A Brief History of Cartier and its Contribution to Luxury Watch Making

Written by Debbie. Posted in Cartier, Watch Brands, watch history

Since Cartier’s founding in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier in Paris, the jewelry and watch-making company has spent well over a century garnering its highly reputable and well-admired status in the luxury goods industry.

With beginnings as a firm focused on jewelry, it was not until the early years of the 20th century that Cartier expanded its repertoire of luxury goods to include timepieces. Until then, Cartier had experienced several monumental shifts, including the movement of its store to the current position of Cartier’s flagship on Rue de la Paix in Paris, and growing interest amongst aristocrats and the nobility of various countries. Such were the conditions to allow the emergent success of Cartier’s expansion into watch making.

Cartier Flagship and Cartier Family

The Cartier flagship store in Paris, circa 1899, where it still stands today; Alfred Cartier with sons Louis, Pierre and Jacques.

Placed in the hands of Louis Cartier, one of three grandsons of Cartier’s founder who went on to take over the business after their father Alfred Cartier, Cartier timepieces became immediately successful upon their introduction. Louis Cartier was an avid timepiece enthusiast and thus had great interest in Cartier producing the highest quality watches possible, a value still reflected in Cartier’s elegant, luxury timepieces today.

In 1904, Louis Cartier designed a flat wristwatch for a Brazilian aviator named Alberto Santos-Dumont, who sought a timepiece more reliable and functional than a pocket watch during his flights, leading to the birth of Cartier’s signature Santos watch. Louis Cartier’s elegant wristwatch designs were monumental in popularizing the wristwatch, shifting aristocracy away from the notion that gentlemen should only carry pocket watches.

Cartier,Santoswatch

Louis Cartier presents the Santos Watch to aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont in 1904. The Santos watch model has remained a timeless, beloved piece in Cartier’s collection.

Making a deal whereby Edmond Jaeger would be the supplier of movements for Cartier watches in 1907, Cartier watches were launched to success with technical and aesthetic sophistication and with substantial luxury client bases amongst the world’s most important cities, with Cartier stores opened in New York, London and St. Petersburg.

In the next 20 years, some of Cartier’s most timeless and important watches were produced for both men and women, including the Bagnoire and Tortue models in 1912 and the military-inspired Tank model in 1917. The Tank Model, seeing multiple iterations since its inception, remains one of Cartier’s most influential watches, donned by celebrities and notable individuals from Princess Diana to First Lady Michelle Obama.

Michelle Obama's Cartier Tank Watch

Leading Lady Michelle Obama selects this contemporary iteration of Cartier’s timeless Tank Watch as her staple timepiece.

With Louis Cartier largely responsible for the innovation behind Cartier watches, the sector faltered following his death in 1942, leading the company to be turned from Cartier family hands to those of a group of investors in 1972. This group has largely been responsible for Cartier’s continued success today, with Cartier recognized as one of the leading luxury product manufacturers of the world.

Cartier watches today retain the high level of standards that Louis Cartier once strove for in his innovative timepieces. The high craftsmanship and timeless nature of Cartier watches, in combination with the company’s understanding of its customers desires, have allowed Cartier to develop a strong brand reputation and famed position throughout its history, a legacy that assures that Cartier will continue to remain an important and beloved watchmaker into the future.

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