As Cyrille Vigneron, CEO of Cartier, likes to remind us, Cartier is making 2020 a year of “unexpected encounters”. In a context that has put half the world’s population in lockdown, sparking new ways of interacting with others and inspiring extraordinary creativity, Cartier is showing its own creativeness on the new watchesandwonders.com platform, though within certain confines. Ever since Cyrille Vigneron took the reins in 2016, the brand has followed a strategy that clearly puts the onus on its sensitivity as a jeweller, with watches that are sensual rather than purely mechanical. “Our line of direction is simple,” said Vigneron last year. “Revisit or reprise models from Cartier’s heritage which remains rich in terms of the design, force and beauty of the collections. The idea is to take themes that had disappeared or become dormant, and have them evolve.”
Pasha for ever
Gone are the concept watches, bristling with high-tech innovation. Once celebrated as the highest degree of watchmaking, the wave of grandes complications has passed. Now Cartier is focusing on its most enduring designs. In a word, the brand is pouring its expertise into what we might be tempted to call “the eternal watch” – less for its capacity to withstand the onslaught of time than for its seemingly perennial power of seduction. The Panthère was first, followed by the Santos, while both the Baignoire and the Tonneau have reappeared as limited editions in the Cartier Privé collection. Now it’s the Pasha’s turn to ride again. It is, in Cyrille Vigneron’s words, “simple yet dense” and, like any icon, comes with its very own backstory. The time is the early 1930s and the Pasha of Marrakesh, a loyal patron of the Parisian firm, asked Louis Cartier to make him an elegant wristwatch that could be worn while swimming. Cartier’s answer was a characterful watch, distinguished by sword-shaped hands above a square minute track inside a round dial. In what was a feat of technique for the era, the crown was fitted with a screw-down cap on a chain to prevent water from entering the robust case and damaging the automatic movement. Instantly recognisable, the Pasha joined Cartier’s collections as of 1943 and was revisited in 1985.
“Pasha de Cartier is a cult watch,” notes its maker. “At the time of its launch, this powerful watch caught the eye of opinion leaders. Initially adopted by men, it was immediately appropriated by women. True to the original but even more sophisticated with a blue spinel or sapphire on the crown, interchangeable strap and space for a personal engraving under the crown cover, the Pasha de Cartier for the 2020s is classic yet contemporary, and as edgy as ever.” Today’s Pasha leaves us spoiled for choice, with 41mm and 35mm diameters and versions in steel, yellow gold or pink gold, with and without diamonds. The mechanically minded will lean towards the skeletonised steel version or, better still, a skeletonised tourbillon in pink or white gold with diamonds.
A new perspective for the Tank Asymétrique
Having whetted our appetite, next on the menu are extensions to the Santos-Dumont line that debuted last year. Visually lighter and more streamlined than the original Santos that Louis Cartier imagined in 1904 for his friend, the Brazilian pilot Alberto Santos-Dumont, this year’s Santos-Dumont appears in a supersized 46.6 x 43.9mm case containing a mechanical movement, namely the manual-winding 430 MC calibre. Three limited editions with, on the caseback, engravings of flying machines imagined by the man himself, complete the line-up. On a more feminine note, we have Maillon de Cartier, presented earlier in the year, which “plays on the look of the classic chain-link bracelet”. Indeed, the links are the focal point of the design, aligned sideways in a visual continuation of the hexagonal dial to great effect, whether in yellow, white or pink gold, with or without a smattering of diamonds.
The year’s second revelation is a Tank, a design that symbolises the entire Cartier story and comes charged with all the emotion a vintage watch can muster. The Tank in question is the Asymétrique, which makes its return in the Cartier Privé collection, a showcase for historic Cartier watches. As Cartier – The Tank Watch, published in 2017, reminds us, the Tank Parallélogramme from 1936, renamed the Asymétrique because of its tilted dial that puts 12 and 6 o’clock in the corners, is so far removed from the original Tank that, at first, it wasn’t even part of the line. In a world of round watches, the Tank Asymétrique was a radical departure from the norm. And remains so today. In the brand’s words, “With its two horizontal shafts connected by two oblique ones, and its numerals off-set by 30° to the right, its presence on the wrist is striking.” This latest Tank Asymétrique is offered in yellow gold, pink gold and platinum executions. Three skeletonised versions take the design to its limits, and fit nicely with the “unexpected” theme of the year’s launches.
Ending these “encounters” on a similarly surprising note, the Parisian firm has revealed two characteristically remarkable examples of the métiers d’art: straw and gold marquetry for one, enamel filigree for the other. Marquetry artist, jeweller, designer, enameller, gem-setter and miniaturist have worked together to pay tribute to the panther, Cartier’s enduring and beloved symbol since 1914 that continues to inspire new creative territory. For Cartier, all in a day’s work.