Published - Cartier Looks for Recognition in Watchmaking

Cartier is probably better known as one of the world’s top jewelry brands, but it also has a long history as a watchmaker, having designed its first pocket watches in 1853. The house’s Santos model, with its distinctive square bezel, still produced today, was first designed in the early 20th century for the Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, after he complained of the unreliability of pocket watches in flight. Its Tank, Baignoire and Tortue models, also still in production, date from the 1910s. For all its beautiful and much-sought designs, however, the jeweler never quite won the cachet reserved for true haute horlogerie names, partly because its timepieces, however opulent or exquisite, often used movements developed elsewhere.
So, in 2001, Cartier set up its own manufacturing operation in Switzerland. Since then it has been hard at work burnishing its fine-watchmaking credentials. Last year, it presented the Rotonde de Cartier Astrotourbillon with a new manual winding movement, the fruit of five years of development. This week, it is unveiling in Geneva the Rotonde de Cartier Astrorégulateur watch Calibre 9800 MC. The subject of four patent applications, the unusual movement in the Astrorégulateur aims to compensate for the effects of gravity on the timing mechanism by providing an alternative to the traditional tourbillon. Watchmakers have long sought to compensate for gravity’s effect on the most delicate parts of the escapement — namely the pallet fork, balance wheel and hairspring — to improve accuracy. Until now, the tourbillon, designed in 1795 by Abraham-Louis Bréguet, has been the main solution to the gravity problem. By mounting the escapement and balance wheel in a rotating cage that revolves on its own axis, passing through all possible centers of gravity, Bréguet negated the distorting effect of gravitational pull on the delicate watch mechanism. Cartier’s Astrorégulator movement offers an alternative solution by fixing the escapement, the oscillator and the pendular seconds onto the rotor — in effect using gravity instead of fighting it. Su Jia Xian, a watch collector and moderator of the Cartier forum on, a dedicated watch Web site, was shown a prototype of the watch in December. His judgement: the Astrorégulateur gives a new perspective on the issue of gravity-induced variations in timekeeping. “It demonstrates creative thinking,” Mr. Su said. “Of course, gravity is not a deeply pressing issue facing watch owners, but the Astrorégulateur is notable for being a novel approach to something that others have tackled in various ways, like multi-axis or inclined tourbillons. Read the whole story in the IHT.