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Cartier at Watches and Wonders 2023: The C + T Staff’s Review

Watches and Wonders turns the Palexpo – a massive convention center in the very cradle of watchmaking, Geneva, Switzerland – into a small city of brilliantly decorated watch manufacturer’s display booths. Within the Palexpo’s seemingly endless carpeted halls, the most important watch manufacturers in the world set up shop for a week and reveal their latest and greatest works of horological art for the new year. During this week, the Palexpo buzzes with camera shutters snapping, watch nerds yapping, and an ever-growing community unified in discourse and opinion over the new releases.

Does it feel like you can’t have a conversation about watches without Cartier coming up these days? Does it feel like the Cartier name is popping up in those convos earlier and earlier? You’re not alone in that, but it’s certainly for good reason. The Cartier brand is having a massive moment and the horological world has been taking notice in a big, big way. At Watches and Wonders 2023, Cartier doubled-down on that success and growing popularity in an undeniable way. 

If you’ve been paying attention to the news out of Geneva for the past week, you’re well aware that the release of the Tank Normale reissue has been the talk of Watches and Wonders for almost every outlet covering the event. It’s a stunning piece with an incredible history and we’re very much aligned with our peers in our adoration of the watch. But there was more to the Cartier experience at Watches and Wonders this year, and there’s more to the brand than just that particular watch – though it’s certainly a special thing. These are our thoughts on what Cartier brought to the show and the brand’s station in the horological space in general. Spoiler alert: We’re big fans.

Cameron Barr - Founder and CEO:

I absolutely love what Cartier did with their presentation this year at Watches and Wonders. We’ve written pieces about Cartier enjoying a major resurgence and I’ve said in those that a big part of the brand’s modern renaissance is that Cartier is paying close attention to its history, its heritage, and they’re listening to what their customer really wants. There are so many amazing pieces in the Cartier archive that have not been reproduced yet, that I think the next few years are going to be very exciting for Cartier fans, and extreme buzz surrounding the release of the Tank Normale at Watches and Wonders is proof positive of that. The release of that watch also telegraphs that we’re going to see some truly fantastic releases from Cartier as they continue to dig through their archives and celebrate obscurities from their past, but I love that this brand is also continuing to innovate in how they execute these reissue releases. Cartier has the luxury of a storied and tenured brand history and an extremely strong brand identity that lets them operate in their own unique space independent of the watch world, but they have really started to understand and exploit their importance within the watch world. 

From a horological perspective, my favorite pieces that Cartier brought to Watches and Wonders were, of course, the various Tanks they brought. I loved the new Tank Louis lineup and that they added more to the mechanical side of the lineup. I like that we’re seeing Cartier move away from quartz a bit, which is fine for the fashion-side of their watch offerings, but it shows they’re taking the horological enthusiast more seriously. With the Tank range being so celebrated and lusted after these days, it’s nice seeing mechanical movements being leveraged in more of those watches. Beyond that, I really loved the new colorways and dial patterns the Tank Louis Cartier is now available in. I think these variants are much more functional and much more visually appealing than what was released in the past year from Cartier, but also don’t sacrifice uniqueness and or the sense of exclusivity that comes from those watches.

The Tank Normale was, without a doubt, the watch of the show – the watch that really was the most engaging piece from the entire Watches and Wonders experience. It’s hard to overstate the impact seeing that watch in both platinum and yellow gold on-bracelet in-the-metal had. It’s just insane. The details that went into that watch – details which you might miss in photos – are really, really incredible. I also love that they used brushed platinum, which is just an amazing look. For me, the Tank Normale in platinum was the coolest watch of the show. That said, the Normale looked great on a leather strap as well, which Cartier smartly included in their display of the watch.

Something we keep discussing in these reviews is how well the brand’s booths reflected their personalities and Cartier’s booth was simply gorgeous. It was certainly one of my favorite booths at the entire show, and outside of IWC’s display, was the most cohesive expression of the brand from a design perspective. Cartier’s booth was elegant, it felt couture – it was chic. It reminded me of a cool salon in Paris that I wanted to hang out in all day. Cartier used a really interesting color palette in the booth; it was soft and pastel and not really masculine, but it also wasn’t overtly feminine either. It was a beautiful mix of both that just felt elegant. Crafting an environment like that is a tough thing to do at a busy trade show in a convention center. It felt like a permanent retail location for VIPs.

I was also surprised by how much I liked the Tank Louis, which is inspired by the Must line and features a really beautiful and artfully executed dial that has a pattern of tricolor rectangles that I’m calling the “Brick” dial.

Overall, I loved everything Cartier brought to Watches and Wonders, and I loved being immersed in the Cartier world via their incredible display. I’m a huge fan of the brand, I have many in my personal collection, and it’s going to be very exciting to watch what Cartier continues to do with their modern renaissance.

Tyler Vanes - Chief of Operations:

I think it would be easier to list the things we disliked at Cartier this year than the things we liked because the entire lineup was consistently fantastic. In my book, Cartier stole the show this year. As a brand, Cartier is very self-aware right now and that was showcased in their display, which would be considered over-the-top if it wasn’t so perfectly Cartier. The booth was executed flawlessly, the spacing of everything was perfect, and everything felt like it was put together by a design maison. It was an extravagant showcase, but that type of refined extravagance is what we love about the Cartier brand. They’re also flexing that sense of self-awareness by doubling-down and expanding on the pieces they’ve had success with recently; Cartier is taking their most classic and iconic designs and pushing them as far as they possibly can, and they’re not missing. That’s extremely hard to do and it’s something no other watch manufacturer is doing anywhere near as successfully right now.

As far as the pieces themselves go, I agree that the Tank Normale was the watch of the show. Cartier hit it clear out-of-the-park with that watch, and they knew they were going to because they’re paying such close attention. Cartier is obviously well-aware of how hot the brand is right now and they’re aware that contemporary Cartier’s huge popularity stands on the shoulders of how hot vintage Cartier is. The way vintage collectors and enthusiasts have embraced vintage Cartier in recent years has reshaped the brand’s perception as a horological powerhouse by all, and they’re doing a great job of capitalizing on that. People simply want Cartier pieces now, regardless of whether they’re vintage, brand new, or obscurities from the brand’s weirdest periods. With the Tank Normale, Cartier gave the enthusiast exactly what they wanted. They increased the watch’s dimensions just a little bit to modernize it a touch. They brushed the finishes, and they did just enough to make the watch its own thing, but without losing any of the spirit or intrigue of the watch’s vintage counterpart. It isn’t a drastically different variation of the original piece and the execution was just flawless. They killed it and they deserve all of the praise they’re getting for that watch in my opinion. 

I also felt that the Santos-Dumont Skeleton in the blue enamel variant was an under-appreciated piece and is right up there with the Tank Normale for me as my overall favorite Cartier release this year. I’m not usually a skeleton fan, but that watch completely blew me away. I figured it would be beautiful in-the-metal based on the early press photos Cartier released, but after seeing it in person, I think it’s far and away the coolest skeleton watch that I think I’ve ever seen. It’s not trying to do too much, it’s still legible, and it has a really elegant nod to the original inspiration for the Santos-Dumont, aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont. Unlike many skeletonized watches, I feel this piece isn’t kitschy or cheesy at all. It’s that rare skeleton piece that’s executed in a way where it really makes the most of that concept, and it very easily could’ve been cheesy if they went a few steps in the wrong direction, but they walked that line brilliantly and it’s a winner for me. The hardest thing to do with any piece that combines that many small details is to make them work cohesively and they really pulled it off, and they did so while retaining a truly classic Cartier form factor.

Another highlight from Cartier’s new offerings for me is the new Tank Louis Cartier with colored enamel dials. In the photos and renderings that I saw of these watches before viewing them in-person, I was afraid that they were going to be very bright and that the colors were going to be too loud and over-the-top, but the hues Cartier went with are actually very understated. They aren’t muted, but they’re not screamingly bright and overpowering. It’s a presentation of that respective color, but it doesn’t overpower the watch’s inherent elegance. It’s another really impressive, if subtle, balancing act from Cartier that I think deserves more praise than it’s getting post-show.

The releases Cartier brought to Watches and Wonders have me very, very excited to see where this brand takes things in the coming years. Everything there was a hit in my book, and even things like the women’s La Panthere de Cartier was super rock ‘n’ roll and felt like a victory lap for Cartier. Like Tudor, they’re showing their peer brands how it’s done right now. 

David Von Bader - Senior Editor:

Throughout our coverage of Watches and Wonders 2023, we’ve collectively talked a lot about how well the manufacturer’s spaces represented their brand’s personas. On the surface, that might not seem like a huge deal, but it says so much about how a brand ultimately perceives itself and its audience/consumer. In Cartier’s case, their booth was a plushly carpeted walk-through experience that was pure class and did a lot to both elevate the pieces they brought to the show. The Cartier booth provided a viewing experience that felt legitimately timeless and special and the new watches the iconic brand brought to Watches and Wonders 2023 had the same tangible feeling of timelessness and sense of being special.

The Tank Normale was truly the buzz of the show on a seemingly universal level. It was a watch that I’d seen in photos early in the week and thought was interesting, but I felt that the hype was blown a bit out of proportion based on the early photos I’d seen. It certainly looked interesting, and the history and relevance was undeniable, but no one photo of the watch truly set me ablaze. However, seeing it in-person completely shifted my perception and there is something truly incredibly special about the Tank Normale’s depth, presence, and uncanny mix of masculine and feminine traits – especially on the matching bracelet. It’s a wildly cool watch and I hope that it eventually becomes a production model of some sort that’s readily available after this first batch, though I know that’s realistically unrealistic. 

My other highlights from Cartier’s offerings this year were the enamel dial Tank Louis Cartiers, which I think are the perfect alternative dress watch. I particularly loved the burgundy dial, which is a color I’ve been having something of a love affair with in my own world, so seeing it so perfectly executed in the context of a Cartier Tank really did a lot for me. Let’s just say it’s on the long list of pieces to own in the coming years. And I have to mention the “Brick” dial variant, as Cameron is calling it; that piece represented the rare occasion when a watch dial can be patterned and bold, but not childish or overtly goofy. Pure class from Cartier per usual. 

A big takeaway for me from all of the discussion and discourse surrounding Cartier this week is that it’s nice to see the horological space seemingly unified around a brand for once. In such an opinionated space, where everyone’s incredibly quick to drop a hot take or try to take the piss out of a beloved house, it feels like we’re all just very, very on-board with what Cartier is doing, where they’re taking the brand, and with how well they know their (ever-growing) consumer base. Kudos to them for that.

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