It is “everything you want and nothing that you don’t,” read a review in Hodinkee about the new Drive de Cartier Extra-Flat, an elegant retro-style timepiece that was a breakout star of the recent Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie watch show in Geneva. “Laying eyes on it will inevitably lead to your reaching out to put it on your wrist,” enthused Revolution, a watch magazine. “Our prayers have been answered,” read another site, Monochrome.
Fresh off the release of its sporty Drive de Cartier last year, and the streamlined Extra-Flat version this year, Cartier seems to be having a moment.
The august Parisian jeweller long associated with art deco elegance and money-is-no-object opulence, particularly for well-heeled women (hey, Cartier is name-checked by Marilyn Monroe in “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”), has become an unlikely darling of the young male watch-geek set, whose tastes typically run to brawny dive watches by Rolex and Omega.
To put things in automotive terms, it is as if Rolls-Royce were suddenly trop chic among the Land Rover crowd.
“The Drive manages to capture the X-factor their other watches were lacking, while still looking distinctly Cartier,” said Zach Weiss, 32, executive editor of the watch site Worn & Wound, which caters to stylish young men.
“It’s not a betrayal of their image or a shift in branding; rather, it’s the brand creating a product for the tastes of a newer, younger market,” Weiss added. “The cushion-cased design has the reserved but glamorous notes that are quintessentially Cartier, but with a bolder, more aggressive posture. It’s stylish, masculine and tasteful. It’s a watch you would imagine Ralph Lauren happily including in his line.”
Cartier is hardly an afterthought in the world of fine timepieces. The venerable French maison, which is owned by the Richemont luxury group and manufactures its watches in Switzerland, has typically been listed as either the second- or third-biggest Swiss watch brand in terms of sales, alongside Omega, behind Rolex.
Cartier Tank Française watch, large model, 18-karat yellow gold, steel, US$6,900.
Indeed, Cartier has been churning out timepieces since World War I, when it introduced the Tank, with its design cues borrowed from the Renault army tank. Seven decades later, Gordon Gekko advertised his Master of the Universe standing by wearing an 18-karat gold Santos de Cartier Galbée in “Wall Street.”
Even so, Cartier was not necessarily the first brand opted for by young men wearing untucked oxford shirts carrying Filson bags, particularly since many of its classic models, including the Tank and the Santos — even those in men’s sizes — have become must-haves for female Wall Streeters and fashion editors.
Cartier Santos-Dumont watch, large model, 18-karat rose gold, leather, sapphire, US$17,300.
“Despite being undeniably sophisticated, they lack the cool factor found in Speedmasters, Submariners and Carreras,” said Weiss, referring to classic macho sports watches by Omega, Rolex and Tag Heuer, respectively.
But that no longer seems to be the case. The brand made a new commitment to haute horlogerie starting in 2008 with the introduction of the Ballon Bleu Flying Tourbillon housing Cartier’s first in-house movement, also its first caliber to bear the prestigious Geneva Seal denoting high craftsmanship.
Drive de Cartier Extra-Flat watch, 18-karat white gold, leather, US$16,700. Limited edition of 200 pieces.
Cartier has continued to push the envelope with ultra-high-end watches for collectors such as the Rotonde De Cartier Minute Repeater Mysterious Double Tourbillon, priced at US$450,000, which was released at SIHH in January.
Not all of Cartier’s six-figure museum pieces hit their mark, said Ariel Adams, editor of aBlogtoWatch, but their evident ambition led to a “halo effect,” leaving a “positive impression on watch lovers who see Cartier’s US$8,000 watches in a new light.”
To some young watch aficionados, however, Cartier should not require a formal introduction to the next generation.
“It’s easy to forget that Cartier was arguably the most important design house of the 20th century,” said Stephen Pulvirent, Hodinkee’s managing editor. “When people talk about Cartier ‘getting into watches,’ they don’t know what they’re talking about. Sure, Cartier has to do some work to win over the segment of male collectors who typically flock to the likes of Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe, but there’s a pretty steady stream of awesome and popular Cartier watches going right back to the original Santos.”
“After all,” he added, “there is a lot more out there than just chunky black dive watches.”
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