It has an his­toric im­age that still de­fines our no­tions of spec­tac­u­lar artistry and grandeur, but a visit to Cartier’s La-Chaux-de-Fonds Man­u­fac­ture re­veals a Mai­son go­ing all out to seal its legacy in haute hor­logerie’s fu­ture.

Plaza Watch International - - The Mission Of No Return - WORDS Michaela Larosse

There’s a lot of cul­tural bag­gage as­so­ci­ated with the name Cartier. It’s Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe breathily in­ton­ing it in an elon­gated whis­per in the midst of singing ‘Di­a­monds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’; it’s the scan­dalous and de­fi­ant Wal­lis Simp­son, mis­tress of the for­mer King of Eng­land, declar­ing “You can never be too rich or too thin”, whilst glit­ter­ing in a spec­tac­u­lar ar­ray of Cartier jew­ellery that her lover had com­mis­sioned to demon­strate his pas­sion.

In short, when you think “Cartier” you think haute joail­lerie, ex­em­plary ar­ti­sans and cre­ators of some of the world’s most spec­tac­u­lar baubles, which is cer­tainly no bad thing as far as word as­so­ci­a­tions go. Yet it does a dis­ser­vice to the quiet but ex­tra­or­di­nary strides that the brand has made in the fine watch­mak­ing arena since 2008, when it rat­tled the van­guard of haute hor­logerie with in­cen­di­ary force after cre­at­ing its first Geneva Seal watch, the Bal­lon Bleu Fly­ing Tour­bil­lion.

From Cartier’s point of view it was a dec­la­ra­tion of in­tent sig­nalling that it was se­ri­ous about push­ing its watch­mak­ing cre­den­tials, though it still had to dis­prove the gen­er­ally held in­dus­try the­ory that the Bal­lon Bleu was a one-off stunt with a move­ment that was pos­si­bly not en­tirely of Cartier’s own mak­ing. It did it in bullish style by es­tab­lish­ing its LaChaux-de-Fonds Man­u­fac­ture as a pow­er­house of move­ment cre­ation – there are now 37 move­ments in the Cartier cat­a­logue, 29 of which were cre­ated since 2008. It's against this back­drop that Plaza Watch is in­vited for a priv­i­leged Man­u­fac­ture visit to dis­cover ex­actly what is go­ing on be­hind the sleek glass façade for it to gain such im­pres­sive mo­men­tum.

Step­ping be­tween the two flags that flank the en­trance to the Man­u­fac­ture’s cav­ernous foyer, the piv­otal fig­ure in Cartier’s new era of watch­mak­ing is wait­ing to greet us. The for­mi­da­bly tal­ented Ca­role Forestier-Kas­api joined Cartier in 1999, mov­ing through its ranks from Fine Watch Move­ment Builder to Head of Fine Watch Move­ment De­vel­op­ment, then on­wards to her cur­rent role as Head of Move­ment Cre­ation. Watch­mak­ing is in her blood, grow­ing up in her fam­ily’s watch­mak­ing business prior to study­ing at the Ecole d’Hor­logerie, and then hon­ing her skills at Zenith and Re­naud & Papi.

Forestier-Kas­api is our host for the day, guid­ing us around Cartier’s in­ner sanc­tum and pro­vid­ing foren­sic in­sight into the watch­mak­ing process. Set into a lush hill­side in ‘Watch Val­ley’, the site hosts de­vel­op­ment, pro­duc­tion and client ser­vice, and cov­ers an area of ap­prox­i­mately 1 kilo­me­tre, mak­ing it one of the largest fully in­te­grated pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties in Switzer­land.

As you’d ex­pect from a brand with such im­pec­ca­ble visual cre­den­tials, the im­pres­sion is of light, space and air that un­furls into a net­work of el­e­gant cor­ri­dors. Each then gives way to glass walls and rooms that house the var­i­ous ar­eas ded­i­cated to de­sign, de­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion. The at­mos­phere is more one of a mod­ern art gallery or high tech mu­seum than any­thing re­lated to in­dus­try.

A room with banks of screens and nu­mer­ous fig­ures seated in front of them deeply scru­ti­n­is­ing com­plex images of mi­cro-en­gi­neer­ing tells us we’re in the de­sign and de­vel­op­ment depart­ment. Of the 135 peo­ple in the depart­ment, 35 de­velop the move­ments. There’s an im­pres­sive work rate: 60 new prod­ucts cre­ated a year, with spe­cial or­ders tak­ing it to more than 80. De­signs first take their form with the cre­ation of ma­que­ttes – a step now given over to the won­ders of 3D print­ing – and then on to work­ing pro­to­types. Pri­vate re­quests can ex­pect the process to take be­tween six months and three years, and up to 10 years for in-house prod­uct de­vel­op­ment.

They’re the kind of time­lines fa­mil­iar in fine watch­mak­ing, though it begs the ques­tion, why did Cartier feel the need to get em­broiled at this level, mak­ing their own cal­i­bres? After all, in terms of sta­tus and her­itage, they have few peers within the lux­ury arena that en­joy the same in­stant global recog­ni­tion.

The re­sponse is clear: It was a ques­tion of le­git­i­macy – some­thing which you also sense is at the core of Forestier-Kas­api’s phi­los­o­phy as a watch­maker. Cartier de­scribes it­self, quite ap­pro­pri­ately, as a Mai­son, hav­ing long since tran­scended the mod­ern de­scrip­tor of a mere brand. Its jew­ellery and time­pieces are

ob­jets d’art that have been ex­hib­ited at mu­se­ums and gal­leries across the globe (the most re­cent at the Grand Palais in Paris be­ing the 27th such ac­co­lade) and it’s this her­itage of craft and de­sign that drives the de­sire to make their own move­ments. In-house cre­ativ­ity is what built their rep­u­ta­tion.

They cer­tainly haven’t held back on that front. 2010 saw a rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of the tra­di­tional com­pli­ca­tion, the Astro­tour­bil­lon move­ment, or the minute re­peater fly­ing tour­bil­lon, in which the chime mech­a­nism assem­bly is dis­played on the dial face. This was fol­lowed by the Astro­cal­endaire, equipped with an in­no­va­tive per­pet­ual cal­en­dar and pow­ered by a tour­bil­lon; the Astroreg­u­la­teur is an en­tirely new com­pli­ca­tion that de­fies the ef­fects of grav­ity in ver­ti­cal po­si­tions. Other in­no­va­tions sim­ply re-imag­ine the aes­thet­ics of watch­mak­ing, such as de­sign­ing a skele­ton move­ment in which the ar­chi­tec­ture of the bridges re­places the dial with Ro­man nu­mer­als.

Be­hind this cre­ativ­ity and se­ri­ous­ness of am­bi­tion is of course a mar­ket re­al­ity. Cartier were his­tor­i­cally re­liant on sup­pli­ers to pro­vide their move­ments, to be­come a bona-fide man­u­fac­ture, and ben­e­fit from spec­tac­u­lar growth in the haute hor­logerie sec­tor, its watch­mak­ing cre­den­tials had to be rad­i­cally trans­formed. Be­ing late-com­ers to the world of move­ment cre­ation means they’ve at­tacked it with im­pres­sive fe­roc­ity.

Forestier-Kas­api is open about the need to make up ground and about Cartier’s de­sire to take a big­ger share of the men’s mar­ket. Its clas­sic Tank and San­tos mod­els not­with­stand­ing, it knows it is per­ceived as a fem­i­nine brand – its women’s mod­els ac­count for 2/3 of sales in the US.

The new fo­cus on as­sert­ing its cre­den­tials as a cre­ator of time­pieces for men is clearly ap­par­ent in its lat­est mar­ket­ing push ‘Shape Your Time’. The stylish and surreal pro­mo­tional film aims squarely at men, vi­su­al­is­ing the story of a fa­ther telling his young son about the tra­di­tion of watches be­ing handed down through the gen­er­a­tions. The en­su­ing 90-sec­ond jour­ney through ‘ Cartier time’ sweeps through each of its eras from its first in­ven­tions to its lat­est in­no­va­tions.

On the sub­ject of pure in­no­va­tion, again Cartier has de­cided bold is best. In 2009 it em­barked on the Cartier ID Pro­gramme (ID rep­re­sent­ing In­no­va­tion and De­vel­op­ment), with no less a mis­sion than to ‘con­cep­tu­alise the fu­ture of watch­mak­ing’. Thus far, the pro­gramme has led to the cre­ation of two ground­break­ing con­cept watches: ID One, the adjustment-free, lubri­cant-free watch, and ID Two, the en­ergy ef­fi­cient watch.

The ID One de­fies the need for ad­just­ing through­out its lifetime, as per reg­u­lar me­chan­i­cal move­ments, through the use of move­ment com­po­nents man­u­fac­tured in car­bon crys­tal, with a very low fric­tion co­ef­fi­cient. As a re­sult, the need for liq­uid lu­bri­ca­tion be­comes ob­so­lete, whilst other reg­u­lat­ing com- po­nents have been made in­sen­si­tive to ther­mal vari­a­tions and mag­netic fields.

ID Two’s aim is to im­prove the ef­fi­ciency of a watch move­ment. In most watches only a small amount of en­ergy is used pro­duc­tively, the rest is lost via fric­tion or air re­sis­tance that fur­ther re­duces power. The brain­wave from the team at the Man­u­fac­ture was to re­move the cause of aero­dy­namic pres­sure in­stead of try­ing to mit­i­gate it. In other words: they got rid of the air, in­stead cre­at­ing a sealed vac­uum for the move­ment. De­spite the simplicity of the so­lu­tion it brought with it some equally ex­treme tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties. To avoid the risk of leaks, the en­gi­neers had to de­sign a case in just two parts, with­out any screws what­so­ever. The seals be­tween the case block and the back, as well as those sur­round­ing the set­ting crown, have been made more air­tight by the ad­di­tion of nanopar­ti­cles.

As the day con­tin­ues we pass through the var­i­ous de­part­ments con­tained in the fa­cil­ity: The in­ter­nal foundry where ev­ery watch­mak­ing tool used within Cartier is cre­ated; the glass blow­ing sec­tion where sap­phire glass watch faces are shaped by hand – each one tak­ing an hour to pro­duce; the shock test­ing lab where pro­to­types are put through their paces; the pol­ish­ing room, where more than 50km of watch links are pro­duced per an­num; the li­brary-like con­cen­tra­tion of the assem­bly area, where deft fin­gers put to­gether all the re­sult­ing com­po­nents; even an ac­ci­den­tal visit to the laun­dry in the bow­els of the build­ing (the re­sult of a mis­pressed lift but­ton) where row upon gleam­ing row of Cartier em­bla­zoned lab jack­ets await re­dis­tri­bu­tion.

The over­all im­pres­sion is one of ex­treme com­mit­ment, which Forestier-Kas­api puts down to the Man­u­fac­ture cor­re­spond­ing to Cartier’s 4 pil­lars of qual­ity: aes­thet­ics, er­gonomics, in­tegrity and chronom­e­try. For a watch­maker some still con­sider some­thing of a Johnny-come-lately to the field of move­ment cre­ation, the old guard had bet­ter watch their back. Cartier very much means business, and it’s al­ready started to de­fine the fu­ture of the in­dus­try.

“Cartier very much means business, and it’s al­ready started to de­fine the fu­ture of the in­dus­try.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from International

© PressReader. All rights reserved.