5 watches that defined Cartier’s place in horological history

Delve into some of the watch world’s finest icons

If you don’t already know the story behind the invention of the wristwatch, then let us give you a hand: in 1904, Alberto Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian aviator, asked his friend Louise Cartier to craft him a timepiece he could strap to his arm in order to absolve himself from taking his hands off the plane’s controls. Santos-Dumont’s wish was shortly granted and as a result the foundations of the Cartier powerhouse were laid. The rest – as watch fanatics know – is horological history.

Now, 113 years on, Cartier stands as one of the finest jewellers and watchmakers in the world. Here we take a look at five timepieces that’ve defined the French house’s iconic status.

The Cartier Tank Normale

5 watches that defined Cartier’s place in horological history

In a nutshell: created in 1917, the Tank is the ultimate symbol of the modern watchmaking era. As a tribute to the mobile and armoured vehicles he saw on the Western Front during World War II, Louise Cartier gifted a watch of the same name to the famous American general John Pershing. The timepiece was complete with an angular and flat case (a feature unheard of at the time) and, unlike other models on the market, was designed with an integrated shape that made the strap just as important as the case. Two years later this model was sent to production. Although there have been various editions and shapes since then, it’s the original Tank, the Normale (which was the finalised version of the prototype), that will forever remain unstoppable.

It features: a blue sapphire on the crown, an unconventional shape (for the period) and a simple 2-hand design.

Original model discontinued

Drive de Cartier Extra Flat

5 watches that defined Cartier’s place in horological history

In a nutshell: last year, Cartier, through the arrival of the Drive de Cartier, introduced a totally new silhouette to its collection – one with a unique, retro-style, dressy-cum-sporty cushion shape. The latest iteration – the Drive Extra Flat – retains the same design of the original, but it’s been trimmed down to a 6.6mm-thin case, making it perfect to slip seamlessly under a tuxedo.

It features: a calibre 430 MC (which is Cartier’s version of the Piaget 430P), a hand-wound ultra-thin movement and a 36-hour power reserve.

5 watches that defined Cartier’s place in horological history

Drive de Cartier Extra Flat

£14800

Buy Now

Ballon Bleu de Cartier

5 watches that defined Cartier’s place in horological history

In a nutshell: the Ballon Bleu is an elegant piece of wrist armour, and its announcement nine years ago signified Cartier’s commitment to advancing haute horlogerie in the modern era while still staying true to its traditional principles. The relatively thick 14.8mm case solidifies the watch’s commanding looks, while its face’s Roman numerals are guided by a deep blue winding mechanism.

It features: a 30-minute register at 3 o’clock, a seconds subdial at 6, manual winding, sword shaped hands and a fluted crown.

5 watches that defined Cartier’s place in horological history

Ballon Bleu de Cartier

£15000

Buy Now

Rotonde de Cartier Grande Complication Skeleton

5 watches that defined Cartier’s place in horological history

In a nutshell: perhaps the most complicated watch Cartier (and the watch market) has ever produced, this timepiece certainly lives up to its name. It contains a perpetual calendar, minute repeater and flying tourbillion – all of which are housed in a highly skeletonised movement. Striking, beautiful and a must-have for collectors.

It features: 578 parts (including 47 jewels), brass sunray-brushed dials and a black alligator skin strap.

5 watches that defined Cartier’s place in horological history

Rotonde de Cartier Grande Complication Skeleton

Request Price Now

Tortue Large Date

5 watches that defined Cartier’s place in horological history

In a nutshell: established in 1912, the Tortue range was born during a time when all chronographs were round; as a result of its unique shape, this tortoise-inspired model (alongside others in the collection) went on to become a classic.

It features: a mechanical movement with manual winding, a case in 18k white gold, a beaded crown set with a faceted sapphire cabochon, a strap in black semi-matte alligator skin, a large date at 12 o’clock and small seconds at 6 o’clock. It’s also water-resistant to 30m.

5 watches that defined Cartier’s place in horological history

Tortue Large Date

£23200

Buy Now

Still on the hunt for a new timepiece? These are the 10 watches we want for Christmas

Further Reading