The wonderful world of Cartier

Discover our selection of articles, watches and objects of Cartier creations

The brand

The creativity of Cartier is undeniable. From their panther motifs to the couture jewellery that has graced both historic royal courts and contemporary pop culture icons across the globe, their designs have had a tangible impact on the way watches, jewellery and accessories are looked at today. Whether it is Andy Warhol wearing a classic Tank or Kanye West wearing a Crash, creatives and industry leaders have already gravitated towards the brand, reinforcing the iconic status of the designs.

Founded in 1847 by the jeweller Louis-François Cartier, the creativity and impact of Cartier over the course of its history is undeniable. King Edward VII once described it as “the jeweller of kings, and the king of jewellers.” Since the Santos in 1904, the French jeweller has left its mark on the world of horology, perpetually creating elegant, refined timepieces, while remaining faithful to its core design principles.

Diamond-encrusted Cartier Crash

 Cartier had a great interest in making jewelled objects: Louis Cartier’s idea was to make a jewel into a utilitarian object and a utilitarian object into a jewel. And he succeeded very well, you know, the jewelled clocks he made were exceptional. These are indeed jewels, that happen to tell the time.

Harry Fane on the essence of the Cartier design

Global conquest

Throughout the 20th century, Cartier’s global reach expanded, with branches in Paris, New York and London. With striking models ranging from the Baignoire to the Asymétrique, the New Bond Street branch in London was arguably the most daring, adventurous and creative of all three. With the majority of its output dating from the period between 1966 to 1974, London was behind possibly one of Cartier's boldest designs to date - the Crash.

Obsessions: Cartier with Harry Fane

The daring creations of Cartier London

The most popular model

What do Fred Astaire, Steve McQueen and Ralph Lauren all have in common? Besides being style trailblazers for several generations of men, they all owned and wore, a Tank Cintrée. It’s difficult to discuss any Cartier timepiece without touching on its wider cultural impact.

What is it that attracted them, and many others, to this elongated and curved timepiece from Cartier? Distinguished by how the case wraps around the wrist, it was first released one hundred years ago, in 1921. When it was first 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. Far larger and bolder than anything else on the market at the time, the Cintrée captured the attention of those looking for something different.

An offshoot of the classic Tank watch, the Cintrée has been produced in fairly low numbers over the last century, from the ones imagined in New York and London, to the re-editions for the modern era. Throughout that period, though it has taken on different forms, its central ethos has remained relatively consistent.

The origin of the Cartier Tank design is a well-known and often-told tale. Louis Cartier saw the new Renault tanks that were dominating the front line of the First World War and their symmetrical shape struck a chord. The result was the launch of a unique case shape that has become synonymous with the brand, having since been reimagined and adapted many times over. The most enigmatic and captivating of these variants was the Cintrée. 

Read the full history of the Tank Cinrée in The Journal

The 'Collection Privée Cartier Paris'

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.

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.

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.

Read the history behind the Collection Privée in The Journal

Explore our collection of Cartier watches & objects

Further readings

The balance of symmetry and asymmetry in dial design
June 2021 8 min read
Ten must-have books for any horological library
October 2020 16 min read
Our favourite horological objects from the past
March 2021 12 min read
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