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As retailers to aristocracy and royalty, Cartier has garnered a reputation as high-end purveyors of jewellery and luxury goods. No longer the exclusive reserve of the social elite, Cartier has become known as a watch brand with a rich history, that includes the invention of the first men's wristwatch. Read moreView All
Sometimes overlooked by the serious watch enthusiast, Cartier watches have more history, relevance and pedigree than some might realise. Although the purveyor of fine jewellery and leather accessories is not predominately a watchmaker, it has had a surprisingly significant influence on the horological evolution of centuries past.
Inherited from master watchmaker Adolph Picard in 1847, apprentice Louis-Francois Cartier took over his Paris-based workshop at the age of 29. His aim was to continue the tradition of fine watch and jewellery making, and before long, the brand’s reputation had spread across the country. Less than ten years later, the sale of the company’s goods transcended to royalty, namely Princess Mathilde, cousin of Emperor Napoleon III, who was the first of the company's many aristocratic customers.
As Louis-Francois grew older, he enlisted the help of his three sons, Louis, Pierre and Jacques, who helped to expand the brand. Boutiques opened across Paris, garnering much interest and excitement, the social elite flocking to join the ever-growing list of clients purchasing the brand’s exquisite watches and jewellery.
The brothers spread the wings of the business further still by opening a boutique on New Burlington Street in London. This was in 1902, the same year as the coronation of King Edward VII, a strategy that proved to be a wise one as only two years later, the company received a royal warrant to become the king’s official purveyor of fine jewellery. The king had declared Cartier as ‘joaillier des rois, roi des joailliers' or ‘jeweller to kings, king of jewellers’. In that same year, the company also received appointment as official purveyor to King Alfonso XIII of Spain. The appointments went on to include the courts of Portugal, Russia, Siam, Greece, Serbia, Belgium, Romania, Egypt, Albania, Orleans and Monaco.
When aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont complained that the size, shape and unreliability of pocket watches made them unsuitable for flying, his friend Louis Cartier offered to help. He designed a timepiece that fastened to the wrist with a leather band and the first men’s wristwatch was born. The watch, named the Santos, was a hit with Santos-Dumont, and his celebrity status made men’s watches fashionable for the first time.
The company continued to develop with the expertise of watchmaker Edmond Jaeger, who later co-founded Jaeger-LeCoultre. Edmond Jaeger was an expert at designing ultra-thin movements, ideal for the new era of Cartier watches. Since then, movements from Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet, Movado and even ones developed in-house have been used in the brand’s watches, which include the Pasha, the Tank, the Roadster and the Ballon Bleu.
The Cartier ethos is to celebrate form as an equal of function, resulting in pieces that are bold and mesmerising. A notable creation was the Mystery Clock, a mantelpiece clock with hands that appeared to float inside a transparent crystal face. The brand’s contribution to art, culture and design is like no other jeweller to date, and long shall its emotive creations continue to amaze, bedazzle and enthral.