Time Warp

Cartier’s watch cases’ restlessly futuristic flex has always been groundbreaking, but now it’s eternal, thanks to the Vintage initiative


At a 1973 auction in Geneva city centre, a besuited man from Cartier successfully bid for a piece made half a century earlier: a Portique ‘mystery clock’ shaped as a Shinto shrine with hands seemingly floating amidst a kaleidoscope of gold, platinum, rock crystal, diamonds, onyx, coral and enamel.

This was the first of a fabulous accrual of jewels, timepieces and precious accessories, all signed ‘Cartier’ and all representing the grande maison’s quintessential, Parisian panache. The oldest pieces date back to 1860 and, at last count, the Cartier Collection numbered over 3,000 pieces, a retro-fitted archive that is as informative to the boys and girls in R&D as it is poignant.

The Portique clock was also the start of a three-pronged advance in preserving and perpetuating that classical newness that shoots through every department of Cartier. For a start, there is the core catalogue of new watches: a museum of undying classics in its own right – from the rectangular Tank (unaltered since 1917, rightly so) to the bimetal bling of Santos (even older, still square, just as hip) – but, much like Rolex, constantly fine-tuned to remain at the fore, technically.


There’s Cartier Privé too, which rather than nurture a core of evergreen favourites, sporadically revives vintage oddities. Often framing cutting-edge mechanical complications, the collection embraces the brand’s formative experimentalism (just try and google a normal round Cartier) and, needless to say, its hen’s-tooth exclusivity.

Which brings us to the third prong of Cartier’s self-curation: ‘Vintage’. If you think Privé sounds too limited for comfort look away now, for barely 20 historic pieces have passed muster since 2019, let alone found deserving homes.

Focusing only on mechanical watches made from the early 1970s to early 2010s, Cartier Vintage showcases the brand’s horological heritage through rigorous sourcing, authentication, restoration and ultimately sale of its most symbolic classics.

The early-’70s lower bracket doesn’t seem terribly ‘vintage’, but there’s pleasingly anarchic reasoning. Back then, amidst the onslaught of cheap East Asian electronics, a counterculture was brewing: collectors seeking something wilfully ornate, united in defiance of what English watchmaker Dr George Daniels dubbed, “those damned electricians”.


When batteries and circuit boards started swaggering about, Cartier responded commercially and bullishly with Collection Louis Cartier – watches with solid-gold cases and mechanical movements, at a time when vermeil gold-coating and quartz were order of the day. And it could only be Cartier. Since the days of Louis himself, around the turn of the century, his family firm’s wristwatches had always been the classiest expression of ‘timekeeping as jewellery’: simple two-handers, elevated to the sublime through innovative case, dial and inner mechanics, ticking and whirring in perfect harmony.

Buying back old pieces, refurbishing them and offering them for sale at its own boutiques isn’t new to Cartier. In fact, it pre-empted the need for ‘authenticated pre-owned’ by a matter of decades, as the market has become more awash with legit yet un-legitimised vintage. But what Cartier Vintage offers today continues to push things forward.

Their salespeople-cum-curators consider ‘significantly historic’ pieces from clients in Paris, New York and London, with their authenticity then confirmed first and foremost by the archivists in Paris. Then they are given to Cartier’s watchmakers in Switzerland’s horology heartland, La Chaux-de-Fonds, where Paris has seen fit to establish a cutting-edge facility staffed by the local, expert tweezer-wielders, surrounded by docile cows and their clanking bells.

Although refurbishment includes an exhaustive servicing of each element, it never systematically erases inevitable signs of use – collectors cherish so-called ‘patina’. Which circles back to Cartier’s original intent of 1973 nicely. Like the Japanese Shinto temple architecture and its inherent philosophy represented by that 1923 clock, there is no absolute right and wrong, and nobody is perfect. Shinto is an optimistic faith, just as a Swiss timepiece will always continue to keep ticking.


Photography Rebecca Scheinberg

Set design Carrie Louise

This article is taken from Port issue 30. To continue reading, buy the issue or subscribe here


High Campanology

Cartier’s highfalutin’ Privé collection rings in a renewed era of dandyism, at the dual hands of the revamped Cloche

Frequent flyers more used to turning left than right will be familiar with Cartier’s oeuvre at the airport, and the pull of an end-of-trip treat. The Parisian titan of luxury has become a fixture of international retail, showcasing a catalogue of wallets, scarfs, pendants, sunglasses, and fragrances seamlessly from Adelaide to Zürich. And alongside these, an ever-gleaming lexicon of shapes in watch form, each named accordingly, for example: Tortue (tortoise), Ballon Bleu (blue balloon), Tank (the footprint of an actual tank), and so on.

There are some that have collectors making like a Pokémon trainer – such as the beauty you see here. Unless you had a particularly memorable visit to Cartier’s Place Vendôme flagship in 1984 or 2007, or your grandfather took advantage of a pop-up Cartier concession at Croydon Airport in 1922, it’ll come as an exotic sight.

All the usual codes of Cartier’s historic line in Swiss timekeeping are intact – railway track minute markings, sword-shaped hands, crown-set cabochon sapphire – but it’s all about that cloche case. Although originally inspired by stirrups, the name came from the silhouette of the bell rung at a service counter – a shape apparent when you lay your Cloche de Cartier on the nightstand (at which point it handily doubles as a travel clock).

The Cloche de Cartier is the ultimate expression of the jeweller as watchmaker: ordinary movements powering two-handed watches, elevated to the whimsical and sublime by innovative case and dial design. The best vintage examples are by the Cartier London imprint established in the ’60s for the would-be Parisian dandies this side of La Manche; shapes include the elongated Maxi Oval (or Baignoire (bathtub), as it’s known today) or the Dali-esque Crash, (actually named after something more gruesome than melting clocks).

That Cartier once bought back old pieces and refurbished them for sale at its own boutiques is testimony to the potent, if latent, market for Le Grand Maison’s vintage experimentalism. The sort of money required to fully restore a dilapidated watch would have bought a nice new Cartier London just two decades ago.

With typical enterprise and farsightedness, in 1981 Cartier initiated the Collection Louis Cartier, which became Collection Privée Cartier Paris, in 1998, and is now simply Cartier Privé – a highly limited, painstakingly curated greatest-hits compilation, updated annually, remastered, and remixed, with exhaustive liner notes.

It was only a matter of time. During the late ’70s and early ’80s, the rebooted and blinged-up square Santos – especially the yellow-gold-and-steel bicolour version – challenged mighty Rolex as wrist-candy of choice on the St Mortiz–St Tropez axis of disco glitz. In parallel to the jet-set/Wall Street success of the Santos, interest in proper mechanical watchmaking over electric quartz was back on the rise. In other words, a perfect storm of hot luxe and luxe horology – Cartier in an oyster shell.

Privé’s simpler movements were sourced from the various esteemed Swiss marques under the ward of Cartier’s parent, the Richemont Group – mostly Piaget and Jaeger-LeCoultre. Complicated movements, like those powering the remake of the 1920s so-called ‘Digital’ Tank à Guichets, or those upgrading the Tortue or Rotonde with single-pusher chronograph or tourbillon, were all courtesy of the Jura’s growing network of white-label hothouses of high horology – that is to say, Girard-Perregaux, Audemars Piguet’s R&D arm, Renaud & Papi, plus the mysterious THA.

Come 2007, with pre-crash horological hedonism at fever pitch, Cartier’s curated cabinet of curiosities was wrenched open once again to rapturous effect, revealing the elusive Cloche (just 100 examples, catch them if you can!) From there, a tipping point: high time for Cartier to unshackle from suppliers and invest in what was to become one of Watch Valley’s biggest and best-equipped manufacturing facilities: 30,000 square feet of Cartier Manufacture.

Sure enough (more to the point, if you’re quick enough), your 2021 Cloche de Cartier ticks to the tune of the dainty, manually wound 1917 MC Manufacture movement, created in 2019 entirely in-house upon the slopes of La Chaux-de-Fonds, like its countless other micromechanical siblings. The cultish Cloche is now at its most complete, and is one of Cartier Privé’s most privé creations.


Photography Norman Wilcox-Geissen

Set design Lune Kuipers

Dining and kitchen accessories via Borough Kitchen and David Mellor

Circling the Square

It’s time to feel the passion of Pasha once again – back from the ’80s, more rounded than ever, more Cartier than ever

Pasha was a stone-cold bling-bling classic of the ’80s – rumoured to have its origins in the ’30s, when Cartier was presented with a technical challenge from a vip client: a watertight watch he could wear for his daily dips in the swimming pool.

The matter of water resistance in wristwatches was a hot topic at the time, as more and more people were wearing them, rather than sporting pocket watches tucked safely away from the elements. With typical form, the grande maison of Paris’s Rue de la Paix answered its client’s brief with an ingenious solution: a cap that screwed down onto the vulnerable winding crown, sealing it off. Additionally, with a touch of flair only Cartier, the virtuoso jeweller, could muster, the cap was topped by a blue spinel gem (or cabochon) and attached to the case by a short, dainty gold chain link.

By 1985, the luxury-watch market was flooded (excuse the pun) with rather more fit-for-purpose swimming watches: Rolex, in a nutshell. But, nonetheless, it made sense to reinterpret a one-off number conceived in historic extravagance, at a time when indulgence was becoming the ’80s’ calling card.

Pumping up the Pasha’s outré forms to suit the ongoing craze for ‘sporty luxe’, with somewhat more of a disco vibe, Cartier preserved Monsieur Louis’s original, squared-off Vendôme lugs of 1934 (named after the rectangular plaza of Parisian luxury retail), and, of course, the Pasha’s defining chain-linked cap.

The difference was in the size. In keeping with the era’s reputation for flex, the round case was enlarged to 38mm and made more bulbous on the wrist; plus, his signature knack for geometric interplay came to bear on the dial, with a square ‘railway track’ filigree lending tension to the big picture.

So what’s new for the rebooted Pasha of 2020? Are we even ready for a watch born of fecund times, designed with glamorous intermingling in mind? The truth of the matter is that the Pasha of 2020 couldn’t feel more stately, or more composed.

Its extrovert lines have been smoothed to contemporary tastes, the build of its movement and instant strap switchability each lending real-world, always-on versatility.

Four fittingly ornate Arabic numerals bolster Cartier’s modern tendency toward the oversized, while the bracelet’s pattern is accentuated by the mesmeric clous de Paris dial engravings. Initially targeted at the men of boardrooms and corner offices, the Pasha of the ’80s was quickly adopted by Wall Street women and Long Island ladies for the power it exuded. Hence, the new Pasha doesn’t stop at the screw-down cap when it comes to Cartier’s crowning blue ‘cabochon’ jewel: They’ve added another one inside, Russian-doll style, to the winding crown itself. Stealth wealth and ‘If you know, you know’ insider detailing, in other words.

Said crown is your sole interface with the mechanical movement ticking away inside – Pasha’s other big switch-up for 2020. Admirable through the clear sapphire caseback is Cartier’s own in-house- manufactured 1847 mc calibre, guaranteeing peace of mind thanks to its resistance to magnetism (magnetism being the mechanical watch’s biggest enemy in our neodymium battery-powered world of smart devices). The ‘escapement’ – where the flow of energy through the watch’s mechanics is eked out, tick for the tock – is made from inert nickel phosphorous. Meanwhile, a paramagnetic alloy is integrated into the case.

In steel or gold bracelet, or alligator leather, all straps can be interchanged thanks to the Cartier-developed QuickSwitch system. Then there’s the ability to personalise the secret patch of case hidden beneath the crown cap’s lever with your own initials: adding further gratification and connection every time you interact with your talisman.

While its watches have always been about throwing innovative shapes, the redux Pasha sees Cartier in better shape than ever.

Photography George Harvey

This article is taken from issue 27. To buy the issue or subscribe, click here