The story in a second
New shape, case, crown and movement – with so many new features, how does the Clé de Carter manage to look so classic?
The big question
Cartier has an impressive track record with its geometric watch designs. Is the Clé de Cartier strong enough to hold its own against the likes of the Tank and the Ballon Bleu?
Earlier this year Cartier introduced an new addition to their watchmaking collection – the Clé de Cartier. Currently only offered in precious metals, the Clé marks a completely new shape for the brand (more on that here). Offered in 31mm, 35mm and 40mm, it’s a watch that definitely suits both men and women, so we thought it would be a good idea to get a female perspective on the piece – from Fiona Chambers, Time+Tide’s Creative Director.
The big story about the Clé, as with so many of Cartier’s watches, is the case. A soft geometric curve surrounding a circular dial, it evokes Cartier’s spirit of classic elegance while giving a nod to the bold designs that characterised ’60s and ’70s watch design.
Referencing multiple historical influences – and avoiding being shackled to any single one – is a neat trick. To manage this feat while creating a watch that looks modern is a trick that few besides Cartier could pull off.
Fiona’s take: “For me, the size of the Clé – particularly the height – is good as it doesn’t get lost under your cuff, or try to overpower it.”
While the overall design of the case is confident and assured, it’s the crown that provides the real ‘wow’ moment. In fact, so proud are Cartier of their innovative square crown, that they named the watch for it. Clé is French for ‘key’, and the crown is inspired by the winding keys used on antique clocks and pocket watches. Count this as another clever addition to the historical mélange that makes up the Clé’s design palette. The crown/key is more than just the type of romantic story adored by marketing departments. It’s a smart little piece of design and a joy to use. If you’re prone to fiddling with your jewellery, be warned: compulsively flicking the ingot-shaped crown (inset with Cartier’s trademark blue sapphire) is a genuine risk. The crown operates a little differently from a traditional one too, in the normal position it doesn’t freely rotate; instead it automatically aligns to either a horizontal or vertical axis. The watch can be hand wound like this, and if you want to set the time or date just pull it out and it operates like any other crown.
Cartier could have easily leaned too heavily on the novelty of the new crown, pushing the entire watch into gimmick territory, but thankfully they stopped short of that. Sure, the narrative of the ‘key’ is central to its appeal, but it’s only part of the story – and all the other elements are strong enough to stand on their own merits.
If the case and the crown are new, the dial is classic Cartier. Blued sword-shaped hands, blue roman numerals (complete with the ‘secret’ signature), and central silvered flinqué sunray finish. All these details are real Cartier hallmarks, and they work well. Meanwhile, the date has been integrated into the design, rather than added as an afterthought.
Fiona’s take: “I love the detail in the middle of the dial. It plays in the light and whenever you look down at the time, you see different layers of detail. I also liked that even though the diamonds were there, they weren’t the only star of the show.”
Not content with an entirely new case, Cartier developed a new movement to power their Clé. The calibre 1847 MC is a round movement – and it’s Cartier’s most accessible manufacture movement to date – and it will be doing a lot of the brand’s horological heavy lifting in years to come, reducing the brand’s reliance on ETA movements. The 1847 MC is more plainly finished than Cartier’s other manufacture movements, but it’s technically geared toward stability, with the balance wheel mounted on a bridge at two points and the rotor incorporating a specially designed durable lever system.
On the wrist
On the surface, the Clé de Cartier seems simple enough: a well designed, comfortable, functional, gold dress watch. In the hands of other brands, this might have translated as something overly formal and boring. But Cartier has managed to create a watch that avoids these traps and even rewards the wearer who pays attention: the ingenious crown, the complex curvature of the case, the intricate dial. Taken individually, they’re all small details, but in combination they create a watch that’s wonderfully enjoyable to wear.
Fiona’s take: “I’m most impressed by the way it curves to fit the wrist, and I like the leather strap as it mutes the bling factor. I also really appreciate the size. Too often watches with diamonds are just another piece of jewellery, but I can actually read the time on this.”
Do you see this crown? It’s based on the winding keys of antique clocks.
For the watch forums
Will the Clé ever achieve the same legendary status as the Tank, or enjoy the commercial success of the Ballon Bleu?
Who’s it for?
The Clé, like most of Cartier’s mainstream production pieces is aimed at a mainstream consumer audience – in this case someone who values what Cartier stands for and wants a gold watch that’s a little more unusual than a Tank.
Fiona’s take: “This is not a watch you need to reserve for ‘special’ occasions. It’s not a massive statement watch, but it’s a great piece for a woman to buy herself as a nice everyday piece, and versatile enough to look good on anyone from 25 up.”
What would we change?
We know it will happen eventually, but we’d love to see a steel model already!
Fiona’s take: “I’m normally quite critical and I was shocked that after I wore it I wouldn’t change anything. I didn’t particularly warm to the watch in pictures or even when it was sitting in front of me – but when I put it on I loved it.”
Original images by Jules Tahan
Cartier Clé de Cartier Australian pricing
The 40mm white gold Clé on leather (WGCL0005) has a retail price of $28,300. The 35mm red gold Clé with diamond set bezel on leather (WJCL0013) has a retail price of $42,000.