Cartier’s unique approach to everything from aesthetics to innovation has empowered the maison to create its masterpieces, says Pierre Rainero, its director of image, style and patrimony

You can count on Cartier to unveil technical and artistic marvels every year, and the maison didn’t disappoint at Watches and Wonders 2022. Highlights included a mysterious watch fitted with a movement that doubles as its own oscillating weight, as well as a timepiece with a flexible surface that redefines the very idea of tactility in a wristwatch. This is creativity at its most sublime, given form with the right technical expertise, and thoroughly Cartier in spirit. Here, the brand’s director of image, style and patrimony, Pierre Rainero, shares his perspectives on some of these pieces­—and more.

One of Cartier’s most impressive creations this year is the Coussin de Cartier, which has a flexible, deformable surface. What led to the development of this timepiece?

I think the culture at Cartier was a necessary condition for this timepiece to be developed. Our technical and creative teams don’t work separately. Instead, we know in advance which direction we want to look towards for innovation. In this case, the watch embodies our view on jewellery creation, which is to work with tough, precious materials such as diamonds and platinum, yet give them life by achieving fluidity and movement with them. And indeed, this is what you see in the Coussin de Cartier.

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It sounds like this watch’s concept was derived from Cartier’s high jewellery creations, given how they tend to be articulated and transformable?

That’s exactly it. It would be difficult to understand this watch’s positioning within Cartier’s line‑up without first making a link to the maison’s concept of jewellery creation.

What were some considerations when translating a high jewellery concept to this wristwatch?

The technical challenges were very different. You cannot, for example, create fluidity in a watch like how you do so for a necklace. A necklace needs to fit perfectly on the body and if you have a central motif, then this element must stay “anchored” on the body as its wearer moves about. What’s more, every woman is different, so there is also a consideration when designing how the necklace will sit.

In contrast, a watch is smaller and has a fixed position, so wrist movements will not affect its articulation. Instead, fluidity is achieved here by using a flexible mesh structure to create a tactile experience with the watch case. It cannot be too small though, or you wouldn’t be able to feel the fluidity of the case, so there must be a balance between having a large enough surface and limiting its size for it to remain elegant.

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The Coussin de Cartier is also notable for being a shaped watch. How did Cartier build its patrimony in shaped timepieces over the years?

Our patrimony in shaped timepieces was something that developed alongside our expertise in watchmaking. What differentiates Cartier is that we were originally a jeweller. It doesn’t mean that we’re not serious about watchmaking, but the technical part should be at the service of our vision in terms of aesthetics. The Santos was the watch that led the way for the brand, of course, given its shape and unique design. Other models then followed to offer various geometric or organic shapes. This is simply our history. That patrimony is a consequence, not an objective. 

Among Cartier’s shaped watches, which do you think are the most iconic?

Whether a watch qualifies as being iconic is an external decision. It’s the result of what its role has been in the world of watchmaking. We develop watches, and what can lead them to become iconic is their success, their fame and also the fact that they remain desirable across generations. The Tank, the Santos and the Pasha are already part of that world. As far as the Ballon Bleu is concerned, it’s a huge success that has enjoyed celebrity status, but it’s only 15 years old and just one generation has known it. We’re only beginning to have a second generation of clients falling in love with this watch, so it’s still a little early to call it an icon.

How does Cartier maintain its patrimony in the various métiers, given how rare they are and the years of experience needed for craftsmen to acquire their expertise?

Like you put it, it’s about accumulating the years of experience needed to master a craft and then passing it on, but I’ve also realised something very interesting: when you’re talented with your hands, you will have a tendency to experiment with different techniques because there’s an excitement in doing so. We’ve seen enamellists try marquetry, for example, and there are various other such cases of cross-pollination. It’s a good thing because it shows that mastering one technique doesn’t prevent you from being good in others. Personally, I think that the best way to maintain and develop such savoir faire is to create watches that are appreciated because you need to give work to these people! It’s why we come up with new ideas every year and experiment with novel techniques—and combinations of techniques.

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