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Review: Cartier Pasha de Cartier

Cartier. One of the top five luxury brands in the world, makers of jewellery, handbags and perfume, it’s possible to overlook the fact that this is a company that makes watches as well. But does that mean you shouldn’t consider a Cartier for your next watch? We’ve got the new Pasha in to find out, and as you’ll see, it’s far from a fashion watch—it’s aimed squarely at the watch nerd. We spoke to Cartier Director of Image, Heritage and Style Pierre Rainero to find out why.

Jewellers Are Watchmaking

We’ll start not specifically with the Pasha, but with a question of its very existence: should jewellers be making watches? Cartier is and always has been unabashedly a jeweller, founded in 1847 by a jeweller’s apprentice, Louis-François Cartier, who very firmly believed in the beauty of style. Mr Rainero is quite clear in stating that Cartier’s focus is, to this day, style, formed from an aesthetic language rather than an engineering one.

But a jewellery store, Louis Cartier’s included, wasn’t just a place that sold jewellery; it stocked an array of fine things, including clocks and pocket watches. More often than not these items were made by third-party watchmakers and supplied with the jeweller’s name stamped on the dial.

For Cartier, that list included Patek Philippe, Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre—and many, many more. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Why did these big-name watchmakers need the help of a jeweller?” and the truth is because these big-name watchmakers were in big trouble. It was the early 1900s, and the pocket watches that had been their livelihood for decades and even centuries were out.

Cartier, on the other hand, was doing just fine. Couldn’t be more popular. The business was furnishing kings and queens and heads of state with its wares, was the absolute height of Parisian celebrity. And, with a little help from Cartier friend Edmond Jaeger, had just changed the course of watchmaking overnight with a celebrity endorsement for a watch that could be worn on the wrist: the Santos.

And so, these old-school pocket watch-makers all panicked and tried to pivot into wristwatch-making too, and it was up to jewellers like Cartier to get them sold. And get them sold they did. Makes sense, then, for Cartier to make its own watches too, which it has done since that 1904 Santos. The big difference, really, is the approach, the mentality. Cartier isn’t looking for complexity on the inside, more style on the outside. The Cartier Crash springs to mind, a design that adds no benefit to the watch beyond a visual story inspired, so the legend says, by a watch that was mishappen in a car crash. This, Mr Rainero explains, is the Cartier approach. It’s a style moulded from “La vie de forme”—the shapes of life, a balance of design harmony.

Is that proper watchmaking? Well let’s be real for a moment: proper watchmaking is whatever gets watches sold, what people like you and I and everyone else actually choose to buy. In 1904, Cartier’s sense of style made the wristwatch popular and gave new hope to an entire industry. Today, it commands the third highest market share in watchmaking alone, ahead of both Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet. Is Cartier part of watchmaking? Should it be making watches? It seems, to me at least, that Cartier doesn’t just have a precedent for making watches—it is watchmaking.

Old School Cool

Throughout the ages of pocket watches and clocks, what sets apart the masters from everyone else is decoration. What I’m talking about really is the crux of why watchmakers struggled so much with the shift to wristwatches. Up until then, a timekeeper was a canvas for its artist to paint upon, to show off the most incredible work. Think of the 1353 Conciergerie Clock by Jean Le Bon, the 1530 Nuremberg Egg by Peter Henlein or the 1777 Marine Chronometer by Thomas Mudge and you’ll see that the visual experience is as important as the practical.

Mr Rainero tells us that Cartier design encompasses a responsibility not just towards the future, but the past as well. The Pasha may not be an astronomical clock, but its 41mm case is awash with classic details that are like a compendium of watchmaking traditions all bottled up into one design. Take the guilloché on the dial, for example, a Cartier staple and something that I think is often overlooked. This side of a Breguet, where else do you get to enjoy this level of dial decoration? Funnily enough, one of the only other places you will see it is in a watch that very much benefited from Cartier’s revolution in watch design, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso. Guilloché as a method of decoration has existed since the 1700s, and one that has almost disappeared today.

And the lug design, centralised rather than staggered; it’s one of many designs Cartier has developed over the years—including a setup that hides the lugs completely—in an effort to keep the wristwatch style fresh. You think this is bold? You should take a look at what else Cartier was up to in the forties and fifties. The Pasha is actually pretty tame by comparison. “Rein de trop,” Mr Rainero says knowingly. Nothing too much.

But what intrigues me most about the Pasha is the crown. It has of course the blue sapphire cabochon on the end, another Cartier tradition and the typical method of shaping gemstones before lapidary—the cutting of flat facets—become possible. What’s unique here, though, is the crown cap. Unscrew the cap and underneath you’ll find the real crown, complete with its own sapphire cabochon.

The story goes that, in the early forties, friend of Louis Cartier the Pasha of Marrakesh, requested a wristwatch that could withstand his adventurous lifestyle—and that meant water-resistance. And so the Pasha uses a technique found on explorer’s watches of the 1800s, where the crown itself is contained within a screw-down cap. Not only did this approach seal the explorer’s watch from water, it also protected the very delicate crown from being damaged and disabling the watch completely. The cap was then secured with a small piece of chain so it wouldn’t get lost when winding or setting the watch.

This was actually a few years after Rolex had demonstrated the effectiveness of a self-sealing crown in the 1927 Oyster, yet Cartier chose something a bit more old-school. In fact, a patent for a screw-down crown had actually existed since 1881, so it was no new idea; Cartier quite simply decided the brute-force approach was more likely to survive what the Pasha of Marrakech could throw at it, and with 100m of water-resistance today, it still can.

The truth is that what we understand the Pasha to look like today is actually based on the 1985 edition, designed by none other than legend Gérald Genta—who also penned the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus, two other watches that place form over function. What the original Pasha looked like will just have to remain a mystery, if indeed it ever was anything more than legend. For Mr Rainero, his responsibility lies in honouring that legend.

The Actual Watchmaking

Given the success of the Royal Oak and the Nautilus, I think we can safely agree that form over function is perfectly acceptable—but there does still need to be function, and that comes in the form of the calibre 1847 MC for the standard version and the calibre 1904-CH MC for the chronograph.

There’s 42 hours of power reserve at 28,800 beats per hour for the 1847 MC, 23 jewels and some bold striping across the plates and bridges. The 1904-CH MC gets 48 hours, 35 jewels and a column wheel for the chronograph for smoother operation. Both get a date function too, something I’m sure many will say disrupts the flow of the dial, but the fact of the matter is that date windows sell watches.

Either way, it’s a nice touch to have these movements instead of the basic ETA calibres we’ve seen previously, but believe it or not the most incredible piece of watchmaking you’ll find in the Pasha is actually hidden in the bracelet. We’ve seen the quick release strap before, which this has, but I’ve never seen a bracelet adjusting mechanism quite like this one. It’s something, Mr Rainero explains, that was very important in the development of the new Pasha, providing an ownership experience that is thoroughly modern and convenient.

It used to be that taking a link out of a bracelet needed some specialist tools and almost certain commitment to scratching your watch, but not with the Pasha. Simply press the hidden button in the link and the pin pops up, which can then be pulled free to separate the bracelet. But it gets even better! The pin that’s just been pulled free remains captive in the link so it doesn’t get lost. Simply slide the adjusted bracelet back together again and push in the pin until a satisfying snick tells you its secure. Genius.

And when it comes to buying the Pasha, the price comes as a rather pleasant surprise. Where a comparative Rolex sports watch—and I think we can just about call the Pasha a sports watch—costs £6,150, the 41mm steel Pasha starts at £5,500 on the strap and £5,950 on the bracelet. For steel and gold its £9,700, and for the chronograph its £8,330, also pleasingly less than Rolex’s £10,500 Daytona. Throw in the standard eight-year warranty and you’ve got yourself a pretty good deal.

The overriding theme of the Cartier Pasha is and always will be the way it looks. There’s no sugar coating it: it’s a bold design and certainly not for everyone. But at least now you know what it stands for, that it is as tightly woven into the fabric of watchmaking history as any other and has real, proper watch nerd appeal. It may not be a Rolex or a Patek Philippe, but it doesn’t have to be, because, as Mr Rainero is proud to remind us—it’s a Cartier.

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