Considered a pioneer in modern watchmaking, French maison Cartier continues to experiment with form and function with its latest SIHH 2019 watch offerings.
Since its founding in 1847, French luxury maison Cartier has been famed not just for being “the Jeweller of Kings and the King of Jewellers”, but also for pushing the boundaries in terms of marrying the technical craft of watchmaking with the design aesthetics of fine jewellery.
In an era where round pocket watches were the norm, Cartier introduced timepieces meant to be worn as jewellery or as brooches. In 1904, after hearing his Brazilian aviator friend Alberto Santos-Dumont complain about the unreliability and hazards of using pocket watches while flying, Louis Cartier created the Maison’s first men’s wristwatch featuring a square bezel (an unusual and groundbreaking shape for its time). A streamlined design as practical as it was beautiful.
Over the decades the maison has continued to create timepiece designs that veer away from the standard round watch face — such as the barrel-shaped Tonneau (1906), the oval Baignoire (1912), the rectangular military assault vehicle-inspired Tank (1917), and even the surreally asymmetric Crash (1967), which was inspired by the melted and mangled remains of a Cartier watch retrieved from a fiery car crash. There’s also the pebble-shaped Ballon Bleu (2007) and more — all of which have become iconic design classics in the word of horology.
This year, Cartier celebrates several of its shaped icons at the 29th edition of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH 2019): the Privé and the Libre, both of which celebrate the union between watchmaking and creativity, through the exploration of form and function.
The Cartier Privé collection:
Aimed at watch collectors and connoisseurs, the tightly-curated annual collection celebrates the different shapes of men’s watches through the maison’s iconic models.
This year, the Tonneau watch created in 1906 – one of the maison’s oldest watch models – takes centrestage. Neither a rectangle nor an oval, its barrel-shaped case, which curves slightly for a comfortable fit on the wrist, was considered a design oddity. And instead of being made of gold as most watches were at the time, Cartier coated it in platinum to emphasize its avant-garde aesthetic.
The Tonneau Watch
Available in pink gold or in platinum with a ruby cabochon, and issued as a numbered limited edition of 100 pieces. The watch design remains true to the original 1906 model, but its interior features Cartier’s new 1917 MC Manufacture caliber, and has been reworked to fulfil modern-day demands such as being perfectly water-resistant. The bezel is formed from one block, with no overhang or breaks in the plane, and contours and lugs that melt seamlessly into the watchcase. Polished, rhodium-plated Roman numerals stand out against the dial background – champagne-coloured on the pink gold version, silvered on the platinum model.
The Skeleton Dual Time Zone Tonneau Watch
This pays tribute to the Tonneau XL dual time zone model in the CDCP collection, which initially had two separate mechanisms for the home time and the second time zone.
In order to fit a dual time zone mechanism into the curved case, and make the watch run on one single movement – 9919 MC caliber, two complex feats were required. Firstly, to retain the watchcase’s elongated form, all the wheels of the geartrain had to be aligned between 12 and 6 o’ clock. The shape of the movement was also modified to fit within the curved contours of the watchcase to ensure a comfortable, ergonomic fit.
The two time zones are linked to create an impressive, yet easy-to-read display, and the second time zone is set by pressing on the crown at 4 o’ clock and by one-hour jumps. The skeletonized movement of the complication demonstrates the perfect balance of form, function, case and movement.
The pink gold and platinum versions come in limited, numbered editions pf 100 pieces. While the 20 numbered pieces are available in the baguette-cut diamond-set platinum series.
The Cartier Libre collection:
Created for the discerning woman, this collection revisits established conventions and reveals Cartier’s wealth of inspiration in terms of form. This year’s Libre collection makes use of colour to explore and highlight previously imperceptible facets of Cartier watch design.
Tank Chinoise Red Watch
Cartier’s iconic rectangular Tank, which was created in 1917, is reimagined as an elongated black enamel rectangle, edged with diamonds, and punctuated graphically with the colour red, which symbolises passion and vitality in Chinese culture, in the form of rubies.
This style extends to a fair dial version, set with diamonds and emeralds.
Both available as a limited edition of 100 pieces each.
With its eye-catchingly distorted features, the Diagonale pays homage to Cartier’s tradition of disrupting the classics. Lines of red or black enamel are accompanied by paved diamonds, beautifully framing the unusually shaped watch face. Available in a limited edition of 50 pieces.
Baignoire Allongée Celadon Watch – Baignoire Allongée Black Watch
The story of the Baignoire started in 1912, when Louis Cartier stretched out the traditional round watch shape to create two straight parallel lines closed by two curves. Resembling the shape of a bathtub (“baignoire” in French), the watch thus earned its name. Also a good example of Louis Cartier’s design vision, when an ordinary object can be made extraordinary.
This cult Cartier object have evolved aesthetically over time, to the slightly curved oval shape in the late 1950s with a dial stamped with Roman or Arabic numerals and bordered by gold gadroons that we have come to be familiar with.
In the 1960s, the Baignoire Allongée watch debuted in London. An oversized watch that stretched across women’s wrists, it marked a milestone in the style history of the Baignoire watch.
In 2019, Cartier presents new propositions. The graceful elongated oval of the Baignoire Allongée is highlighted with sprinklings of emeralds and Paraiba tourmalines, black spinels, yellow sapphires or diamonds, even as the dial dazzles the eye with its full diamond pave. Available in white gold or yellow gold and released as numbered editions of 50 pieces.
Another standout creation featured an extravagantly sculpted gold studded bezel (referencing the shape of the clou de Paris in Cartier’s jewellery repertoire), also in a limited edition of 50 pieces.
Images courtesy of Cartier. Feature image by Curatediton at SIHH 2019