The History of Cartier Watches

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Until 1904, wristwatches had been a thing only women wore with men sticking to pocket watches to keep the time.  Louis Cartier changed all that.  He was friends with an early pioneer of aviation, Alberto Santos-Dumont, who, in 1904, asked jeweller Cartier to make him a watch that would be more practical to use during his flights than a traditional pocket watch.  Cartier created a watch which would come to be known as the Santos.  Once it became available to buy for the public in 1911, it would start a trend for men’s wristwatches which would eventually become ubiquitous with Cartier continually bringing out new and inspiring designs.

World War I and the Cartier Tank

Because pocket watches were as impractical in war as they were in aviation, the use of wristwatches became more widespread during WWI and their popularity with men grew as a result.  The introduction of the Cartier Tank watch in 1917 along with the claim it had been inspired by the design of the Renault FT-17 light tank boosted the popularity of wristwatches for both sexes even further and saw Cartier become a fashionable luxury brand of choice for watches as well as jewellery.  Cartier Tank watches would go on to be worn by such famous names as Clark Gable, Jackie Kennedy, Andy Warhol, Princess Diana and Michelle Obama.  For the next 100 years, there would be numerous models of this iconic watch looking wildly different from each other but still all having that distinctive ‘Tank’ look.

The Birth of the Panther

At a similar time in history, another Cartier icon was born, the Cartier Panther motif.  Exotic animal skins were hugely fashionable at the time and the panther skin idea was first used by Cartier in 1914 in their ladies’ watch set with diamonds and onxy in platinum.  The panther idea was a favourite of Jean Toussaint, Louis Cartier’s lover, who also happened to be a very talented and inspired jewellery designer who would go on to use this motif in so many of Cartier’s pieces including a wide range of watches which are still using the panther as a design feature today.

Car Crash Design

Move forward to the 1960s and we see a watch design which is alleged to have been inspired by the remains of a Cartier watch pulled out of a car crash.  Whether Jean-Jacques Cartier really did base his design for the Cartier Crash on an actual car crash in this way is unknown but the watch itself, the look of which often gets compared to the warped clocks in Salvador Dali’s famous painting, became very fashionable in the 60s and was relaunched in the 1990s with all new designs based on this idea.

Movement of the Movements

Cartier, obviously, did not start off as a watchmaker so it makes sense that they originally hired in watchmaking specialists to create the movements for their watches.  A notable one such was Edmond Jaeger who was contracted in 1907 to create movements exclusively for Cartier watches.  His great skill in creating super thin movements were instrumental in enabling Louis Cartier to make his vision of the Cartier Tank a reality.  They continued to work with prestigious watchmakers for years after and it was only in the 2000s that, in seeking the Geneva Seal for their watches, they brought the movement making in-house.  In 2008, Cartier released its first watch with a movement made by its own in-house team, the Ballon Bleu Flying Tourbillon.

With Cartier watches being so iconic, stylish and fashionable, they can sell very quickly when we get them in stock so, if you are looking for a particular model or style of Cartier watch, please get in touch and we will source it for you.  To talk to us about Cartier watches or any other make of prestige watch, please call 01273 239763 or email

The History of Cartier Watches was last modified: February 12th, 2020 by Admin