Cartier – over a century of worldwide success

by John Wallis


Brand in focus: the history of Cartier's je ne sais quoi

September 05. 2017 - by John Wallis

For decades, the name Cartier has been synonymous with style, elegance and quality. The Parisian jeweller has long been one of the most prestigious maisons in Europe, sought by all who desire true luxury and distinction in their timepieces. Today its stellar reputation continues to be earned in every model it makes.

Royal Decree

The first Cartier – Louis-François – established his Paris workshop in 1847, at the height of revolution. The firm would stay in the family for 125 years, passing first to the founder's son, Alfred, and then, at the start of the 20th century, to his grandsons, Louis, Pierre and Jacques. It was Louis Cartier who really cemented the brand's extraordinary fame. With his innovations and ultra-fashionable designs, he forged a name that was soon sought by all of high society – including royalty. King Edward VII himself christened Cartier “Jeweller of Kings, King of Jewellers”.

Glory Days

Louis Cartier's game-changing ideas included such novelties as the use of platinum in jewellery, breathtaking “mystery” clocks that seem to work by magic, and a special water-resistant watch made for the Pasha of Marrakech to wear when swimming. His Tank design, inspired by the new vehicles he had witnessed on the Western Front, remains iconic to this day, but perhaps his greatest contribution to horological history is the popularisation of the idea of wearing watches on the wrist at all. The first widely worn wristwatch was made by Cartier for his friend, the aviator Albert Santos-Dumont, whose popularity and fame ensured that the trend caught on.

After Louis' death in 1942, Cartier continued to live up to its “King of Jewellers” reputation, exploring and evolving its established watches while introducing new families: from the exceptional Baignoire, Panthère and Roadster to more recent concepts like Ballon Bleu and Calibre de Cartier. Cartier's finest collections include: 

Discover our 5 favourite models from Cartier at CHRONEXT 

Cartier Tank

Tanks were a brand new concept in both the military and in watchmaking in the early part of the 20th century. First appearing at the Battle of the Somme, tanks won huge celebrity status in Britain and France, and Louis Cartier capitalised on this with a phenomenal new design of square-cased watch. An early icon of Art Deco style, the Tank was a compelling, visionary fashion statement. Its chief innovation was the incorporation of thick lugs into the main case, instead of welding them on as an afterthought. The watch has enjoyed several excellent upgrades and re-imaginings in the years since, but its key design has stayed the same: large Roman numerals, blued hands, octagonal crown with sapphire cabochon. Just recently, Cartier celebrated the 100th anniversary of the classic Tank, introducing the Tank Louis Cartier 100th Anniversary models to the market. 


Cartier Santos

One of the earliest as well as most significant creations attributed to Louis Cartier, the Santos watch traces its origins to 1904. The watch pioneered design ideas that would later be developed by Tank and other watches, making it astonishingly ahead of its time. Many see the Santos as the first true pilots watch, and it has a fundamental place in the history of aviation, because it was designed by Louis for Santos-Dumont to help him fly – pocket watches are clumsy tools for a cockpit. Tapping the glory of the early days of aviation, the Santos' historic popularity has continued all the way to the present day.


Cartier Ballon Bleu

Cartier's heyday may have been the first half of the 20th century, but the company has been far from stagnant since then. Innovations and new collections have consistently impressed the watch world throughout the last few decades – including the ultra-advanced Concept ID watches of recent years. One of the newest collections is the beautiful Ballon Bleu, designed to capture classic elegance in new and futuristic forms. The secret is simplicity: this watch does not overreach, relying on an understated, organic finesse to achieve its sumptuous shape and aesthetic. Roman numerals, blued hands and of course a cabochon remain distinctive elements.


Cartier Pasha de Cartier

Cartier is known for its distinctive rectangular and oval cases, but the Ballon Bleu was by no means the first watch to develop the form of the circle. The Pasha is a delightful watch family with a distinguished heritage. The modern Pasha watches were designed by the legendary Gerald Genta in the 1980s (the same mind behind the Nautilus, Royal Oak and others), inspired by the Pasha watches Cartier put on sale in 1943. These in turn were based on the famous waterproof timepiece created for the Pasha himself in the early 1930s. Since then, Pasha watches have blossomed into a variety of superb forms, many experimenting with prestigious materials and complications.


Cartier Panthère

The panther has been a guiding design inspiration, femininity metaphor and spirit animal of sorts for Cartier for more than a century. Identified with Jeanne Toussaint, a visionary designer and early collaborator with Louis Cartier, the company has used the wildcat in its creations since at least 1914, when panther patterns were picked out on a wristwatch in gemstones. The modern Panthère collection was launched in the 1980s, becoming a chic style icon of the era with its stunning grace and confidence. The collection has happily been rejuvenated in 2017 with a range of fantastic new models that return to the essence of Panthère fashion.

John Wallis

by John Wallis

Living and working in London, John has been writing about watches since graduating university. He got his start at SalonQP, London's finest watch show, where he was inspired by the breadth and creativity of the modern industry. His fascination with mechanical horology has only grown from there.

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