Cartier in Motion Explores Watchmaker’s Aviation and Design Links

 Project team meeting in the Cartier Office, Paris November 2016, Emmanuel Schmitt/Cartier

Project team meeting in the Cartier Office, Paris November 2016, Emmanuel Schmitt/Cartier

 Alberto Santos-Dumont aboard his airplane No. 15, in 1907. Cartier Archives © Cartier

Alberto Santos-Dumont aboard his airplane No. 15, in 1907. Cartier Archives © Cartier

Cartier’s innovative spirit and the links between his work and the history of design and aviation are examined in a new exhibition at the Design Museum curated by well-known architect Norman Foster.

According to Foster, “Louis Cartier and his close circle of friends – who were part of the avant-garde in Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century – personified the beginning of the modern age with its emphasis on motion, speed and flight. Cartier’s interest in aircraft, cars and boats inspired many of his classic designs and marked the birth of the men’s wristwatch as we know it today.”

Through over 170 exhibits, the exhibition will explore the myriad changes in society at the turn of the 20th century through the prism of Louis Cartier’s involvement with the pioneers of the age, including engineer Gustave Eiffel and aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, for whom he designed the first wristwatches.

The exhibition also looks at the evolution of Cartier watch designs as well as Cartier craftsmanship.

While Cartier has become better known as the ‘Jeweler of Kings, King of Jewelers,’ the brand also has a rich watchmaking history. The Santos watch, created in 1904 for the aviator, helped launch the taste for wristwatches for men. Santos had complained how difficult it was to time his performance inflight with a pocket watch and had asked Cartier to come up with an alternative that would allow him to keep both hands on the plane’s controls. The Santos’s square shape with rounded corners was a radical stylistic departure at a time when circular watches dominated, but it coincided with a move toward more geometrical jewelry.

It was followed by the barrel-shaped Tonneau (1906), the Tortue (1912) and the Tank (1917, inspired by the early armored tanks of World War I), all now iconic designs that point to Cartier’s creativity, which often found its inspiration in the art world.

The exhibition will include Mystery Clocks, so called because their hands appear to be floating over a transparent dial – the design is first credited to the great illusionist, Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin, though Cartier’s collaboration with clockmaker Maurice Couet brought “Mystery” clocks to a new level of craftsmanship.

Cartier in Motion opens on May 25 at the Design Museum in London.