The watch that keeps its se­crets.

Esquire (Singapore) - - Contents - Words by Teo van den Broeke

The skele­ton watch.


known for the roy­alty-woo­ing jewellery it pro­duces—Ed­ward VII re­ferred to it as “the jew­eller of kings, and the king of jew­ellers”; Kate Mid­dle­ton loves her Bal­lon Bleu time­piece—Cartier also de­signs unim­peach­ably el­e­gant men’s dress watches. The Drive de Cartier Ex­traFlat, re­leased ear­lier this year, is the lat­est ad­di­tion to the brand’s daz­zling line-up, one which already in­cludes the Pan­thère and count­less it­er­a­tions of the ground­break­ing, rect­an­gu­lar­faced Tank. Over the past few years though, Cartier has been mak­ing its mark in the world of haute hor­logerie.

In 1912, Parisian clock­maker Mau­rice Couët de­signed the first “Pen­d­ule Mys­térieuses” (“mys­tery clock”) for Cartier. In­spired by the work of the 19th-cen­tury French ma­gi­cian and clock­maker Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin (who later in­spired Harry Hou­dini’s stage name), Couët’s “Model A” car­riage clock fea­tured ro­tat­ing crys­tal discs to which the hour and minute hands were mounted. The rock crys­tal al­lowed the viewer to see straight through the clock: the hands ap­peared un­teth­ered, with no per­cep­ti­ble means of mov­ing. In fact, the mech­a­nism mov­ing the crys­tal discs was hid­den in the clock’s frame, while the base con­cealed the main body of the me­chan­i­cal move­ment. Cost and com­plex­ity has meant that rel­a­tively few mys­tery clocks have ever been made—in 2013, the Model A was sold for SGD710,000 at an auc­tion in New York.

A cen­tury on from Couët’s orig­i­nal de­sign, Cartier in­tro­duced its first Mys­te­ri­ous Dou­ble Tour­bil­lon wrist- watch for men in 2013, an ex­tra­or­di­nary feat of horo­log­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing which fea­tured a tour­bil­lon move­ment seem­ingly sus­pended at the heart of the time­piece. Three years later, Cartier re­leased an open-worked ver­sion, pro­vid­ing a full view of the skele­ton move­ment. And now, for 2017, Cartier has un­veiled two new mod­els to the mas­cu­line branch of the Mys­te­ri­ous fam­ily—the glo­ri­ously com­plex Cartier Ro­tonde de Cartier Minute Re­peater Mys­te­ri­ous Dou­ble Tour­bil­lon and this, the marginally mod­est, in ti­tle at least, Ro­tonde de Cartier Skele­ton Mys­te­ri­ous Hour.

Housed in an im­pres­sively thin 11.9mm and 42mm di­am­e­ter palladium case (palladium, first in­tro­duced into jewellery-mak­ing in the ’30s, is favoured by watch­mak­ers for its light­ness and bright, sil­ver-white fin­ish), the round dial—the hall­mark of the Ro­tonde range—is ex­posed to re­veal Cartier’s ex­ten­sively skele­tonised cal­i­bre 9983 MC hand-wound move­ment.

Though the skele­tonised, ex­pand­ing Ro­man nu­mer­als—a patented Cartier sig­na­ture since 2009, when the de­sign was in­tro­duced—are im­pres­sive, it’s the out­sized sub-dial at 9 o’clock, fin­ished with the mys­te­ri­ous float­ing hands first in­tro­duced in 1912, that’s the true star of this show.

The mys­te­ri­ous hour dial works thus: two sep­a­rate trans­par­ent sap­phire discs are fit­ted with sword­shaped, rhodium-fin­ish steel hour and minute hands. The tooth-rimmed discs are then placed on top of one an­other, so they are able to move in­de­pen­dently, and they are then op­er­ated by gears con­cealed around the edge of the dial, which are in turn pow­ered by the move­ment within.

Though Cartier has re­mained rel­a­tively tight-lipped about the finer de­tails of the mys­te­ri­ous mech­a­nism in order not to ruin the magic (makes sense), what we can be sure of is the qual­ity of the fin­ished prod­uct, as it was over­seen by Ca­role ForestierKas­api, Cartier’s di­rec­tor of move­ment cre­ation.

“For the first time by Cartier, skele­ton work and a mys­te­ri­ous move­ment—two of the mai­son’s iconic fine watch­mak­ing signatures—come to­gether in the same watch,” says Forestier-Kas­api. “Asym­met­ri­cal and struc­tured, this two-sided move­ment ex­ploits the vis­i­ble and in­vis­i­ble with a stylis­tic au­dac­ity which is an es­sen­tial component of Cartier’s de­sign tra­di­tion.”

It’s a sen­ti­ment mir­rored by Cartier’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor in the UK, Lau­rent Fe­niou. “The Ro­tonde de Cartier Skele­ton Mys­te­ri­ous Hour in­cor­po­rates a mys­te­ri­ous move­ment, an in-house com­pli­ca­tion that was in­tro­duced more than a cen­tury ago with the first mys­tery clocks in 1912,” he says. “Their mech­a­nisms rely on an in­ge­nious con­cept which Cartier has suc­cess­fully trans­posed to the wrist. Then there is the skele­ton work, the prod­uct of a long Cartier tra­di­tion that be­gan in the ’30s. This cre­ation is a true mas­ter­piece.”

The cherry on this show­stop­per? Cartier’s clas­sic sap­phire cabou­chon crown and a black al­li­ga­tor strap, two de­tails which serve as a re­minder of the mar­que’s unerring ded­i­ca­tion to ele­gance as much as en­gi­neer­ing.

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