When it comes to instantly recognisable timepieces, the iconic shapes of Cartier are numerous and renowned. From the Crash to the Cloche, the Panther to the Pasha, the Tank and the Ballon Bleu, they’re proof of the enduring quality of good design and its ability to traverse time, finding place and purpose for generations to come. The latest novelties presented during the recent virtual Watches & Wonders fair, showcase Cartier’s focus on three of its iconic models presented as design objects. Taking centre stage is the Tank Les Must de Cartier, a version of the iconic Tank from the 1970s and inspired by the Tank Louis Cartier. The Tank is once again reborn for the new decade, including an innovative piece that integrates a photovoltaic movement along with clean, bold dials and material straps created using responsible and sustainable production practices.
It is always with great delight that we get some time during the fair with the charismatic Pierre Rainero. As director of image, heritage, and style for Cartier since 1984, Rainero has a wealth of knowledge on the brand but is also very insightful on the movements we make. He is a man one could converse with for hours, but unfortunately Zoom these days sets the limits. While he is modest about his skills of predicting the future, it is clear that he and his team have the equivalent of a crystal ball as the novelty line-up this year appears to be in sync with the times and trends. We chat to Rainero about his personal perceptions of time, and the evolution of exceptional design.
The Libre Baignoire Turtle made me think of the Aesop fairy tale ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’, which reflects on the meaning of time and the success of doing things slowly and steadily — an important lesson right now, especially for a new generation who expect everything to be happen instantly. It is of course also an important aspect of luxury brand provenance while keeping up with the times. What is your personal perception of time, especially given the challenging year we’ve experienced but also the rapidly changing times?
First of all, I do like very much the way you have asked the question, because I like the idea of reading through our design a symbolic message, or a metaphor of our times. And it is true that the turtle has many different meanings. Let’s not forget that even in China, the turtle is the symbol of eternity, as turtles are supposed to live very long. Within the Forbidden City there are enormous bronze sculptures representing turtles.
So I like this idea of playing with the symbol behind the turtle, and evoke the time, which is really essential to the making of beautiful objects. At the same time, the world is moving at high speed in many different ways and this creates expectations. We see it with things like the move from 4G to 5G and [with that] now having [the expectation to process] all our images and messages even faster than in the past. What’s interesting though, at the same time, the young generation are so used to speed, and it’s not a paradox, in fact, that a logical consequence is that even more value and admiration is given to the objects that require a lot of time to be made, especially when made by hand. I think that aspect of our industry has more value now to the younger generation than in the past, and it’s more and more appreciated. Our objects are like cornerstones, icons of what lasts ... there is that dimension now for these objects in the world.
Behind the notion of time is also the idea of transmission. While we expect things to happen quickly these days, with the speed of change things also disappear, and one thing can replace another very, very quickly. On the contrary, our objects remain from one generation to another. So it’s very reassuring.
I would bring a nuance to that, because in the creative process at Cartier we have two main things in mind. One, the main objective is to create beautiful objects, so that there is the notion of beauty and behind beauty, there is design, but also the level and the quality of craftsmanship. And they are linked with the idea that what we see as beautiful also evolves over time, with many different influences. At Cartier, even our founders had that knowledge of the necessary evolutionary aspect of a design.
And second, also, what has made Cartier so successful for so long is a very good understanding of the deep changes. We don’t follow the fashionable trends, you know, the trends that disappear in six months or even one year, but we are very curious about the deep changes in the way of life of our clients. I personally make a distinction between lifestyle and way of life. Because a way of life for me evolves over time and not at the speed of rapidly changing lifestyles. Every time we look at the new creation, we have to imagine how it will be worn, how this object will accompany the life of our clients.
From what we’ve seen at the recent Watches & Wonders, your focus for 2021 is on iconic pieces. Although reissuing or re-editing historic pieces and updating them for the present has been an industry trend for a while, this appears to be a strong theme generally this year for brands. What motivated Cartier to take this path?
In fact, we didn’t change our path, because it IS our path. We have always had that respect and cult of important design, of strong designs. Even when we come up with a new design it is supposed to have intrinsically that strength that relies at least on two aspects: the first is perenniality, the fact that it will last for a long time and not the result of a short trend; and second is that it is strong enough to be able to evolve. For instance, there are dozens of variation of the Tank since its creation.
So, the strength of the design relies also in that capacity to evolve, to sustain different variation, while keeping the main elements at its birth. At Cartier, we work that way and we were lucky enough to produce strong designs, like the Santos, the Tank, the Pasha, and many others strong enough to endure time. So that’s a path we have always followed. It’s not new to Cartier. At the same time, it doesn’t mean that we don’t create [totally] new designs. The recent past proves this like the Ballon Bleu in 2007, which is a very distinctive, original design that also contains the numerous possibilities to evolve.
You have the difficult task of predicting and even establishing the future trends. How did you choose which icons to focus on this year? And, although you obviously have to plan your novelties at least a year or two in advance, did the current status quo have any influence on the final decision?
It’s impossible to carry all of our previous creations at one moment because for obvious reasons we create so many different models. Second, we’d be very cautious in [claiming that we have a] talent for predicting what will be the trends. Many of the decisions we take in terms of design are linked to our own feelings, you know, internally. We don’t conduct studies. It’s more of a virtuous circle between our vision of design on one side, but also the response that we get from our clients on a regular basis through all of our stores. We listen to our clients and we observe them in a way, the important aspects of their lives. We are also keen to observe their movements. You know, how people do move, especially women in jewellery for instance ... the gestures that would bear the objects we create.
So we “feel” about creating something, then we integrate what we know at the very now moment in our clients’ lives. That’s the way we make our decisions. For the Tank, which occupies a great space in the offering of [new novelties] at this salon this year, we felt like reproposing it in a traditional shape like the Louis Cartier, with the round aspect of it but also with dials from another period, with colourful dials. They also carry a notion of modern design as [the Tank Les Must de Cartier] probably did in the 1970s, because of the wish or desire for very pure and simple objects.
Tell us about the bell-shaped Cloche, a brooch watch from the 1920s, which joins the exclusive Privé Collection this year?
The Privé Collection has been around for five years with the idea to include Cartier signature shapes from the past but with our own mechanical movements, in limited edition, specifically for collectors. So they have to be faithful to the original design but at the same time, since it’s a limited edition produced this year, we should add little details in there in the colours and shapes, in the dials, that make this collection unique in the entire history of the models. So for the Cloche this year we introduced a skeleton, and two new dials. We did the same for the Tourneau and Tank Asymétrique in the past.
[The new iterations of the Cloche are] based on the Cartier tradition, because even the Arabic numerals have a specific Cartier design as well as the light dial colours. It’s a combination of aesthetic vocabulary from our heritage, combined in a different way on a different watch.
Solar powered quartz movements have been around since the 1970s with examples such as Seiko Solar and Citizen Eco-Dive. What makes the Cartier Solarbeat photovoltaic movement so unique?
It is the first time it exists in that shape. This also illustrates how Cartier is respectful of its original designs, and how we can elaborate and innovate for those unique designs. It’s the way the solar part is included in the dial: we use the cut-out Roman numerals to hide the solar screen. And that’s the way it gets the energy. It took a few years to test this watch to see if the [openings of the] Roman numerals [provided] enough space to produce the energy of a movement. It looks like a traditional
Tank ... exactly the same proportion, well balanced like a Tank Louis Cartier and you don't see anything, you know, technical, it’s totally hidden. So that’s another metaphor of what Cartier is about, you know, the technique obeys the aesthetics, the preoccupation to get something beautiful. The way Cartier wants it. That’s why this one is so unique.
Cartier Crash is getting quite a bit of attention from collectors at auction at the moment. Maybe we are desperate for something fun or feeling like 2020 was a big “crash”. What are your views on this piece and do you have any plans to reissue it?
Perfect. I liked your question a lot. In fact, we didn’t expect to have a link with a Crash for last year or 2021. But I’m not sure it’s a crash here. Economically, I cannot fully agree. But yes, it’s a very, very diverse year for many people ... many different experiences.
More pragmatically, I think why the Crash is so sought after is because also it wasn’t like the epitome of what Cartier is about in terms of watchmaking: great freedom in creativity and design. When you think about what is a Crash, it’s an elongated Baignore that had an accident. The inspiration is the accident, effectively. But it’s interesting because it’s very authentic and the basis of the design is very Cartiers but shows an ability to play, play with its own codes.
That’s why the Crash is so different and very original. You can see the traditional way of Cartier of inventing shapes for watches, but at the same time, they're the sense of humour. They have so much value on the market for a collector because they have been produced in very little quantities at very specific periods. The only exception is represented by special orders but even these owners communicate with each other on the social networks. The Clash also represents Cartier at its best in a way.
• For enquiries about any of these novelties, visit cartier.com or locally through RLG Africa 011-317-2600 or the Cartier boutique 011-666-2800.