03/08/2019
 4 minutes

The History of Watchmaking: Cartier’s Milestone Watches

By Christopher Beccan
History of Cartier
The History of Watchmaking: Cartier’s Milestone Watches

Cartier is a household name perhaps most widely associated with jewelry. Make no mistake: Cartier is one of the world’s most famous jewelers, but we’d be remiss to forget their role as pioneers of the wristwatch. In 1847, Louis Cartier inherited his mentor’s workshop in Paris, and the rest, as they say, is history. As a watchmaker, the Cartier brand deserves respect for increasing the popularity of wristwatches. Before them, pocket watches were the preferred method of telling the time. Although other companies were already making them, Cartier was the first to commercialize wristwatches and to make this wrist accessory the mainstay it is today. This article will take a look at some of their most iconic pieces, as well as one we believe has the potential to be a future classic.

The Santos-Dumont

The Santos was the first practical wristwatch made and designed by Louis Cartier. Aviator and friend of Cartier, Alberto Santos-Dumont, approached him to discuss the need for watches that could be read while flying. Louis Cartier went back to his drawing board and came up with a solution. In 1904, Santos-Dumont took to the skies with a watch strapped to his wrist. This was no converted pocket watch but rather a proper wristwatch. The design was simple: a square watch with rounded corners and integrated lugs. In 1911, Louis Cartier decided to commercialize the Santos-Dumont. Over a century later, the Santos remains largely unchanged and a beloved timepiece.

The Tank

After the success of the Santos, Louis Cartier embarked upon a quest to create another wristwatch. In 1917, the world first laid eyes on the Cartier Tank. It’s said that Louis Cartier designed the Tank during WWI after being inspired by the Renault tank. This explains both the collection’s name and its resemblance to a tank as viewed from above. The Cartier Tank is available in both square and rectangular designs, each with an integrated strap. There are many variations of the Cartier Tank, including the Cintrée, Basculante, Solo, Française, and Anglaise. One thing they all have in common is the iconic Tank design, which like that of the Santos, remains unchanged to this day.

Tortue Mono Poussoir

The two wristwatches mentioned above both have one thing in common: They are both uncomplicated, time-only watches. However, Cartier has much more to offer. In 1928, they introduced the Tortue Mono Poussoir. Unlike the cases of the Santos or Tank, this timepiece’s case was tonneau-shaped and resembled a turtle, hence the name Tortue. Early pieces featured a movement from a joint partnership between Cartier and Edmond Jaeger (Jaeger-LeCoultre). They signed the contract back in 1907, giving Cartier the exclusive rights to all of Jaeger’s complicated movements. This goes to show just how forward-thinking Cartier was.

The layout of the Tortue was still very Cartier but included two subdials and a single push-piece, which allowed for a more classic and elegant-looking chronograph. While the Tortue wasn’t a pillar of Cartier’s main catalog like the Santos and Tank, the Tortue did reappear in the 1990s through what was known as CPCP (Collection Privée, Cartier Paris) – a series that only ran for 10 years. One of the first pieces in that series was a faithful recreation of the Tortue Mono Poussoir. 

The Drive

The Drive is perhaps the sole modern Cartier timepiece aimed squarely at men. While Cartier has produced multiple masculine sports watches in recent years, they’ve never quite truly felt Cartier. As we know, Cartier is renowned for creating elegant timepieces, and we believe the Cartier Drive from 2016 is set to be a future classic. Why? It’s 40-mm cushion-shaped case is refined yet very masculine. At the same time, it remains elegant and thin but with a sporty edge. The guilloché dial is a feast for the eyes. It and the bolt-like crown are said to be inspired by the radiator grills of vintage cars, hence the name Drive de Cartier. Unlike the other pieces we’ve mentioned, it features an in-house Cartier caliber, which shows just how far Cartier has comes since the days of old. The Drive de Cartier is one of the nicest modern wristwatches Cartier has produced in recent years. Its design is timeless, despite having only been introduced a couple of years ago. This is why we believe it will be a future classic.

Summary

In summary, Cartier is much more than just a jeweler and watch manufacturer. Over the past century, they’ve redefined how watches are worn through their bold, iconic designs and forward-thinking concepts. Their watches are so well designed that they’ve transcended the level of wristwatch to become status symbols, worn by some of the most important people throughout history.

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About the Author

Christopher Beccan

Christopher Beccan is the founder of the online magazine "Bexsonn," where he regularly writes about his two passions: extraordinary timepieces and whiskey. His work …

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