Welcome to Dialed In, Esquire's weekly column bringing you horological happenings and the most essential news from the watch world since March 2020.
The house of Cartier is, for many, the epitome of luxury, a bastion of taste since 1847, whose little red-and-gold boxes are shorthand for the very special something inside them. Not surprisingly, Cartier has major snob appeal. It’s reassuringly expensive, with a back catalog of high watchmaking for much of that history and high jewelry (for even more of it) with prices to make a Maharajah blush. So why is it that, as it edges towards it bicentenary, that the brand also feels like something acutely modern and accessible? We talked with Cartier’s International Marketing and Communications Director, Arnaud Carrez, about the brand’s uniquely broad perspective.
“Cartier's singular vision of watchmaking,” says Carrez, “is all about starting with the design first, ensuring that we have a purity of line, that perfect sense of proportion.” This is a notable inversion of the dominant design theory, that form follows function, and it sets Cartier apart. Deriving as it did from the high jewelry world, design would naturally come first. That ethos spawned some of the earliest wristwatches, from the Santos in 1904, and many of the pillars of Cartier watch design are still around today, well over a century later.
Dipping into the range of new watches that emerged from Cartier two weeks ago at Watches and Wonders, it’s easy to be blown away by the Privé Collection and super-elegant, super-limited-edition watches like the Rotonde de Cartier Astrotourbillon, one of three different tourbillons sold as a set (price is on request). Like the other two it’s a dumbfounding riff on the classic and popular Rotonde line. It is mind-blowing—something akin, possibly, to the effects of taking LSD and winning the lottery at the same time. The skeleton movement of the Astrotourbillon does away with almost all visible means of support, instead using the roman numerals at 12 and 6, or make that XII and VI, to form the etiolated bridges on which the entire tourbillon movement rests. These are special and unique watches (just 5 sets of three) for special and unique (and very rich) clients. Which is ironic because what really jumped out two weeks ago was Cartier’s seemingly endlessly renewable talent for making even more friends at the opposite end of the market.
The Tank Must is a new project that alludes to an earlier and very popular generation of Cartier watches first launched in the late 1970s. Must de Cartier was a catch-all name for entry-level Cartier products across a range of categories conceived to get younger people in the door at ground level. But it’s the watches that are remembered most. Must typified a kind of accessible snob value that was particularly popular in the ‘80s.
The new Tank Must range echoes that vibe, paralleling the entry-level prices of another stalwart in the Tank family, the Tank Solo, but with some notable millennial-friendly upgrades. “We took the decision to maintain accessible prices, but we’re improving the tangible value of the watches; we have new, high-autonomy quartz movements with batteries that now last six years instead of three; we have quick change straps too. It’s a way of giving back value to our clients,” says Carrez.
That’s not all; a brand new photovoltaic version of the Tank Must scarfs in the light through apertures in the roman numerals on the dial to drive a watch that will remain active for 16 years. It is indistinguishable from a classic Tank. “It's been a long journey,” says Carrez, “more than three years to reach this fantastic result; but we’ve had such a positive response to it that we will surely increase production because the feedback is so above our expectations.” And as if a photovoltaic cell weren’t enough, the same Tank Must model also has non-leather straps made from 40 percent apple skins, a definite first for the brand. “For the time being, only 40 percent of the bracelet is composed of plant material,” says Carrez. “We want to go higher, and we want to go further. Our ultimate goal is to suppress plastic altogether. This is not a one-off initiative.”
Cartier’s moves at this accessible end of the market were much discussed over on Clubhouse, but it was not the prices that excited people the most, it was the attitude. Cartier does because Cartier can. “Cartier is a maison which is open to the world, curious about changing behaviors and changing trends around us,” says Carrez. “We can see that our customers have different expectations, different needs, especially the young generations. And so sustainability is a big topic, you know, and we've been addressing it in recent years in multiple dimensions.”
Another hot topic, much talked about, particularly in the last year, is the overly male-centric focus of the majority of traditional watchmakers, both in terms of the size and design of their output and, critically, who they market them to. You couldn’t fairly lump Cartier in there really, with the generally small scale and refined look of its watches. In fact it’s a distinct advantage. Not that Cartier isn’t mindful of those shifting trends. “We don't have a dogmatic posture on who should be wearing our watches,” says Carrez. “With Cartier, this is really their decision. We can see that the Pasha chronograph, for example, will be worn equally by women and by men; there is no preconceived idea about who will be wearing our watches. They are beautiful; people are free to select the ones that correspond to their style and their character.”
Rotonde de Cartier Astrotourbillon, part of a set of three, price on request; Tank Must in blue, green or burgundy ($2,720), available in September; Tank Must with SolarBeat Photovoltaic cell ($2,610), available in September; Pasha de Cartier Chronograph 41mm in steel ($9,450), available in July. (Prices are subject to change until launch.)
You Might Also Like