Extraordinary Encounters (I): Cartier’s First Wristwatch for Men

Saffronart’s inaugural Jewellery Conference, titled The Timeless Legacy of Indian Jewels, was held on 6 – 7 October 2017, and was the first of its scale in the region. Counting down the weeks to our second conference in October 2019, we bring you some interesting anecdotes that were shared by our expert speakers in 2017. 

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Watch Now: The Timeless Legacy of Indian Jewels

Saffronart Co-founder Minal Vazirani and jewellery historian Usha Balakrishnan on the upcoming conference, The Timeless Legacy of Indian Jewels.

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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 Troisanneaux.com, 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!

Art Deco and India’s Royal Families

Nishad Avari of Saffronart on the status of Art Deco in India’s royal collections 

Mumbai: In the nineteenth century, first under the East India Company and then as part of the British Empire when Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India, not only did the Indian princes find themselves “…increasingly having to accommodate and entertain Europeans on equal terms,” but they also started developing a taste for the Western luxury goods and standards of living they now had a chance to experience.

By the 1920s, “Within one generation of western education the lifestyle of India’s princes were transformed and they began to wear western clothes, engage in western games and eat western food…those princes who could afford it abandoned their traditional residences for new, substantial palaces principally designed by western architects…[and] were built to accommodate western-style living, with its specific rooms for dining, sleeping, socializing, sport and recreation. The western-style elevated furniture and domestic articles needed to outfit these new vast palaces were readily supplied by British firms such as Maple & Co. and Waring & Gillow, both of which had showrooms in India… For Western firms making luxury goods, be it F & C Osler, Baccarat, Cartier, Boucheron, Louis Vuitton, Holland & Holland or Rolls Royce, Indian princes proved to be substantial clients and at certain times, such as during the Great Depression, were the mainstay of business” (Amin Jaffar, Made for Maharajas, Lustre Press/Roli Books, Mumbai, 2007, p. 15. 18).

Many of the items created by these firms for Indian royals between the 1920s and 1940s were crafted in the Art Deco style that had taken Europe by storm at the time. As a result, members of India’s royal families came to be regarded as some of the greatest patrons of Art Deco architecture, interiors, jewelry and accessories were.

From entire palaces constructed in the style, most notably in Morvi, Jodhpur and Indore, to highly customised jewelry, furniture and accessories purchased from European firms like Cartier, Boucheron and Louis Vuitton, India’s maharajas were captivated by the glamour, elegance and modernity that Art Deco represented as these were all principles central to their lifestyles.

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To read more about the history of the Art Deco movement, click here.

Learn more about our Art Deco Auction auction.

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