Cartier: A Chic Way to Wake Up

Manjari Sihare of Saffronart explores Cartier’s timekeeping history

New York: This week The Story by Saffronart offers a unique selection of watches and clocks in its collection, The Art of Keeping Time. An exquisite highlight of the collection is a Cartier Art Deco Alarm Clock from the 1990s.

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Of all luxury brands, perhaps one which most people are familiar with is Cartier. The firm established in Paris in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier, an apprentice to Parisian jeweler Adolphe Picard, who took over the business at the death of his master. In less than 6 years, by 1853, young Louis-François became a favorite of Napoleon III’s cousin Princess Mathilde, who was single handedly instrumental in his entry into Parisian society. For most part of the 19th century, Cartier was strictly a jeweler. It was not until the reigns of the company passed on to his sons, Louis, Pierre, and Jacques that the Paris jeweler’s name became synonymous with wristwatches.

In 1904, Brazilian aviation pioneer, Alberto-Santos Dumont complained to his friend Louis Cartier about the non–reliability of pocket watches which prompted Louis to craft a more reliable alternative. This was the birth of the Santos wristwatch which is considered to be the first men’s wristwatch to be created. A flat wristwatch with a square bezel, the legacy this pioneering design can still be seen in modern Cartier watches. In 1907, Edmond Jaeger and Cartier signed a contract under which all Jaeger’s movement designs for a period of 15 years would be exclusive to Cartier.

The next watches to be introduced in the range were the Baignoire and Tortue in 1912 followed by the Tank model in 1917. All three models are still in production today. This is the essence of Cartier, what makes the firm unique in so many ways. It is one of the few brands that still include versions of its most initial models in its current lineup. The pieces are literally timeless, as new models usually carry the DNA of vintage Cartier watches, constantly improved, slightly adjusted and re-released. Earlier this year (14 December 2011 to 12 February 2012), the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore hosted the exhibition “Cartier Time Art” , the largest collection of historical Cartier timepieces ever displayed in public. Conceived by award-winning designer Tokujin Yoshioka, the exhibition aimed to take visitors on a journey to the heart of Cartier watch-making, and included 158 historical timepieces from objects dating to the origins of the firm to the present day. Bernard Fornas, CEO of Cartier International speaks about the show in this short preview.

This exhibition was special also because it showcased a large selection of alarm clocks by Cartier for the first time. Much has been written and seen regarding Cartier wristwatches but less is known about its alarm clocks. Fine Cartier clocks have been in production since the late 1800’s, longer than the wristwatches. It is important to know that almost every well known watch model by Cartier, from the Tank to the Pasha are all available as alarm clocks, and sometimes even as table clocks. The wristwatch cousins of both the Tank and Pasha alarm clocks were featured in our recently concluded Autumn Auction of Fine Jewels & Watches, 2012.

Cartier expert George Cramer encapsulates the chronological history of Cartier clocks from the early 1900s until now in a post on Revo-Online, the digital version of leading international watch magazine. Cramer is an authority on Cartier watches and operates, non-commercial online library on men’s Cartier watches.

The Art Deco Clock features prominently in Cramer’s selection. He indicates that buying a second hand vintage clock is advisable provided it is the right model. Vintage Cartier clocks from the 1980s used a battery that is no longer available for replacement. Batteries of clocks from the 1990s such as the Art Deco one are more widely available making them a more favorable acquisition. Starting your day with the supple chime of a Cartier alarm clock is one of life’s modest luxuries!

Timeless Elegance: The Cartier Tank

Amy Lin of Saffronart introduces the classic Cartier Tank wristwatch

Must de Cartier Tank Vermeil Wristwatch
The Story by Saffronart

New York: The Cartier Tank is easily one of the most iconic watches of the 20th century.  Ever since its debut in 1917, it has never stopped evolving and continues to be celebrated today.

Louis Cartier developed the blueprint for the legendry Tank watch during the Great War. Inspired by patriotism and the Renault tanks used on the Western Front, the case consists of a rectangular bezel encasing a square crystal, resonating with image of a WWI ‘tank’. This watch elegantly resolved the problem of combining timepieces with wrist bands by hiding the lugs under the case’s elongated sidepieces. Cartier later presented the design to General John Pershing of the American Expeditionary Force. With its classic design, the Tank instantly became a favourite among celebrities throughout the decades, with patrons such as Yves Saint Laurent, Truman Capote, and even Michelle Obama.

Yves Saint Laurent photographed wearing a Cartier Tank watch, Paris, 1983
Photograph by: Irving Penn
Image Credit:,irving-penn.html

There have been many Tank iterations over the last 95 years. The Tank Francaise, for example, has a metal bracelet that mimics the caterpillar tracks on army tanks while the Tank Chinoise has a case that echoes a temple doorway.

The Cartier Tanks featured in our The Story by Saffronart are from both Cartier and Les Must de Cartier, a sub-brand that was established in the mid-seventies.  It’s said the line was inspired by a staff member who said, “Cartier, it’s a must.”  These Tank watches are significant for many reasons. They were the first large scale commercial watches to use vermeil (gold-plated silver) casing for a vintage accent. In addition, they became Cartier’s most affordable items during the eighties and nineties in an effort to combat counterfeits. The many editions of the watches feature various Arabic and Roman numerals with colourful bands, but always retain the classic “tank” design.

Cartier Silver Tank Wristwatch
The Story by Saffronart

Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s style director says it best in Franco Cologni’s book,“ The evolution of design of the Tank is never whimsical; it goes together with the original intentions of the design to create the purest shape possible. The Tank watch, for us, is the purest shape ever created. It has ‘essential design,’ design that looks for the essence of things. We don’t like useless décor but we are not just talking about function. The features, a sense of proportion, the volume, and colours, everything is considered and everything belongs where it should.” In essence, the Tank perfectly fuses simplicity with elegance, combing both mechanical ingenuity and artistic design. Tanks may not be the most elaborate watches available, but their Cartier heritage and timeless design make them a must for watch collectors and lovers.