Cartier is obviously the brand that overshadows all others at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, but that is not just because it is a global empire with huge profits to throw at R&D. It is because of a culture of creativity combined with the discipline of consistency, all of which is overseen by two particularly talented individuals within the organization: the much-touted Carol Forestier Kasapi, the director of fine watchmaking, and the company’s creative director, Pierre Rainero, who ensures conformity to the Maison’s design codes. The result is a lineup of more than 100 new watches at this year’s SIHH that range from impressive to simply the ultimate in watchmaking.
First, the “Arena,” as Carol Forestier calls the Rotonde Astrocalendaire, due to its resemblance of an ampitheater. At the center of the ampitheatre is a flying tourbillon, which is impressive in its own right. But the real showpiece is the unique representation of the indications of the perpetual calendar. They are positioned on the bridges of the movement, tiered in concentric levels around the escapement, representing the day, date and month. The technical genius if the watch is that it has only gears – no levers or springs – with a central gear called the brain that works with retractable teeth to drive the indications. All gears means less friction and enables the perpetual calendar indications to be set with the crown, as you would the time, instead of a separate tiny button. Genius.
Another big hit, one that is more commercial, is the brand’s first Diver’s watch, one of the few in the world that conforms to ISO standards. On my visit to the Cartier manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds in December, Forestier showed me the torture chamber where these watches are tested in-house. The waterproof test calls for strapping the watch into a water filled pressure chamber that is also filled with sand and salt that is agitated via a small propeller. Every watch is tested.
Of all the Metiers watches introduced, many of which are quite decorative – from the parrot rendered in floral marquetry to the remarkable gem-set alligator watch in the L’Heure Envoûtée collection – my favorite is a watch with another dial that flanks a flying tourbillon: the Ballon Bleu with blue flinqué enamel dial. The enamel is set over a dial that has been engraved in wavy lines. This is a perfect example of what a Geneva Seal watch can look like under the new criteria that it must be exquisitely finished on the outside as well as on the movement.
Other favorites include the Rotonde de Cartier Tourbillon Chrono, possible the world’s most elegant representation of this double complication; the latest jeweled Panthère that circles the dial as the rotor in an inverse movement; and the diamond Ballon Blanc, the crown of which is set with diamond, rather than a sapphire as on the Ballon Bleu. Here are some pics I took at the SIHH last week.