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09/17/2020 | Updated on: 08/02/2023
 7 minutes

Cartier: The Brand That Unites Creativity, Elegance, and Tradition

By Sebastian Swart

Anyone who swoons over luxurious, unique jewelry and classic timepieces will surely know the name Cartier. This French luxury brand has more than 170 years of history, tradition, and expertise to look back on, but they’ve never been ones to rest on their laurels. We’ve compiled the brand’s most important milestones and pulled interesting facts from Chrono24’s database.

Cartier’s Formative Years

The founding father of this famous family dynasty was Louis-François Cartier. The son of a jeweler, Louis-François was born into turbulent times. France was still recovering from its defeat in the Napoleonic Wars. After learning his father’s trade, Cartier took over the Parisian business of his former teacher, Adolphe Picard. He gained a reputation as a promising young talent and could soon count numerous aristocratic and royal families to his list of clients. It didn’t take long for Cartier to be known as the “jeweler of kings and the king of jewelers.”

Louis-François’ son, Alfred, had large shoes to fill when he joined the business, and his own sons – Louis, Pierre, and Jacques – would later follow suit. Together, they expanded the company’s line of watches. At the time, pocket watches still dominated the market, but Cartier instead invested heavily in the area of wristwatches. Pocket watches were impractical in certain circumstances – something Cartier would soon cash in on.

The friendship between Louis Cartier and Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont was the spark behind the wristwatch’s growing popularity. Alberto complained that pocket watches were impractical to use while flying. In response, Louis introduced the convenient and elegantly-shaped Cartier Santos in 1904, making it the first pilot’s watch and first men’s wristwatch on the market. It was a sensation, but unfortunately, the company’s founder Louis-François didn’t live to see his grandson’s success, since he died the same year. You can read more about this watch in our article Chrono24 Buyer’s Guide: Cartier Santos.

In years to come, many new designs and innovations appeared under Louis Cartier’s name. His brothers, Pierre and Jacques, on the other hand, were dedicated to expanding the family business. In 1914, a design was born that paved the way for the future of the brand.

That year marked the release of the first women’s wristwatch set with onyx and diamonds in the pattern of a panther’s coat. The design would later inspire future artistic director, Jeanne Toussaint, to create countless other pieces using the pattern and shape of the wild cat. The panther gradually became a symbol of the luxury brand, as well as Toussaint’s nickname. Toussaint, or “la panthère,” would play a key role in shaping the Cartier catalog for several decades.

The animal kingdom wasn’t Cartier’s only source of inspiration, however. The Cartier Tank is based on the military vehicles used in World War I. You can find out more about the Tank and its history in this buyer’s guide. The design of the Cartier Crash, an expressionist timepiece, is said to have been inspired by a Cartier watch damaged in a car accident.

Significant Watch Collections From Cartier

Cartier have presented a number of prestigious collections over the years. We’ve summarized the most influential series below.

Cartier Tank

The Tank dates back to 1917, and is arguably the brand’s most significant creation. The timepiece is instantly recognizable due to its rectangular case and geometric design. As the collection has been around for well over a century, there are plenty of different editions on the market. The most popular models belong to the Française, Must, and Louis Cartier series.

The Louis Cartier series is crafted exclusively from precious metals, while you’ll find stainless steel and two-tone models in the Française and Must lines. The Must models are the most affordable timepieces in the overall Tank collection. This series also offers great variety in terms of movements, with models using automatic, quartz, and even solar-powered calibers.

Eckiger Hingucker: Die Cartier Tank Française
Square flair: the Cartier Tank Française

Cartier Santos

The Cartier Santos has been around since 1904. The model is celebrated for its distinctive square case and decorative screws punctuating its bezel. Looking at the dial, you’ll be greeted with Roman numerals inspired by the Art Deco movement. There are two subseries, the Santos-Dumont and Santos de Cartier, which are available in stainless steel, gold, and two-tone designs. There are also platinum Santos-Dumont models on the market.

Die Santos war Cartiers erste Armbanduhr für Herren
The Santos was Cartier’s first men’s wristwatch.

Cartier Ballon Bleu

The Ballon Bleu collection is home to round, elegant watches. The series’ defining feature is a blue sapphire or spinel cabochon capping the winding crown. The cabochon is also surrounded by a ring that acts as a crown guard. The women’s and men’s models are available in yellow gold, rose gold, stainless steel, and as two-tone watches.

Uhren der Kollektion Ballon Bleu zieren gerne das Handgelenk von Royals, wie Kate Middleton
Watches from the Ballon Bleu collection have been spotted on the wrists of Royal Family members like Kate Middleton.

Cartier Panthère

The Cartier Panthère has been a staple in Cartier’s catalog since 1914. There are several Panthère series, but the Panthère de Cartier is probably the best known. Visually, the watches resemble the Santos models, but since they’re smaller and use quartz movements, they are marketed as women’s watches. As for materials, you can choose between gold, stainless steel, and a combination of gold and stainless steel.

Cartier Panthère, die zierliche Damenuhr
Cartier Panthère, a refined women’s watch

Cartier Pasha

By Cartier standards, the Pasha collection is a relatively young collection, having made its debut in the mid-1980s. This collection’s signature detail is the small chain that connects the crown cap to the case. However, the four Arabic numerals at 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock are also synonymous with the series. The collection contains classic three-hand watches, chronographs, as well as models with moon phase indicators and tourbillons.

Cartier Pasha 2770
Cartier Pasha 2770

Who wears Cartier watches?

  • Angelina Jolie: The Oscar-winning actress is known to wear Cartier watches. Among them is a Tank Louis Cartier (ref. W1529856), which houses a quartz movement in its 18-karat yellow gold case. The watch measures 29.5 × 22 mm and is paired with a brown alligator leather strap. You can buy the refined, three-hand watch in mint condition for under $10,000 on Chrono24.
  • Kate Middleton: The Princess of Wales has been spotted wearing several Cartier watches, one being the Ballon Bleu ref. W6920071. This 33-mm watch is made of stainless steel and uses an automatic caliber. Prices for new copies on Chrono24 come in around $5,000.
  • Princess Diana: Another British Royal known for their penchant for Cartier watches was Princess Diana. While we don’t know the exact model she owned, it was a yellow gold Cartier Tank Française similar to the current WGTA0114. This 25.7 × 21.2 mm watch features a gold dial and a quartz movement and costs roughly $23,000.
  • Johnny Depp: Hollywood actor Johnny Depp is yet another famous Cartier fan. His collection includes a Cartier Ballon Bleu ref. W69016Z4, a 42-mm stainless steel watch. This timepiece has an automatic movement and comes on a leather strap. Prices for new models sit around $6,200.
  • Rihanna: The pop icon is known for her extensive watch collection. Along with a Cartier Ballon Bleu, Rihanna also owns a Panthère de Cartier WGPN0009. The 37 × 27 mm watch is made of yellow gold and powered by a quartz caliber. This Cartier timepiece sells for around $26,000 new.
  • Kylie Jenner: The influencer and businesswoman is no stranger to luxury. Among other Cartier pieces, she wears a 42-mm Ballon Bleu Serti Vibrant in white gold, which is embellished with 333 brilliant-cut diamonds. Only 20 copies of this watch exist, and it demands an equally exclusive price of over $300,000.

Other celebrities who wore Cartier include movie stars Steve McQueen, Sammy Davis Jr., and Clark Gable. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali and pop art guru Andy Warhol were also fond fans of the brand.

Why are Cartier watches so expensive?

Cartier watches have a high price point due to many factors. Here are the most decisive:

  • Craftsmanship and quality: Cartier values precise craftsmanship and premium quality. Each watch is meticulously crafted by extremely skilled watchmakers. They also use high-quality materials and components such as precious metals and diamonds, as well as innovative movements.
  • Design and style: Cartier watches are elegant, and their design language has proven to be timeless. The brand’s creations are instantly recognizable, which also influences prices.
  • Brand prestige: Cartier is a prestigious luxury brand and enjoys a sterling reputation in jewelry and watchmaking. What’s more, the brand has a long, storied history. All these elements are reflected in their prices.
  • Supply and demand: Many Cartier watches have limited production runs, driving up their exclusivity and thus their value.
  • Research and development: Like all luxury watch manufacturers, Cartier invests considerable resources into research and development. These investments are reflected in the price of their watches.

Do Cartier watches retain their value?

All the factors outlined above mean that Cartier watches retain their value very well, and can even show great potential for appreciation.

One example is the Panthère de Cartier, ref. WGPN0009. In mid-2018, this model was valued at roughly $19,000; in July 2023, it had risen to $26,000. This corresponds to an increase in value of around 36%. The Tank Louis Cartier ref. W1529856 appreciated by 35% in the same period, rising from $7,400 to $10,000.

Cartier or Rolex?

Rolex and Cartier are both renowned luxury watch brands that offer excellent watchmaking quality. But that’s where their similarities end. While Cartier offer emphatically elegant watches, Rolex focuses strongly on the sporty aspect of many of their timepieces. Rolex sports models suit almost any occasion, while Cartier watches are better suited to more formal occasions.

If you’re trying to decide between a Rolex and Cartier, ask yourself if you want a robust, sporty watch or an elegant dress watch. Another important aspect to consider is your future timepiece’s functionality: For example, if you want a GMT complication, Rolex is your best bet; but if you’re after class and sophistication, a gold Cartier with Roman numerals offers just that. If you’re more interested in an investment watch that’s likely to increase in value, you should look into Rolex sports models. Despite slight losses during 2022, many Rolex watches have performed very well financially over the long term.

All in all, deciding between a Rolex or Cartier watch depends on your preferences, personal style, budget, and expectations.

About the Author

Sebastian Swart

I've been using Chrono24 for years to buy and sell watches, as well as for research purposes. I've had an infatuation with watches for as long as I can remember. As a …

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