Cartier’s R&D department should be renamed the Ministry of Horological Magic. Timepieces from the are simply that, magical. They have made the impossible possible.
THERE ARE NOT MANY out there who would protest Cartier’s Rotonde De Cartier Grande Complication being on the list of 10 Finest Watches of 2015. Judging looks might well be subjective, but everyone would have to agree that this beautiful watch is packed with ingenuity. The watch is housed in the classic Rotonde de Cartier casing, which subtly veils its extraordinary hidden talents.
There had been whispers in 2015 that something really fantastic would be coming from Cartier’s Haute Horologerie. Guesses and predictions were made, but even if the world’s watch journalists did not know what it would be, we knew it would be spectacular. When the timepiece was unveiled we were all simply blown away. There’s not just one or two but three grand complications, which are all actually very practical and yet playful: tourbillon, perpetual calendar and minute repeater. It is as if Cartier’s marvels have been put on a strict diet in order to be lean, toned and powerful and they have all been thinned, sliced, diced and then shoehorned into a slim case of 12.6mm. The highest praise must be given to the R&D team who must have employed every possible skills and technology available to produce a miracle with a thickness of a mere 5.49mm.
The minute repeater is a grand complication that is the most enjoyable to have. It plays a short segment of music on three tones, with the lowest tone being the hour, the medium tone being the quarter and the highest tone being the one to fourteen minutes. It is the one grand complication that is the hardest to craft as the mechanism is the most complex to design and produce. A playful little device and if you are into all things ‘old-school’ then this is it.
There are two thing that makes the Rotonde de Cartier Grand Complication special. First of all, the entire minute repeater can be viewed under the sapphire crystal. The gong elegantly circles around the outer flange of the movement and the striker or the hammer is at six o’clock. Another point to add is that its fly-wheel really flies because it is free from the bridges where by tradition it is normally attached to. This way it can literally ‘fly’ independently.
And then, consider the activation mechanism. Traditionally minute repeaters use a slider as an activator; but there is always the danger of it being activated only halfway or not all the way and then it will be left with too little power to play the entire time. Instead, Cartier have cleverly introduced a mechanism that they call ‘all or nothing”. Now when you activate the pusher, it creates enough energy to chime the complete time ( hour and minutes). This is especially useful when you need to know the time but cannot see the dial if, for instance, it is dark.
The Tourbillon is another gem, and just as incredibly complicated to make and assemble. It must be entrusted to master watchmakers to hand craft this grand complication and it can get extremely dicey during assembling because it is necessary to have hands that are even steadier than a machine. Cartier uses titanium for its carriage because it is the optimal material for accuracy and precision. It too is ‘flying’ as it is also not attached to a bridge.
The final grand complications is also one of the most practical to everyone, it is the perpetual calendar. In effect, a little computerised calendar device. It is able to take into account the different number of days in a month and February’s 28 days as well as the leap year. It takes all that in its stride and changes the entire date accordingly. Remarkably, you only have to adjust it every 100 years, which should take care of things. You don’t need to change it in your lifetime and can leave it to later generations to handle that little matter.
And now the last but not the least: the movement in its entirety is created all at once along with all the complications. There are no modules being added to a base movement. This is a very complex piece of engineering consisting of 578 parts with 47 jewels altogether, and it is housed in a near naked platinum case with a large sapphire crystal and a large sapphire caseback.
Above: Rotonde de Cartier Grand Complication.