A Cartier Watch Is Not Just an Elegant Addition to Your Timepiece Collection. It's Also Very Worthy

From the jeweler of kings, these masterpieces are precious and dazzling, handsome and elegant.

A watch by Cartier is a must for any serious ticker collection. And while the French luxury house may be more known for creating dazzling jewelry (the kind that can compel a woman to say yes), you must know that it also did this:

In 1904, Louis Cartier created a bespoke watch for his friend, Alberto Santos-Dumont. The high-flying aviator was having trouble wrestling with his bulky pocket watch while in flight and wanted something that allowed his hands to concentrate on the business of flying. And so, the storied house of Cartier created its first wrist-mounted watch, which was also the first pilot’s watch and, some say, the first wristwatch for men.

That was the beginning of Cartier’s journey from the jeweler of kings to esteemed watchmaker with a portfolio of elegant pieces. Here, we select Cartier watches that are worthy of a place in your collection.

1| Santos de Cartier

It’s only fitting to begin with the watch that started it all for Cartier and the rest of the watch-wearing humans of the world. Apart from being the first wristwatch of the French house, the Santos, as worn by Dumont, who was well-known in Europe (much like an influencer of today), was instrumental in the shift from pocket watches to watches strapped on the wrist.

Photo by CARTIER.

The Santos is characterized by its rectangular case, which is softly rounded at the corners, visible screws, which are more pronounced in all-metal versions, and a 3D quality exemplified by the frame or a pronounced border surrounding the face.

The famous hallmarks of Cartier appear here, from the elegant Roman numerals on the dial to the cabochon fitted into the crown. For a most classic watch, the only choice is a most classic style in a combination of pink gold and steel plus an inky black alligator leather.

2| Tank

We’ll say that the Tank is as celebrated as the Santos (we won’t get into the debate about which Cartier watch is more popular right now), and the best way to tell the two rectangular styles apart is by inspecting the lines.

The Santos is softer, while the Tank is sharper and more definite—and that is because the Tank was inspired by an actual tank, the Renault FT tanks of World War I. Louis Cartier devised a case that mirrors the form of the armored vehicle, particularly its treads, which are interpreted as the unbroken line from case to lugs (see the sides).

Photo by CARTIER.
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One more thing: Much like the Santos, the Tank helped popularize the wearing of watches on the wrist, which, at the time of its inception, was thought of as an idea suited for women. (The more aggressive lines and the fact that it was called Tank certainly helped the cause.)

The Tank, which turned 100 in 2017, has many iterations, from the original Normale of 1917 to the robust Americaine. Our choice is the modest and modern (it’s flatter) Tank Solo in, of course, the metal of kings, yellow gold.

3| Ballon Bleu de Cartier

The Ballon Bleu possesses magic. There is the shape, an eternal circle, which is a departure from the iconic rectangles of Cartier. The circular case, in fact, is inspired by a balloon, but it really feels like a pebble, in that it is both rounded on the top and the bottom, a design choice that, apart from making it look cool, provides comfort to the wearer, as well.

Photo by CARTIER.

And then, there is the crown, which appears as if it is floating within a small pocket cut into the case. The deep blue spinel completes the magic (and the name). For this, an all-steel style appears best as it complements the handsome face of a Cartier watch.

4| Cle de Cartier

The Cle de Cartier proves that the French luxury house is not resting on its past triumphs. Launched in 2015, the style is the result of the company’s continued exploration of its mastery, perfect form.

After the rectangles of the Santos and Tank and then the sphere of the Ballon, it introduces a new shape that, this time, highlights balance. Think of it as a soft circle that rests on an ovoid leaf that hugs the wrist. It’s hard to explain (geometry is involved), so observe:

Photo by CARTIER.

Also new is the crown, which, for the Cle, has been transformed into a key (“cle” is “key” in French). Taking inspiration from the keys used to wind pocket watches, the crown now has a satisfying twisting movement to amend time and date. When dressed in black leather, the intense blues of its sword-shaped hands pop.


5| Tonneau

Finally, this new-old thing: The Tonneau was created in 1906, but though it was lauded and worn by watch connoisseurs for its strong shape, it did not explode into ubiquity like, say, the Santos or the Tank. 

It’s described by the house as a “parentheses opening on a curved oblong flinqué dial.” And if the Tonneau was a woman, she would be long and elegant and chic—or exactly who you want hanging on your arm.

Photo by CARTIER.

Adding to its odd appeal, the placement of the numerals follows the ovoid-rectangular (rectanguviod?) case. As well, the stone on the crown is pointy, inviting touch. 

For those longing for the legendary Cartier watch shape, the house has answered your prayers as it relaunched the Tonneau last year. This one deserves to be rendered in the most precious materials only: platinum case, sapphire cabochon, full-grain alligator strap.  

Greenbelt 4

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Clifford Olanday
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