Of jewellery watches, craftmanship and innovations in horology

Bazaar India in conversation with Pierre Rainero, director of image, style, and heritage for Maison Cartier about the brand's desire to push boundaries

Harper's Bazaar India

In the art of seduction, a certain air of mystery is considered to be the secret element in making a person—or a timepiece, in the case of the Cartier’s 2022 offerings—all the more exciting. For this year’s watches present fascinating shapes and technicalities to bemuse you, and innovations that will pave the way for many others in the near future.

Cartier’s command over fine jewellery and watchmaking, it’s known, is one of its hallmarks.

image: The “Model A” Mystery Clock

Take the Mystery Clocks, for instance: inspired by the French magician Houdin, the father of modern conjuring, these feats of horological and technical invention have captured the fancy of collectors’ since they were first created in 1912. At the turn of the 19th century, Louis Cartier (the founder’s grandson, 1875–1942) and horologist Maurice Coüet (1885–1963) created the “Model A” Mystery Clock, a table clock that appeared to show time suspended in thin air.

image: The Masse Mystérieuse Watch of 2022

Ever since, the design has gone through many iterations. This year, Cartier has created the Masse Mystérieuse—an automatic winding mass, the rotor of which rotates entirely, including the mainspring and escapement. But that’s not the only interesting detail. While this unique, integrated movement takes place, the hour and minute hands remain absolutely stable. It’s magic, no doubt, but also a testament to the brand’s desire to push the boundaries.

image: Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s Image, Style, and Heritage Director of Cartier

In an exclusive conversation with Bazaar India, Pierre Rainero, director of image, style, and heritage for the Maison, speaks about the power of imagination and daring that these Mystery Clocks hold. “These special clocks were termed as ‘marvels of the clockmaker’s art’ by La Gazette du Bon Ton in 1925, and are emblematic of Cartier’s clock-making expertise. Halfway between art objects and curiosities, they are true collector’s items,” Rainero shares over a Zoom call from Paris.

image: The Maharaja of Nawanagar [1872-1933], who purchased the Cartier Elephant Clock

These covetable items became so famous, that royalty and members of elite society across the world began to collect them. The Maharaja of Nawanagar [1872- 1933], for instance, acquired the Elephant Clock that is set on carved jade, diamonds, onyx, coral, mother-of-pearl, black enamel, and platinum.

“For long, Cartier took inspiration from different civilisations and cultures.” Rainero explains. “The most recent ones are an expression of new designs, essential forms, and association with materials and colours.” The new version, the Masse Mystérieuse Watch, is set in a large dial—43.5mm x 12.64mm—to showcase its delightful drama.

image: The 2022 Panthère de Cartier Watch

For those who prefer a smaller design, the new La Panthère de Cartier watches draw all the attention. There are colour and metal variants here, in rose gold, yellow gold, and steel, with a silky dial in shades of golden plum, midnight blue, and black. As Rainero explains, the Panthère de Cartier is the Maison’s quintessential jewellery watch. “This watch takes its name from the Panthère bracelet. Its ultra-flexible structure echoes the animal’s movements, formed from a series of curved and polished links, and is remarkably supple.”

Rainero goes on to explain how the four diagonally crossed dials “reverse the play of light and reflect the brilliance of the iridescent and subtle gradations...a precious luminosity that adds to the jewel-like quality of the most feline watch in the Maison’s repertoire”

Originally launched in 1983, the Panthère Watch has since become synonymous with the confident femininity it embodies. And making it more luxurious, the 2022 model boasts a case set with brilliant-cut diamonds, the crown set with a diamond, and a hint of colour with the blued-steel, sword-shaped hands. 

image: The Libre Tortue Snake Watch

Royal tones have been explored in this year’s jewellery watch creations too, in the Tortue Snake Watch that adds a striking dimension to the Cartier Libre range. First imagined in 1912, this new version is modelled after the scales of a snake in coloured enamel, mother-of-pearl, polished gold droplets, and closed-set diamonds on the case and crown.

image: The Libre Baignoire Turtle Watch

The Bagnoire Turtle Watch, meanwhile, reveals a diamond-set dial and panels on the bezel and dial that are treated to brilliant-cut diamonds and flat-cut sapphires to resemble the shell of a turtle. These watches bridge the space between haute joaillerie and timekeeping, but along with it, create art with grace and raw elegance. In keeping with the name of the range—‘libre’ means ‘free’ in French— such creativity is an allowance of imagination and personality.

image: The Libre Morphosis Watch

Which brings us to the last and most innovative watch of the season: the Cartier Libre Morphosis. Already having created ripples, the bracelet of this watch can be turned inside-out, and that is where Cartier’s century-long expertise in craftsmanship and high jewellery comes into full form.

image: Hollywood actor Gloria Swanson

Inspired by the iconic Cartier diamond and rock crystal bracelets that Hollywood star Gloria Swanson [1899-1983] wore, the Morphosis Watch displays never-seen-before innovation. “The Morphosis Watch captures the concept of movement but also goes much further because there is only one direction in which you can wear Gloria Swanson’s bracelet. This watch can be worn in three different possibilities, actually allowing you to show the different facets of the triangular section,” Rainero reveals with a satisfied smile. “You can wear the watch differently each time, and also hide its details in different ways. The similarities are visible in different sections articulated by the centre,” he adds. 

image: The original Cartier rock crystal and diamonds bracelet that belonged to the actor

There are illusions and trompe l’oeils in this year’s offerings; sheer magic in the aesthetic and technical details. And when you think of Louis Cartier’s fascination with sleight of hand and enchanting illusions, it all makes sense. These watches cast a spell, every time.