Published in Business Day Wanted

With Watches and Wonders 2020 pivoting into the digital-only presentation space as a result of Covid-19 mitigation efforts, those of us with invite-only passes had to be content with exclusive interviews with exhibiting brand representatives instead.

In a sense this gave me an advantage, because I had the privilege of a longer-than-usual slot for my fourth interview with Pierre Rainero, director of image, heritage, and style for Cartier, where he has worked since 1984. To be able to glean more of his insights into watchmaking during a period when time stood still was a rare occasion indeed.

Among the novelties unveiled this year under Cartier’s Unexpected Encounters theme are the Pasha, a cult watch since 1985, Maillon de Cartier, the new feminine watch with twisted links and, on the vintage side, the Tank Asymétrique, which follows versions of the Crash, Cintrée, and Tonneau presented as part of the Cartier Privé collection.


How do the new novelties link to the Cartier legacy? For some, the link is there already in the geometry and dimension of the piece.

“The Tank is the purest shape ever for a wristwatch. We pushed the limits a little further with the Tank Asymétrique, because we proposed a skeleton, which never existed. It’s a kind of complication that is very Cartier, because it is linked with aesthetics and the movement itself is not a classical movement that you put in a watch and make transparent. The movement is made specifically to be seen, so it’s a different study. Combine that with this kind of face — a twist on something very pure — that’s very Cartier,” says Rainero.

Making the attachment to the strap asymmetric is also very Cartier, because when you’ve worked on all the basic geometrical shapes, then you play with them, he explains.

Cartier Tank Asymétrique.

Pasha de Cartier is another good example. Fans will appreciate the purity of line in the long-awaited relaunch that links to the first waterproof watches ever made. Louis Cartier made the original Cartier Pasha for Thami El Glaoui, the pasha of Marrakech, in 1931. It was designed to be watertight to accommodate his daily swims to keep fit. This was made possible by a gold case that screwed shut and a chain-secured cap that fit into the crown.


The Pasha model launched in 1985 was directly inspired by Cartier’s waterproof model from 1943. The difference was in the diameter. The 1943 model was 42mm compared to the 1985 model, which was 38mm in diameter. “The link to the Cartier legacy is not simply that it existed, but that it carries all the different aspects of our design vision,” says Rainero.

As geometry is a theme for the Tank, so it is for the Pasha, which combines the basic shapes of the square railtrack on the circular dial. “Pasha is round on top but when you see the volume, you see the Cartier vision evident in the straight lines on the side. Even the little details like the attachments to the bracelet or strap made of those square elements… there’s a play on those different shapes on the Pasha, which makes it very Cartier.”

Pasha de Cartier.

Rainero adds another tribute to the Cartier legacy by noting the design of the watch. “One detail very important to the Pasha is the double crown, which is linked to the case with a little chain. It was the technical way to make it waterproof on that very sensitive part of the watch. Of course, today we know how to make waterproof watches without it, but we kept it because it’s part of the original design. We capitalise on that by proposing the idea of engraving your initials behind it and customising your own watch even more.”

There is a different perception of Pasha today, Rainero says, in that the balance between the square and the round shape is different in the contemporary version. There is a lot of work on the dial. The presence of the square is more discreet, engraved rather than designed as per the black line of the Arabic numeral square.


Rainero is usually quite measured in his praise of the new pieces in the collection, but I always ask for him to single out a personal favourite. “I’m also very excited about the Maillon watch. It’s another way to work with our values and philosophy in terms of design. It is a totally new creation, a design that never existed at all. The philosophy behind it is very Cartier,” says Rainero, “our vision of what a jewellery watch should be, meaning an object not conceived separately from the function to tell the time and the function to be an objet on your wrist. It has been conceived as a whole. That’s why the case is so well integrated into the bracelet.”

The links of the chain made the design of the case, not only in the way the case is attached to the links, but also the little geometric shape. Rainero also likes the idea of the watch chain, a concept Cartier brought to market after the World War 2. “It was another way to express our vision in watchmaking design and, more than ever, highlights the link with our original identity as a jeweller. I think it’s easy for us to conceive watches like that. It’s natural as a jeweller.”

Because the watch design allows so many possibilities to display the stones, and all of them are pleasing on the eye, Rainero says they had to make a choice based on timing. My favourite has to be the one with the tsavorite dial.

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