Clé de Cartier
The company offers up its interpretation of the classic round case this year with the new Clé de Cartier. With its clean lines and expertly balanced proportions, the watch offers a prime example of the power that comes from a simple design executed flawlessly. Make no mistake, simple does not mean unsophisticated. When viewed from the side, you can see how the gentle arc of the case creates a fluid, organic form that emphasizes both elegance and ergonomics.
The watch’s name provides an important clue to understanding the concept behind its design. Clé—pronounced kleh—is French for “key.” That idea serves as a jumping-off point for the design codes that unify the entire collection, which includes 40mm, 35mm and 31mm models. For instance, the guilloché at the center of the dial and the date window come together to form the subtle outline of a keyhole. A more obvious example is the crown, which is made to evoke the shape and feel of the keys historically used to wind clocks and some pocket watches.
To underscore that idea further, Cartier added a surprising twist. When you turn the crown, you can feel a gentle vibration and—if you listen closely—hear a soft clicking, a combination meant to evoke the sensory experience of using a key to wind a clock. During my week with the white-gold bracelet version of the 40mm Clé, I found myself coming back to the crown time and again. It’s certainly a strong visual anchor for the overall look. Not only is the crown’s rectangular shape rarely seen in watchmaking, but its angles also provide an intriguing counterpoint to the curves that dominate the design.
Like so many of Cartier’s instantly recognizable models, a blue sapphire takes its place on the crown. What’s interesting about the sapphires that adorn the watches in the Clé family is that Cartier developed the arch cut, a special shape for these gemstones. The company even patented the proprietary cut to ensure that it will remain an exclusive Cartier signature.
The visual design of the Clé, however, is only part of the story.
To power the watch, Cartier created the 1847 MC, a new automatic movement made entirely at its production facility in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. In a nod to the company’s impressive heritage, the caliber is named for the year Cartier was established.
When fully wound, the movement stores enough power to run for fortytwo hours. When designing the mechanism, one of the main priorities for Cartier engineers was to ensure that the energy was used efficiently. One of the ways they optimized performance was to use a rapidly turning barrel. This helps ensure that a high level of energy is stored in the mainspring at all times. This leads to a steadier rate and, as a result, more precise timekeeping.
When you view the movement in action through the clear exhibition back, you can’t really see how much advanced engineering went into its creation. But you can certainly appreciate the decorative touches in which it’s cloaked, especially the vagues de Genève pattern on the winding rotor. Like côtes de Genève, this finish features parallel lines of undulating stripes, but then adds an extra wave-like pattern on top to create an effect that is mesmerizing.
Historically, Cartier has set a high benchmark with its shaped watches, which means the Clé de Cartier will be judged against those past achievements. With its clean design and superb mechanics, it’s clear that this watch is destined to meet those sky-high expectations.
What makes it even more impressive is that Cartier has succeeded in making the most ubiquitous shape in watchmaking feel fresh again.
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