the calibre 045 MC, this movement features a special clutch system, with a swivel pin. With a clutch system, the motion of the second wheel to the chronograph’s central wheel is activated by a double swivel pin. This removes the “jolt” of the seconds hand, which often occurs in chronographs operated by a lateral clutch.

The resulting operation allows the hand to smoothly glide across the dial. According to Flageollet, though the design of the movement was relatively straightforward, the most significant difficulty was getting Cartier's designers to understand that they needed to accept less security on the casing, as to match the spirit of the original watch and avoid creating an oversized design.

 

Cartier CPCP Tortue Monopoussoir guilloche on the dial close-up In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London
Cartier CPCP Tortue Monopoussoir guilloche on the dial close-up In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

Up close with the most contemporary dial design of a Tortue Monopoussoir.

 

In April 1999, the Tortue Monopoussoir was re-released, with a yellow gold case measuring 45mm by 35mm. The dial on this first configuration was the most faithful to the original, with the Roman numerals fitted into a circular track, with empty space found in the four corners of the dial.

Around the same time, Cartier also released a few other variants, in rose and white gold. Different dials designs were also introduced – the most contemporary one features an updated guilloché, oversized "XII" numeral and a “Cartier Paris” signature at 6 o’clock. All of the indications are also applied in blue ink, which helps give this dial a distinctively more contemporary feel than any of the other Monopoussoirs.

As tastes evolved and collectors increasingly asked for larger watches, the Tortue Monopoussoir was also introduced in a larger size, known as the “XL”, with a case measuring 38mm by 48mm. According to Nick Foulkes, around 200 Tortue Monopoussoirs were produced every year, across all configurations, which would bring the total production to just under 2,000 pieces.

 

Cartier CPCP Tortue Monopoussoir watch Design sketch In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

A design sketch of the Tortue Monopoussoir CPCP, from A Century of Cartier Watches by George Gordon.

 

Rather unexpectedly, in the penultimate year of the CPCP period, Cartier released the Tank Monopoussoir. With a sizeable case measuring 34mm by 43mm, 100 pieces were made in rose gold. According to Cramer, the demand for this model was such that it sold-out almost instantaneously in 2007.

It hardly reached the boutiques, with some of them being completely unaware of the model’s existence. In fact, we spoke to one collector based in the United States who had to source his example through a Parisian retailer, as he was unable to find it elsewhere. It was followed-up in 2008 by a white gold version, which took a little while longer to sell out completely but was still received enthusiastically. This one was also limited to 100 pieces, bringing the total production of the Tank Monopoussoir to a mere 200 examples.

 

Cartier CPCP Tank Monopoussoir dial close up In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London
Cartier CPCP Tank Monopoussoir movement close up In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

The finer details of the Tank Monopoussoir.

 

A few even more unusual variants of the Monopoussoir have also appeared over time, often discovered in the pages of auction catalogues. For example, 13 pieces of the Tortue were produced with a white gold case and a striking salmon dial. This number was chosen as an homage to Cartier’s historic landmark at 13 Rue de la Paix, a building that was purchased in 1899 by Alfred Cartier.

 

A unique Tank Monopoussoir in platinum, as illustrated in the book "White Cartier Bianco". It recently sold for £125,000, at Monaco Legend Auctions.

 

Some unique pieces were also made, including a Tank Monopoussoir which combined engraved Roman numerals on the bezel, with blued accents on the dial. Rather incredibly, this piece sold for around £125,000 at auction in April 2021. In recent times, because of its connection to independent watchmakers, contemporary aesthetics and the long-standing appeal of the complication, the Monopoussoir seems to have regained the attention of collectors.

 

The Tank Chinoise

 

The Chinoise was first produced by Cartier in 1922, at a time when aesthetics from the “Far East” had become wildly popular in European design. With “Chinoise” being the French word for Chinese, the model took the classic Tank silhouette and added broad horizontal bars above and below the dial, inspired by the lintels of Chinese temples.

 

Cartier Tank Chinoise yellow gold Collection Privee Cartier Paris for A Collected Man London

The Tank Chinoise gave a new look to the original rectangular dress watch, courtesy of Monochrome.

 

Since then, the Chinoise has only occasionally re-appeared in the French jeweller’s collection, making it rather elusive. During the Collection Privée, Cartier recreated it, with a slightly larger case and a sapphire caseback, through which to look at the 437 MC calibre, created by Piaget. It was available in both platinum and rose gold, with the former retailing for £11,750 and the latter for £7,200, according to a catalogue from 2005. It is believed that the Chinoise was completely sold out by the time the CPCP came to an end, in 2008.

 

Cartier CPCP Tank Chinoise watch on wrist In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London
Cartier CPCP Tank Chinoise watch on table In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

The Collection Privée example of the Tank Chinoise.

 

Though Cartier has recreated some of their Collection Privée designs in more modern times, such as the Asymétrique or the Cintrée, the Chinoise has not yet been brought-back. With the brand once again starting to place a focus on its archives, this begs the question of whether the Chinoise will be offered to clients in the near future. In the meantime, the CPCP pieces which sold-out over a decade ago were the last versions of the Chinoise made.

 

The Tank Asymétrique

 

Often described as one of the more adventurous models to be recreated as part of the CPCP range, the Asymétrique is a classic Cartier design, which has captured the imagination of collectors for years. Initially known as the Tank Oblique, it was envisioned for drivers in 1936. The parallelogram shaped case featured a dial that was slanted diagonally, such that when their hands were up on a steering wheel, the dial was oriented upright. It was later renamed the Tank Asymétrique, taking several different shapes over its lifetime, with a fluctuating number of lugs used on each end.

 

Cartier CPCP Tank Asymétrique watch and cufflinks In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

Collection Privée brought an updated look to the Tank Asymétrique, courtesy of George Cramer.

 

The Asymétrique was then revived as part of the Collection Privée. In 1996, right before the official launch of the range, Cartier brought it back, with 100 pieces in platinum and 300 in yellow gold. These featured a pared back dial, with Arabic numerals, painted indexes and a much simpler guilloché pattern. The “Cartier” and “Paris” signatures were also separated, placed at the top and the bottom. As this release preceded the official launch of the Collection Privée, it’s understandable that some of the design principles we’ve come to associate with the range weren’t quite there yet.

 

Cartier CPCP Tank Asymétrique watch design sketch In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

An early design sketch for the CPCP Asymétrique, from A Century of Cartier Watches by George Gordon. 

 

In 1999, Cartier created two sets of watches, produced in left-handed and right-handed versions, in order to commemorate the Macau Handover. Each of these was limited to 99 pieces, to mark the year of this historic occasion. These are distinguished by the added 9, below the 9 o’clock indicator, used to spell out “99”. Rather interestingly, these respected the proportions of the original design, meaning that they kept a rather understated presence on the wrist, coming in at 23mm by 32mm.

 

Cartier CPCP Tank Asymétrique watch on blue background In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London
Cartier CPCP Tank Asymétrique watch on paperwork In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

A CPCP Asymétrique in yellow gold, courtesy of Phillips.

 

Then, in 2006, came a version of the Asymétrique which was firmly grounded in the aesthetic of the Collection Privée. With a “Cartier Paris” signature and rosette motif on the dial, 150 of these were made in yellow gold, with a select few, mostly unique, pieces being made in platinum as well. These were distinguished by a third lug at either end, which is centred with the case. The proportions were also updated for more modern tastes.

 

The Tank à Vis

 

When the wristwatch replaced the pocket watch, one of the first objectives was to make it waterproof. Despite being at a disadvantage because they produced rectangular watches, Cartier still tried to join in with this effort. Rumours suggest that the Pasha de Marrakesh wanted a wristwatch that he could wear whilst in the pool, which led to the development of the Tank Étanche in 1931. Thanks to its ingenious case design, tightly secured by screws, it was waterproof.

 

Cartier CPCP Tank à Vis watch on table with long shadow In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

The CPCP Tank à Vis casts a distinctive shadow.

 

The Tank Étanche served as inspiration for the Tank à Vis, which was later introduced as part of the Collection Privée. This later design features the same distinct bezel construction as the vintage inspiration, with Cartier also adding four visible screws on each corner. Due to its larger size and thicker bezel, it manages to balance classic and contemporary tastes.

 

Cartier CPCP Tank à Vis dual time watch on wrist In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London
Cartier CPCP Tank à Vis dual time watch movement In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

The Tank à Vis dual time and its single movement.

 

Rather interestingly, the Tank à Vis also represents Cartier’s foray into unusual complications during the CPCP period. Indeed, it was made available in time-only, dual-time and wandering hours versions. Some skeletonised pieces were also produced, further demonstrating Cartier’s willingness to blend the past and the present. The time-only version was produced in yellow gold and platinum, with the latter having a closed caseback.

 

Cartier CPCP Tank à Vis screws on bezel In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

The waterproofing screws on the bezel of a Tank à Vis.

 

As for the dual-time, this featured two separate dials stacked on top of one another, unlike the Cintrée it was powered by the same movement and set with the same crown. It came in white, yellow and rose gold. The wandering hours model came in white and yellow gold, with the latter one costing £13,400 at retail, according to a catalogue from 2005. This was nearly twice as expensive as a Tank Chinoise in a comparative metal, speaking to the investment made by Cartier in developing these complicated movements. The skeleton Tank à Vis is by far the rarest of them all, made in platinum and limited to just 20 pieces.

 

The Tortue

 

We wanted to save the Tortue for last, as this was possibly the most popular piece from the decade long run of the Collection Privée. In fact, the Tortue was the best-selling CPCP model in 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004 and 2005 – half the time the range was available. Many different complications were integrated into the Tortue case, of which we were able to identify at least eight different examples, from a minute repeater to a perpetual calendar.

 

Cartier CPCP white gold Tortue power reserve on table In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London
Cartier CPCP white gold Tortue power reserve under glass In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

A Tortue power reserve in white gold.

 

Though we’ve already touched on the Monopoussoir above, a few other examples are worth highlighting. Most notably, the minute repeater shares a similar story of collaboration, as it was developed alongside Renaud et Papi, the famed complications specialist, which was owned by Audemars Piguet at the time. Many contemporary independent watchmakers have sharpened their teeth there, including Stephen Forsey and the Grönefeld brothers. Based off a historical design from 1928, the minute repeater was first brought into the CPCP family in 2003, in yellow, pink and white gold, with 25 examples of each. It is likely that Carole Forestier-Kasapi, who helped run the Collection Privée program, turned to Giulio Papi for this collaboration as they had worked together prior to her joining the brand.

 

Cartier Tortue montage of different watch models In A Collector’s Guide to the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris” for A Collected Man London

Just a selection of the Tortue models that were made during the CPCP era.

 

Other variants include a perpetual calendar, day and night indicator and a power reserve with date display. The most complicated, and visually impressive, is the monopusher chronograph with tourbillon, which is yet again powered by a movement developed by Renaud et Papi. This piece was offered for sale at £115,850 in pink gold and £123,850 in platinum, likely making it the most expensive Cartier piece available at the time. Of course, you can also find the Tortue in a simple time-only version.

 

Parting Thoughts


 

The Collection Privée marks an interesting transition in Cartier’s history. From the 1960s onwards, as the brand commercialised its operations and pivoted towards the mass market, many would argue that it compromised its reputation as a true watchmaker and neglected many of its iconic designs. In 1998, the brand once again chose to focus on their heritage, recreating some of their most distinctive pieces, powered by high-quality manual-winding movements. The decade long run of the Collection Privée embodied that spirit, to the pleasure of a few select clients at the time, who saw value in what the French jeweller was doing.

Eventually, things had to come to an end, due to the delays and limitations caused by the brand's dependence on third-party suppliers. These days, pieces are being rediscovered by collectors, given the characteristics they combine – iconic design, high quality movements and limited quantities. Even Cartier themselves have started tracking-down and offering some of these to clients, in a few select showrooms around the world. As the tastes of consumers evolve, we for one can say how satisfying it is to see Cartier become appreciated for the enduring legacy they have left behind.

We’d like to thank Malcolm Gillan and George Cramer, as well as the range of other collectors who shared their insights and watches with us, for the purpose of this article and its photography.