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Cartier combines the iconic with the Zeitgeist
Point of View

Cartier combines the iconic with the Zeitgeist

Tuesday, 09 April 2019
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Carol Besler
Journalist

“Watches are functional art.”

Carol Besler covers watches and jewelry worldwide.

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4 min read

Pierre Rainero, Image, Style and Heritage Director, Cartier International, explains, the new Santos-Dumont and other recent design decisions.

Few watch brands embrace the full spectrum of the market as consistently and thoroughly as Cartier does. From the new Santos-Dumont, starting in the $3,000 range, to the six-figure high jewellery watches and complications that demonstrate the Maison’s Haute Horology capability, Cartier covers it all. Yet the goal is neither to attract a younger audience at the low end (although that may be the outcome) nor to appeal only to the rich at the top (albeit, another likely outcome). The goal, always, according to Pierre Rainero, Image, Style and Heritage Director, Cartier International, is aesthetics.

Santos-Dumont © Cartier
Santos-Dumont © Cartier

“The decision to relaunch the Panthère two years ago – which was not redesigned by the way, but reengineered – had nothing to do with a strategy to approach a younger generation,” he says. And despite the lower price point of the new Santos-Dumont – the smaller, strap-only, quartz sub-brand of the Santos released last month at SIHH – there is, he insists, no strategy to attract a younger audience. “It’s a different audience, but not necessarily younger,” he says. “You could say that, in America, younger people have less money than the older generation, but that’s not the case in other places like Asia or the Middle East or Russia, where you see the wealth is more evenly distributed between younger and older generations.” The idea, says Rainero, is to perpetuate the Cartier tradition of strong design – when a design is strong, it can be interpreted in many variations; it can evolve. Consider the many iterations of the panther motif, or watches that are skeletonized in the outline of Cartier’s signature Roman numerals.

“We adhere to an aesthetic”

For the Santos-Dumont, Cartier made the case slimmer – 7mm thick, compared to the much larger Santos line, particularly those with automatic movements. Rainero says the Santos-Dumont will never have an automatic movement; if there is a mechanical movement it would have to be manual, but for now the high-efficiency quartz movement is the draw. The Roman numerals are also slimmer, and the chapter ring is on the outside of the numerals, rather than inside. The crown is beaded, with a cabochon sapphire, compared to the faceted, recessed crown on the Santos, with its flat sapphire cap.

We have the freedom at Cartier to respond to the rhythms of the day, using our iconic designs and our archives.
Pierre Rainero

“We adhere to an aesthetic,” says Rainero. “It’s not necessarily about approaching a certain market. It’s about communicating our designs. For the Santos-Dumont, we wanted to reintroduce a shape that has become an icon in a way that expresses current lifestyles. We have the freedom at Cartier to respond to the rhythms of the day, using our iconic designs and our archives. When we decide to relaunch or launch a watch, there are no other criteria and it does not depend on the economy. We do it when we feel that a certain design is relevant for today, for current lifestyles.”

Pierre Rainero, Image, Style and Heritage Director © Cartier International
Pierre Rainero, Image, Style and Heritage Director © Cartier International

The lifestyle of the day, then, is active and casual, and Cartier is responding with wearable, classic day watches in timeless, though updated designs. It sounds a lot like the extremely successful philosophy behind the “Must de Cartier” collections of the 1980s under the direction of Alain Dominique Perrin. The mood of the day was casual, and Cartier combined that with reliable, quality quartz watches with great design.

“The overall objective is design”

Does this direction mean less emphasis on concept watches or new high complications from Cartier’s much-revered Fine Watchmaking Department which, under the direction of top watchmaker Carole Forestier-Kasapi, has created some 20 new movements over the past six or seven years, some of the most inventive of modern watchmaking? “We still have complicated movements,” says Rainero. “Some are introduced in the Privé collection but again, the objective there is to work with the traditional shapes of Cartier. In some cases, these watches will have dedicated movements, like the one we developed for the tonneau case, including the dual time zone. But the overall objective is design. The movements are in the service of aesthetics.”

Privé Tonneau © Cartier
Privé Tonneau © Cartier

The Privé Skeleton Dual Time Zone pays tribute to an archival model from the 1990s that used two mechanical movements to drive two time zones. The new movement, caliber 9919 MC, operates both. It was designed vertically in a stepped arrangement to fit the tonneau case, a shape Cartier first introduced in 1906. The skeletonization of the new movement is an added complication. Rainero concludes: “Watches have to be wearable. You can fall in love with a watch for other reasons, but if you do not feel that you will have the opportunity to wear it…”.

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