Pierre Rainero – image, style and heritage director of Cartier, where he’s been working at since 1984 – gives a sometimes surprising lesson on economics, the value of time and the enduring appeal of good design.
Can you sum up Cartier’s legacy in watchmaking and how that has been captured in the brand’s signature timepieces?
“Cartier is about creating new shapes… Each new shape that the brand creates enriches the incredible patrimony of Cartier’s watch designs. (The Tank, for example, started out with a squarish case inspired by the military vehicle from which it gets its name while the Pasha is the brand’s first round watch, reportedly inspired by one the brand made for a pasha in 1943.)
Beyond shapes, it’s also about style: a certain sense of balance in terms of lines and volumes, and the way the watch fits on the wrist. One can immediately recognise the Cartier style, thanks to the specific vision and attention that we give our creations.”
First designed in 1917 by the grandson of the brand’s founder, the Tank – as it’s popularly referred to – was reportedly inspired by an overhead view of the Renault tanks used in World War 1 and turned men, who had previously preferred pocket watches, onto wristwatches
Updates to signature watches tend to be subtle. Does heritage matter more than innovation in horology?
“For us, there is no difference between legacy and contemporary designs. We apply the same criteria to work on any project. To succeed in creating something strong: a design that is capable of evolving while remaining essentially the same. Examples would be the Tank, Santos-Dumont and Pasha de Cartier, to name a few.
These designs are so strong that we can offer new versions of them with new ideas of balance between the different components of the original design and they remain recognisable as part of the family of the object (the Tank family, for example, includes the Tank MC, which is a more masculine take on the original squarish Tank model, and the Tank Americaine with its elongated case).
One gets the excitement of wearing the classic as well as something that is from the now at the same time. So it’s not a question of history, but a question of good design.”
The Tank Louis Cartier watch – a handsome and timeless timepiece
Is it true that customers generally gravitate towards classics during – and even right after – tough times?
“Incidentally, the best performer in 2008 (the year of the last global recession) was the Ballon Bleu, a brand new watch design from the preceding year. This shows that we cannot have a prejudice on what’s going to work and that what ultimately creates desire is strong design regardless of its creation year. A product can be a success as long as there is a notion of strength within its design: beauty, strong specificities, obvious links to the legacy of the maison behind it… It should bear the components of the style of the brand and the Ballon Bleu is a good example.
At a time when round cases were popular, it offered a new proposition with its pebble-esque shape (the case of the Ballon Bleu features convex curves) while retaining all of Cartier’s codes (think Roman numerals for the index, a rail-track minute circle and a hidden signature). Within 12 years, it’s become a classic. Also important is the relevance of the watch for the contemporary way of life of the client who needs to be able to immediately imagine him or herself living with it.”
The curvaceous Ballon Bleu de Cartier with its distinctive cabochon-shaped synthetic spinel
Has the digital era made it more challenging to make heritage appealing to customers?
“I believe it has had the opposite effect. The more the world around us is focused on speed – one in which newness prevails – the more there is a search for stability and elements of permanence. Cartier stands for that in the world of precious objects and design – objects that will accompany a person through life; creations that take time to design and produce, and that will last for a very long time… It’s important too to be faithful to one’s legacy, values, philosophy and vision of design.
We can cultivate our own style as long as we’re faithful to who we are. The strength of a brand is linked to the consistency of what it says and there has been a consistency in the values of Cartier since its early beginnings (the French luxury jeweller was founded in 1847).”
The Cartier Love bracelet was created for Cartier in 1969 by designer Aldo Cipullo
Honouring one’s legacy must be tricky, going by how long it takes most luxury watchmakers to introduce entirely new designs, the Maillon de Cartier being Cartier’s latest.
“It takes time for the reasons that I have mentioned before. We give a lot of attention and time to a new design not only for the sake of what it will bring to the legacy of Cartier, but also the direction in which it will take the brand and what it means for the style of the maison. We raise many questions before launching a new creation.
The Maillon de Cartier (a dainty bracelet watch launched in May 2020 and notable for its unusual hexagonal case and chain links that are set on the bias) is an important project for us from the beginning. The idea was to think about a totally new version of a watch that’s simultaneously a piece of jewellery with the dial completely integrated into the bracelet.”
One of Cartier’s most exciting launches in 2020 was the Maillon de Cartier, a brand new watch that reinforces the maison’s mastery of innovative shapes in horology. Its face is hexagonal in shape while the rectangular chain links of the bracelet are placed in a bias-cut formation and integrated seamlessly with the dial.
How might the ongoing pandemic influence the way customers view heritage in the luxury business?
“I believe it’s far too soon to think about consequences, but what we have noticed in the last two months is incredible requests for our creations through digital channels to mark important events within families. More people seem to be giving importance to relationships and to feelings, and wanting to express this through objects that are as precious as their emotions.”
The Pasha de Cartier was launched in 1985 and stood out for its bold round case that was atypical of the brand at the time. This year, the sporty yet elegant timepiece returns with the likes of fully interchangeable straps and a transparent back casing. Its chained crown can also be “unscrewed” and lifted to reveal customisable engravings
Wha are the criteria for a brand new design at Cartier?
“We look for originality; beauty; what the design says about the evolution of the Cartier style; what it bears from our vision, philosophy and aesthetics vocabulary; what it adds to the existing assets of the Cartier style and what it says of the maison today. As mentioned earlier, another consideration we take into account is the relevance of the object to our clients’ lifestyles today.”
A sketch of the Panthere de Cartier watch bracelet (right) which plays with a pattern of highlights and shadows to mirror the spots of a leopard.
Should we invest in a luxury timepiece now? And has the idea of an investment timepiece changed over time?
“I think we shouldn’t look at our creations as investments. The objective is to provide pleasure in owning a Cartier creation. The notion of enjoyment is at the centre of our work. It’s the main ‘function’ of our creations, so to speak, and that’s the main criteria that our clients should use when buying a piece. Of course there is a fine balance between the price of the creation and the pleasure it brings. It’s the notion of perceived value and we are very attentive to that in the creative process.”
The notion of investment in horology is the consequence of the phenomenon of watch collecting. With watch trade magazines booming, these so-called collectors were not just collecting for pleasure, but also for investment. Today I believe that the main idea is enjoyment.”
Can you share some advice on purchasing a luxury watch now?
“I would say just follow your instincts and desire. Cartier is all about shapes and designs. Choose a shape that you like and go by instinct; by affinity with the design. Also buy something different from the rest. This is very important as Cartier is about audacious designs for clients who perceive them as that and dare to be elegant.”
Cartier designs are all about shapes and forms
A version of this article first appeared in the July 2020 Perennial edition of FEMALE