Cartier was founded in 1847 in Paris by the jeweller Louis-François Cartier, who later in 1899 handed it on to his three sons. They would establish the company internationally, not least by making the Cartier name a favourite among the crowned heads of Europe. Named “King of Jewellers, Jeweller of Kings”, the brand was quick to turn its attention to watches. Many have become modern-day icons, such as the Santos, first created in 1904 and then later of course the Tank.
In 1907, Cartier made a 15-year contract with Edmond Jaeger, later of Jaeger-LeCoultre, giving the firm exclusive rights to his output. Jaeger soon moved into Cartier’s premises so he could manufacture mechanisms for Cartier’s personalised watches. The early men’s wristwatches were all hand-made in France, with movements by Jaeger, Cartier Paris and the European Watch and Clock Co., all of whom manufactured complicated movements such as chronographs, minute repeaters, and digital wristwatches.
More famous classic Cartier wristwatch designs followed, such as the Tortue (1912) and the Tank (1919). These were followed by more noteworthy creations, including the Pasha, the Santos 100, the Ballon Bleu and the Calibre de Cartier. The Cartier family retained ownership of the firm until 1964. It is now part of the Richemont Group.
During the early twentieth century, any man wearing a wristwatch made a very daring statement as the classic pocket watch was considered the only timepiece a gentleman should carry. Cartier were a major influence in persuading the Parisian aristocracy to accept the idea of wristwatches for men. The Santos was promoted to show that the adventurous gentleman was wearing a wristwatch in all elements of his life. The “Tank” wristwatch, introduced in 1917 during the First World War, was Cartier’s most famous model. Louis Cartier was inspired by the tough new war machine the Americans introduced to the fighting in Europe – the tank – to design a rugged, yet beautiful watch that became a classic.