Cartier has always been pushing boundaries when it comes to watch style and design. Although other manufacturers have made their name by producing wonderfully exquisite and ornate movements, Cartier prefers to stun its audiences by making timepieces and accessories that have original visual appeal. You know when you are looking at a Cartier.
Rectangular watches are a staple diet for Cartier, the Tank and the Santos being two good examples, but that isn’t the limits of Cartier’s imagination when it comes to watch design. The Pasha, originally designed as a water-proof watch for the Pasha of Marrakech in 1933, has a grille covering the crystal and a chain securing the screw-down crown protector—details that would otherwise seem out of place, yet have proven very popular.
The Santos drew men away from their pocket watches and got them interested in wrist worn watches, previously considered to be a woman’s accessory. Design and fashion is something Cartier is very qualified to make decisions about, and the Cartier Ballon Bleu, launched in 2006, is evidence of that.
The name comes from the two most prominent details on the watch, the blue synthetic sapphire cabochon mounted in the crown, and the swollen, spherical shape of the case that’s reminiscent of a balloon. The cabochon is a trademark detail of Cartier, but the Ballon Bleu’s case shape is entirely unique. Its three-dimensional form is almost impossible to gauge via images alone, as is the incredible quality that allows the shape to be made.
Impressively, the case curves at a graduating rate that blends seamlessly into the domed crystal, really emphasising that balloon shape while also maintaining a smooth, simple appearance. The balloon knot’ is formed of a continuing loop around the crown, which also cuts into the crystal and is mirrored on the dial. The dial itself is classic Cartier, silver guilloche, small black hands and Roman numerals. The simplicity makes the watch; there is no doubt that the right balance has been achieved to make it both easy to use and good to look at.
Cartier hasn’t stopped there with the Ballon Bleu. The 2011 Extra-Flat watch is large at 46mm but is also, as the name suggests, very thin. It still retains some of the original curve, but has of course been deflated to fit within the new svelte proportions. More excitingly for 2011 was the prototype ID One, a platform for demonstrating future technology in horology. The case, made from niobium-titanium, is hypo-allergenic and highly wear-resistant.
More interesting though is the zerodur hairspring and carbon crystal balance wheel, escape wheel and lever. Zerodur is a glass-like ceramic material with high magnetic and temperature resistance, and carbon crystal is a very hard, also glass-like material that requires no lubrication.
What this means collectively is that the ID One watch does not need regulation or adjustment at any point of its life—it is a completely maintenance-free watch. And this sums up Cartier nicely: the company doesn’t do what people expect, but when it does do something, everybody pays attention.
- Cartier borrowed inspiration from Russian jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé for the guilloching that has become such a prominent feature on Cartier watches.
- The spherical cabochon that decorates the crown on many Cartier watches is made from synthetic sapphire.
- The Ballon Bleu extra-flat, debuted at Baselworld in 2011, is just 7.05mm thick
[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]