Cartier has a long and very respectable tradition of watchmaking innovation, from the square watch made for aviator Santos-Dumont back in 1904, one of the very first wristwatches of all, to other case designs such as the rectangular Tank, and the circular Ballon Bleu. Clé de Cartier was launched in spring 2015, and at first sight, it looks deceptively simple.
From above, the watch has a circular bezel that rises from a cushion-shaped case. From the side, the case has a curved, arching profile that follows the profile of the wrist. It’s a very organic design style, based on tightly-drawn, complex curves that generate a streamlined shape reminiscent of Brancusi’s sculptures or Luigi Colani’s futuristic vehicles. The lugs are an integral part of the case and provide a smooth visual link to the strap. The result is a watch with a unique, very recognisable appearance, whether in the men’s 40-millimetre case size, or the women’s 35 or 31-millimetre versions.
But perhaps the most important feature is the rectangular crown. Crowns can be extremely difficult to use, because they are usually small, and require a fair degree of force to extract. In Clé de Cartier, rotating the crown moves its extremities above and below the plane of the case, making it simplicity itself to grasp and pull out.
During these operations, the Cartier designers have provided some clicks that reassure the user that the operation is being performed correctly, even while rotating the crown to set the date and time. This gentle ratchet ensures that the time doesn’t change when you push the crown back in. Cartier has invented new crowns before in its watch-making history, but this is without doubt a lovely piece of design, taking the needs of the user into account and developing the concept into a contemporary jewel. It is in fact embellished with a sapphire that is set in such a way as to remain flush with the metal surround.
The dial itself is classical Cartier, with the central guilloché and the Roman numerals creating a pleasant contrast with the modern case. Behind the dial, the watch has a new in-house movement, Calibre 1847 MC. The maison evidently consider it important because the numerals in its name refer to the year of its foundation. Like the case, the movement was redefined with a minimalist, honed-down approach, focusing particularly on efficiency.
A rapid barrel provides high chronometric stability, and its automatic winding mechanism is robust and durable by virtue of a specially-conceived lever system. The movement can be viewed through the sapphire caseback; the superb finish includes extensive ‘Vagues de Genève’ on the bridges and the oscillating weight.
In the versions for women, the diamond-setting shows the same user-friendly design. The jewels are set flush with the case, so they are smooth to the touch. Even though this watch offers just the basic time functions with a simple date window, the attention that Cartier has dedicated to design propel it to the level of a horological highlight of 2015, with the potential of becoming a timeless masterpiece.
In the photo above (courtesy Cartier), the models are, from left, the 40 mm Clé de Cartier in white gold; 40 mm in rose gold; the 31 mm model in rose gold; the 35 mm model in white gold; the 35 mm model in white gold with full diamond gemsetting.
Below, watch the video presenting Clé de Cartier...