Nowadays people perceive watchmaking in many different ways. Some look at the purely technical side, some value long-lasting history and tradition, some consider only the money. Either way, there are some brands that miss all the credit they deserve just because when you think of them, first things that comes to mind is not watchmaking. It is the case with Montblanc that to some will always be a pen-maker, or with Ralph Lauren, that is probably the best fashion oriented company making watches (quality watches) today. Cartier suffers from being labeled as a jewelry house – and this is highly inadequate. Not only has Cartier quite an impressive history of making timepieces (Tank watch, just to name one), it is also an incredibly impressive manufacture with skills and craftsmanship. Carole Forestier-Kasapi, one of very few women leading a watchmaking house, took care of Cartier’s highly impressive development and significant number of in-house made, complicated pieces. Through the years we witnessed some highly complicated calibers emerging from La Chaux-de-Fonds, but perhaps the one that should impress the most came in a form of Calibre de Cartier – brand’s first in-house made, basic automatic caliber, and a watch.
Debuted in 2009, CdC (Calibre de Cartier) introduced new base for Cartier’s further mechanical developments – caliber 1904. It is significantly more difficult to create a reliable, robust and efficient mechanical movement that could be mass produced in the future, than to make an Haute Horlogerie masterpiece – and this is where the 1904 shines. While many other companies still stick to off-the-shelf movements, Cartier ventured into real “in-house” territory, and did it with style. 1904 is quite thin, automatically wound caliber with 50h of power reserve, 4Hz balance wheel, date and a stop-second. Set of basic but good looking decorations includes Geneva stripes on the bridges and winding mass as well as some perlage. As usual, time will determine if it actually is a reliable and long-lasting engine, I however had no problems with it. It works and sets easily, keeps good time and presents itself nice through the sapphire back.
As I wrote, it is a basic movement, so we can expect many additions through the years. One of them – a chronograph – came out in 2012. And as much as I liked the 1904, thing that drew me to Calibre de Cartier in the first place was the design.
If you know Cartier’s watch-work you are well familiar with the specific style of the brand – bold Arabic numerals, sapphire cabochons in the crown etc. For the Calibre Cartier decided to created a very masculine, quite bold and very attractive package. Stainless steel case (comes also in steel-gold and full gold versions) measures 42mm in diameter and 13mm in thickness. It comes with set of bold and highly curved lugs, heptagonal crown with blue cabochon, protected by screw-in crown guards, sapphire back and sapphire, domed front glass, set inside a polished-brushed bezel rim.
Dial comes in two options for the steel case – sporty black and more elegant white. Both are adorned with outer minute ring, set of Arabic indices in the upper half (with bold XII at the top), open date window at 3 o’clock, small seconds sub-dial at 6 and a pair of central hands. The composition is monochromatic black&white, with some luminova to glow in the dark. I do like the design a lot – it has plenty of character and boldness to it, except maybe an open window for the date disk, which just isn’t my cup of tea. I see some automotive spirit in the design (especially in the case shape) and the quality is just superb.
A lot of attention was given to the finishing of the whole thing, from polished edges of the crown guards, through the different angles of the case, all the way up to the gilouche dial. In an entry-level piece it makes an impression for sure.
You can buy yourself the Calibre on either steel bracelet (nice, massive and well finished) or with a black alligator leather strap, smoothly integrated with the case. While the strap’s overall quality is good, the issue lies with the clasp. The fold-over buckle is too big, snaps very tightly and, because there are no safety buttons, you simply have to rip it off in order to open. It also secures the strap in a very bizarre way, where you have to cross the strap over the loop and then fold it back. Strange, and almost as if Cartier focused so much on the case and the movement, that the strap passed by unnoticed.
I would rate high the overall pleasure of wearing the Calibre de Cartier. Some might find its strongly bended lugs a bit to profiled and the clasp is terrible, but all in all I enjoyed the company a lot. For 42mm the piece wears a bit bigger than it is, and for sure it is more of a casual (even sporty) than an elegant watch. Thanks to very “Cartier” design it looks like nothing else on the market, and if you prefer you watch to have more sport in it – get the Diver version – very similar to the basic Calibre, but with ceramic bezel and rubber strap.
The best conclusion I can think of for this review is that if not already, you should pay more attention to Cartier’s watchmaking side. If a brand can offer products ranging from the basic mechanical piece (the Calibre) all the way up to High Complications and concept pieces (like the ID Two, using Calibre case made of sapphire) it deserves respect. Especially, if that products represent true value and quality. Calibre de Cartier from this text (steel, leather) costs around 7.500USD and you have to add another 650USD for the bracelet.
Credit © Photo: Mateusz Pawelski