What makes a Cartier timepiece so flawlessly elegant? Why is it so instantly recognisable? Why is it so perpetually esteemed, even though Cartier was a jeweller first before a watchmaker? Why do many consider Cartier to be on par—at least in terms of desirability—with the other watchmaking greats? The answer lies in its unique heritage. In other words, it’s precisely because Cartier started out as a jeweller before moving on to watchmaking that gives it such a formidable presence.
There is a continuous red thread in all Cartier’s horological creations: The Santos, the Tank, the Pasha, the Baignoire, and the Tortue, as well as more contemporary creations such as the Ballon Bleu, the Cle, the Drive and the Calibre de Cartier. In spite of their individual identities, they all evoke the same design sensibilities created by what Pierre Rainero, heritage director of the maison, calls the “Cartier Eye.” So what core elements formulate the inimitable style of a Cartier timepiece? Read on to find out.
1. Classic Roman numerals
This is probably the most instantly recognisable feature in all Cartier timepieces, including the ones with open-worked dials. So simple and also clean and crisp, numerous others have copied this look but everyone knows that it is quintessentially Cartier.
2. Blued steel sword-shaped hands
Together with the classic Roman numerals, almost every Cartier timepiece is fitted with blued steel sword-shaped hands. Neat and elegant, they’re unassuming and nondescript but switch them for anything else and everything’s just off.
3. Blue sapphire crown
Whether polished to a round cabochon or covered in facets, no Cartier timepiece is considered complete without this luxurious feature.
4. Shaped cases
The very first Cartier timepiece, the Santos, is a shaped watch, and so is its second oldest model, the Tank. Nearly every timepiece made comes in a special shape. Even round watches like the Ballon Bleu has been imbued with so much detail that it is arguably nowhere near your garden-variety classic round.
5. Timeless design
In spite of the shaped cases, Cartier’s watch collections are extremely timeless. A Tank from the 1920s looks just as relevant and appealing as the latest iterations. That’s what makes it an icon.
6. Heritage of innovation
Because it started out as a jeweller, Cartier has a unique approach to watchmaking. This not only explains its fixation with unerring aesthetics but also its fearlessness when it comes to breaking the rules. Movements like the skeletonised Calibre 9611 MC would not have been possible without such a unique horological philosophy.
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