This is the History of Cartier | In-Depth

The History of Cartier Watchmaking

In the world of luxury timepieces, few names carry the weight of Cartier watches. With a legacy steeped in opulence and innovation, Cartier watches have graced the wrists of royalty, dignitaries, and Hollywood stars, cementing their status as iconic symbols of prestige. A Cartier watch transcends mere functionality; it encapsulates the artistry, heritage, and craftsmanship that define the pinnacle of horology. 

At the pinnacle of luxury, the watch becomes more than a timekeeping device, it transforms into a statement piece, a work of art, and a testament to refined taste. Cartier watches exemplify this ethos, standing as exquisite examples of the fusion between aesthetics and engineering. Their creations tell stories of tradition, innovation, and the pursuit of perfection  — a narrative that has captured the hearts of connoisseurs across the globe. 

Cartier’s appeal extends beyond the realm of horology, entwining with celebrity culture to become an integral part of the glamorous lifestyle. From the graceful Princess Grace of Monaco adorning her wrist with a Cartier Tank watch to Andry Warhol’s bold endorsement of the brand, Cartier watches have nestled themselves in the wardrobes of the world’s most celebrated personalities. 

A luxury watch is an embodiment of elegance, precision and heritage. It signifies a commitment to craftsmanship and an appreciation for the finer things in life. Cartier’s prominence in the realm of luxury watchmaking is a testament to their dedication to these values. The brand’s legacy rests not only on its historical significance but also on its ability to evolve and innovate, consistently delivering timepieces that are both timeless and contemporary. 

Are you ready to explore Cartier’s illustrious history? Delve here into the origins that birthed an empire of elegance. Explore Cartier history and navigate through the economic watch collections that have become benchmarks of designs. Uncover the profound impact Cartier has left on the world of horology, shaping trends, inspiring creativity, and etching its name in the annals of luxury. Join us on a journey through time, style, and the enduring allure of Cartier watches. 

Cartier History – Origins and Rise

In the heart of Paris, a city renowned for its artistic flair and cultural refinement, Louis-François Cartier laid the foundation for a legacy that would shape the world of watchmaking. The year is 1847 and Cartier’s exquisite craftsmanship captures the attention of the French aristocracy, instantly igniting the brand’s ascent into the realm of luxury timepieces. Louis-François’s commitment to blending intricate design with impeccable craftsmanship established the essence of Cartier’s ethos. As Cartier’s reputation for unparalleled quality flourished, it attracted the attention of Paris’s elite circles. 

However, the real catalyst for Cartier’s meteoric rise was the visionary leadership of Louis-François Cartier’s grandchildren, Louis, Pierre and Jacques. In 1899, Louis, at the head of the Paris branch, moved to a new location, Rue de la Paix, at the centre of the Parisian city. Louis was responsible for vibrant Art Deco inspired design featuring geometric and abstract shapes and jewels. He also oversaw the creation of the Mystery Clock, a design that featured a hidden mechanism. 

In 1902, Pierre orchestrated a strategic move that would forever alter the brand’s trajectory: the opening of a Cartier branch in the heart of London, in Burlington Street. This decision marks one of the most crucial steps in the brand growth. This transcontinental expansion marked a pivotal moment in Cartier history, propelling it from a local luxury brand to an international powerhouse. The branch rapidly captured the hearts of British high society, solidifying Cartier’s standing as a global symbol of opulence and refinement. 

As word of Cartier’s unmatched craftsmanship and design prowess spread, its appeal transcended national boundaries. Cartier watches graced the courts of royalty across the globe, from Europe to the Far East. King Edward VII’s declaration that Cartier was the “jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers” served to solidify its regal reputation. Cartier’s designs became essential accoutrements of monarchs, elevating the brand’s status to that of a true global luxury icon. Before long, the brand supplied the royal courts of Russia, Siam, Spain, and many others. 

In 1909, Pierre established the New York branch, before moving it to 653 Fifth Avenue in 1917. By that time, Cartier had branches established in Paris, London, New York, and Saint Petersburg, solidifying its image as one of the most successful watch companies. It was only after the death of Pierre Cartier that the business was bought in 1972 by Robert Hocq and a group of investors led by Joseph Kanoui. Together, with then General Director Alain Dominique Perrin, they worked to bring Cartier’s designs and jewellery line into the 21st century.

Nowadays, and since 2012, Cartier is owned by Richemont. 

Cartier Makes History With the First Wristwatch for Men

In 1904, Cartier forged a historic alliance that would revolutionise the concept of watch design. Collaborating with Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, Louis Cartier addressed a fundamental need: a timepiece that could allow Santos-Dumont to track time while soaring through the skies. This marked the birth of the Santos de Cartier collection and a paradigm shift in horology.

The Santos watch was a fusion of form and function. Designed with a square bezel, which was an unconventional departure from the prevalent round ones, Cartier took inspiration from the cockpit of an aircraft for the creation. The watch had exposed screws on the bezel, providing it with an industrial edge. The leather strap ensured comfort and ease of wear, unlike the typical pocket watches that Santos-Dumont complained about. As a good friend of Cartier, the aviator described his frustration with the impracticality of then watch designs. Focusing on size as well, Cartier gave the watch a flat face for simple and practical time-reading. The watch became the first wristwatch for men, fulfilling a practical purpose but also embodying the spirit of modernity. 

Wristwatches were still uncommon at the time, and in the early 1900s they were reserved to women. Due to their features, wristwatches were typically associated with bracelets, contributing to the perception of elegant pieces of jewellery rather than practical timepieces. 

Additionally, the military also used crude versions of wristwatches in the late 1800s and early 1900s. However, these consisted of normal pocket watches attached to a strap. As such, the Cartier de Santos is one of the first modern wristwatches for men. It is worth noting that other watchmakers also brought wristwatches on the market at around the same time.

Iconic Watch Collections by Cartier

With luxury as its driving force, it would make sense for Cartier watches to surprise, excite, and entice. When you consider the vast range, Cartier has plenty of iconic designs to meet the needs of different watch wearers. 

Santos de Cartier

Naturally, the original Santos design has evolved since its first appearance in 1904. Between 1904 and 1978, the design remained unchanged for the bigger parts, featuring a square face in a gold bezel, and a leather strap. The face showcased roman numerals. Eight screws secured the bezel in place. 

In 1978, Cartier modernised the design, changing the leather strap for a metal bracelet and replacing the gold bezel with a bi-metal steel and 18 karat gold version. 

Finally, 2004 marked a new redesign to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the watch, The 100 Santos features again the classic elements of the original watch, elevated with superior iterations. This is the latest design for the Santos watch. 


The Baignoire collection, launched in 1912 by Louis Cartier, challenged traditional watch shapes with its elongated oval case, providing a canvas for artistic expression. Paired with a narrow bracelet, the shape is delicate and feminine. 

The Baignoire comes with a range of finishes, from a simple design to a complete model with diamond embellishments. Versions on the highest luxury range can cost well above £120,000.

Panthère de Cartier

The panther theme has been part of the Cartier jewellery collection since 1914 with the launch of an onyx and diamond Panther bracelet. However, the design was only made into a watch in 1983. 

Symbolic of grace and power, the Panthère collection showcased Cartier’s mastery of intricate metalwork. The supple bracelet, reminiscent of a panther’s lithe movement, features a link pattern similar to a brickwork. The face is encased in a rounded-corner square, which is typically decorated. 

Cartier Tank Collection

Unveiled in 1917, the Cartier Tank watches revolutionised watch design by drawing inspiration from the military tanks of World War I. With a sleek rectangular case, similar to the tank’s track, Cartier challenged the conventional round watch shape further without removing the elegance of the piece.

There have been several versions, ranging from the Louis to the Must, but the Tank models remain by far one of the most iconic masculine styles of watches. 

Ronde de Cartier

The Ronde, as per the name, features an oversized, circular case and roman numerals. Its timeless charm lies in the understated and effortless elegance of the design, first launched in the late 1930s. 

Pasha de Cartier

The Pasha watch is an 1980s design that showcases a round case and large Arabic numerals. Exuding confidence and luxury, the watch has a fresh and modern look and feel. It is believed that the name comes from a water-resistant watch that was designed by Cartier in the 1930s for the Pasha of Marrakesh. 

You can also find updated models with a newer design unveiled in 2020. 

Ballon de Cartier

This fun design, launched in 2007, is a symbol of understated elegance for unisex watch wearers. The Ballon comes as a statement against overly embellished watch designs that were gaining in popularity at the time. Reminiscent of the shape of a hot air balloon, the Ballon has a round case attached to slender straps. 

Some versions also include gemstones and a diamond set into the crown, such as the Ballon Blanc. 

Cartier Privé

The collection pays homage to Cartier’s rich heritage by reintroducing modernised versions of historical models. The collection produces a limited number of watches every year featuring updated and luxurious specs based on some of the most iconic models from the past. 

Cartier’s Legacy in Watchmaking

Redefining Elegance and Craftsmanship

Cartier’s imprint on the world of horology transcends craftsmanship. It encapsulates a philosophy of elegance and innovation. The brand’s relentless pursuit of pushing design boundaries and its unwavering commitment to detail have left an indelible mark in the watchmaking landscape.

The intrinsic appeal of a Cartier’s watch lies not just in the functionality, but also in the ability to tell a story. Every Cartier timepiece is a testament to the brand’s artistry. From the meticulous selection of materials to the pursuit of innovative designs, the resulting collections do not just mark time. They encapsulate moments of history and cultural evolution. 

A Cultural Icon and Symbol of Prestige

Cartier watches have transcended the status of mere accessories, They are cultural icons that embody prestige. They have graced the wrists of royalty, dignitaries, and celebrities, becoming synonymous with sophistication and status. From Princess Grace of Monaco’s affinity for the Tank Française to Elizabeth Taylor’s love for the Cartier Crash, these watches have been on some of the most illustrious wrists in history. 

Shaping Modern Trends and Future Directions

Cartier’s influence extends beyond aesthetics. It has shaped modern watch trends and industry practices since the launch of the first men’s wristwatch. The brand’s willingness to challenge conventional shapes and experiment with materials has inspired other watchmakers to explore new dimensions of design. 

Furthermore, Cartier’s role in democratising watch collecting and horology cannot be understated. Through exhibitions and education initiatives, the brand has not only enlightened the public about the intricacies of watchmaking, but also fostered a deeper appreciation for the artistry behind each creation. 

A Beacon of Sustainability and Ethical Practices

In an era where ethical practices and sustainability are paramount, Cartier’s commitment to responsible sourcing and production shines brightly. The brand’s dedication to environmental preservation and support to ethical labour practices serves as a model for the watchmaking industry at large. 

Cartier’s odyssey through the realm of watchmaking is driven by elegance, innovation and enduring impact. From its modest origins in Paris to its international renown. The brand has redefined the notion of timekeeping. Cartier watches are more than instruments, They are repositories of history, artistry, and ingenuity. 

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