There’s no mistaking certain signs. The order in which Cartier presented its new models at this year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), held in January in Geneva, is one. The Parisian firm had already skipped its “pre-SIHH day” when its latest high-flying mechanics are traditionally revealed. Top billing at SIHH instead went to two styles that couldn’t be less like a concept watch: Panthère, a ladies’ model first introduced in 1983 and almost identically reissued with a quartz movement, and Drive, launched in 2016 and now joined by two new versions, one extra-thin and one with a moon-phase display. Anyone there to see the haute horlogerie timepieces with which the brand has been wowing markets for the past ten years had to wait their turn. The Rotonde de Cartier Minute Repeater Mysterious Double Tourbillon with its Poinçon de Genève hallmark clearly wasn’t the star of the show, despite an impressive level of technicality.
Cyrille Vigneron, who took over as CEO in January 2016, had already hinted at the direction the brand was taking when last year he declared it would be refocusing on its core business. “These past years, Cartier has wanted to excel in all areas, in both men’s and women’s watches, or in its technical positioning. Certain watches weren’t sufficiently “Cartier”. Being present on all fronts ultimately leads to confusion. We must redefine and clarify the line we are to follow.” It’s now much clearer where this line is leading, as Arnaud Carrez, Cartier’s marketing director, explained in a recent interview published by Worldtempus: “I think we went too far. We stretched the brand. The entire watch industry, Cartier included, told itself that anything was possible, that we could have a go at every price point, every category, regardless of the essence of the brand. We’re aware of that, and we are in the process of evaluating the last ten years.”
Panthère, icon for a new generation
The brand has followed through and clarified its priorities, as Arnaud Carrez explains: “It’s true that we focused strongly on men’s watches, with haute horlogerie and sports watches. We are repositioning, returning our focus to what we are really about, the founding tenets of our company. Our point of departure was as a jeweller; we came to watchmaking later. That is what defines our watchmaking identity. We are a women’s brand, and we fully recognise that. Women are our priority. This is a genuine shift. We are focusing primarily on women, because that’s what Cartier is all about. Our approach to men will be from the point of view of a women’s company that makes men’s watches. Cartier’s masculinity is not like that of other watchmakers. There are some places we will not go, places that are not Cartier.” The Calibre de Cartier Diver is a case in point. Introduced two years ago, it is no longer part of the territory. The Panthère, in contrast, as a jewellery watch, is an exact fit. “If you look at how we have staged the watch since the fair opened, its story resonates perfectly with what we are trying to say with our jewellery. This watch will be the icon of a new generation. It won’t be easy, but it will gradually gain traction. This launch runs counter to everything that is happening in the watch market.”
There were too many invisible launches. We put the watches in the display cases, but we didn’t back them up. And when we’re not the most obvious choice for a men’s watch, it doesn’t work.
Drive is another “story” that Cartier is intent on telling, this time to men, as one of the small complications that Cartier loves but which “slipped through the net,” admits Arnaud Carrez. “We didn’t make the most of what is a very convincing and competitively priced range. There were too many invisible launches. We put the watches in the display cases, but we didn’t back them up. And when we’re not the most obvious choice for a men’s watch, it doesn’t work. We will learn our lessons, and come back with something else. We have to contextualise it in a wider rethinking of our brand. Classic watches, yes. Complications in support of design, yes. But not the other way around. Not 25 complications on a round watch.” The tone is set!