There is only one Cartier. The fabled Maison was founded in Paris in the 19th century as a jewellery maker, and the brand still considers itself a jeweller at heart. Thanks to the forward-thinking creativity of Louis Cartier, it is, however, also credited with inventing the wristwatch as we know it (and possibly the whole idea of a modern watch brand too).
The essence of Cartier’s success lies in its approach to design: a single and unmistakable aesthetic language defined by pure lines, elegant details, and precious materials. It is the brand’s unfaltering commitment to this ephemeral “Cartier-ness” that has led to the creation of so many iconic pieces, from the Santos watch to the Trinity ring.
Here is a glimpse into the making of seven of Cartier’s most remarkable creations.
Juste un Clou
Who would have thought that a simple carpenter’s nail could become a luxury piece of jewellery? Cartier, that’s who — or, more specifically, Aldo Cipullo a designer for Cartier New York in the 1970s and a pioneer of modern jewellery design. The idea of taking this everyday item and elevating it to the realm of luxury may seem simple, but it takes an expert like Cartier to nail the details. With slender, elegant proportions and a clasp system integrated between the nail head and tip, there’s no mistaking the Juste un Clou for anything else.
The industrial-meets-luxury design of the unisex Love bracelet was another 1970s Aldo Cipullo creation. As with his nail bracelet, its clean lines punctuated by screw heads are unmistakable. Those trademark flat screws aren’t purely decorative either (a fact suggested by the specialized screwdriver included in the Love bracelet’s box). They actually hold the bracelet — made of two rigid, flat circular arcs — together.
When Louis Cartier set out to design a watch using the fewest possible lines, the Tank was the result. Created in 1917, the details of the Tank — Roman numerals, “rail-track” seconds markers, and blued sword-shaped hands — would establish the look of countless Cartier watches to follow. The purity of the Tank’s original lines has helped it become one of the most successful watch designs in history, as fashionable in 2021 as it was in 1921.
To look at the Trinity ring — a simple unisex composition of three intertwined mobile bands of different golds — you’d never guess it was designed almost 100 years ago. Such was the brilliance of Louis Cartier, who created the Trinity in 1924. As with countless Cartier creations, this piece is defined by its elegant lines and elevated by the use of white, yellow, and rose gold.
The hallmark of any Cartier design is its timelessness. As such, this 2007 creation could have just as easily been designed in the 1920s or 1930s. The Ballon Bleu is a watch that is to round shapes as the Tank is to right angles, and like the Tank, its strength is in the purity of its lines. From its balloon-shaped case to its circular minutes track to its sapphire-capped winding crown and crown-protector, the Ballon Bleu revels in its roundness.
Jeanne Toussaint served as Louis Cartier’s right hand and steered the company’s jewellery design from the 1930s up until the 1970s. Nicknamed “la panthère”, she was as feisty as she was flamboyant. Among countless other contributions to the Cartier oeuvre, Toussaint is credited with establishing the house’s longstanding panther motif. The Cartier Panthère — created to embody the decadence and hedonism of the early 1980s and as much a piece of fine jewellery as it is a watch — makes a fitting tribute to Toussaint’s legacy.
In 1904, Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont commissioned Louis Cartier to create a watch that he could read without removing his hands from the controls of his experimental aircraft. The Santos was the result: the first modern watch designed to be worn on the wrist. It was soon adopted by non-aviators who appreciated its sportiness and high-flying associations. It remains a mainstay of Cartier watchmaking more than a century later.