This is a guest post by Sarah-Jane Adams.
Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but luxury brand Cartier isn’t just known for its exquisite jewellery. Pioneers in making the wristwatch fashionable amongst men, the purveyor of luxury goods is more than just a pretty (watch) face. In fact, Cartier is responsible for some of the most interesting developments in horological history, a detail easily overlooked among the shiny lights and twinkling offerings of their lavish jewellery showrooms.
At the turn of the century, the fashion for short sleeves ensured that ladies’ wristwatches were already popular, adorning the exposed wrists of high society, yet the concept was deemed to be too feminine and delicate to be favoured by men. The pivotal change in attitudes came in 1904, when Louis Cartier created a small pocket watch mounted on a leather strap in order for his friend, Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos Dumont, to be able to tell the time hands free while flying. Later dubbed the Santos De Cartier, this model popularised the new male version of the accessory, and set a new standard in watchmaking.
In the same year, Cartier received its first royal appointment as official purveyor to King Edward VII, cementing its reputation as the ‘King of jewellers, jeweller of Kings.’ Cartier would reinforce its close ties with the Royal Family by presenting Queen Elizabeth with one of the smallest wristwatches in the world in 1938. Whether she followed Dumont’s example and donned a set of flying goggles to use it while manning her own aircraft remains unclear.
Perhaps the most recognisable Cartier watch, the Tank, came into being in 1917, and the ladies’ version has subsequently been embraced by women as legendary as Jackie O, Greta Garbo and Michelle Obama. A timeless classic, the Tank is often identified as the go-to aspirational timepiece for women, and has been universally adopted by the fashion set; Parisian couturiers such as Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Balmain and Yves Saint Laurent all wore the men’s’ model. The Tank is not for everyone however, as the first choice of current Royal icon Kate Middleton is the Cartier Ballon Bleu.
As expected from one of the world’s most famous names in gemology, Cartier watches don’t shy away from a touch of sparkle, with many of the higher end models incorporating precious stones and metals into their design. The iconic motif of the company, the panther, even formed the basis of a ladies’ wristwatch in 1914, extravagantly created from diamonds and onyx. Fortunately, today’s buyer has access to vintage Cartier watches, allowing us to enjoy a touch of luxury at pre-owned prices.
‘A little bit of Cartier is good for everyone,’ declared a Cartier New York advertisement in 1972. And that’s certainly true for those with a taste for the finer things in life, whether it be watches, or jewellery. Richard Burton may have famously gifted Elizabeth Taylor the $1.1 million Cartier Diamond, and Prince Rainer may have proposed to Grace Kelly with an emerald cut solitaire, but for us, Cartier’s greatest legacy will always be worn on our wrists.
Sarah-Jane Adams is a contributor to Watchfinder & Co.’s digital publication The Watch Magazine. Visit thewatchmagazine.com for more on watches, and www.watchfinder.co.uk to browse a selection of fine pre-owned watches
* In collaboration with Watchfinder & Co.