Between the 21st and 25th of January, thousands of watch journalists flocked to Geneva to attend The Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), one of the most prestigious trade shows in the watch world. We were not amongst those journalists. Nonetheless, we have kept a watchful eye on the new timepieces unveiled at both the SIHH and the Geneva Time Exhibition (GTE), the concurrently-running trade show that shines the spotlight on small independent brands. In this series of articles, we will highlight our favorite releases from the January trade shows.
Cartier, as a watch brand, is a bit difficult to pin down. Since the early 20th century, Cartier watches have been known for their simple and iconic designs. What they were not known for was technical innovation and cool complications, like many of these exotic watches. While some of the finer Cartier watches were powered by high quality third-party mechanical movements, many models were fitted with mass-market ETA movements, both mechanical and quartz. Of course, quartz is not a dirty word in the women's market and, indeed, Cartier has enjoyed prolonged success with women's watches for many decades. However, few collectors considered Cartier a true player in the men's watch market and Cartier didn't seem to really mind either. That sentiment has quickly become outdated as Cartier has sent shockwaves through the industry with an unbroken sequence of new releases showcasing the manufacture's new technical prowess. At the "low" high-end, the Calibre de Cartier has proven a strong seller since its introduction about three years ago, while recent releases like the Astrotourbillon have shown that Cartier has the chops to compete in the upper echelons of high horology too.
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Our favorite Cartier from SIHH 2013 is undoubtedly the Rontonde de Cartier Mysterious Hours (RCMH), available in both White and Rose gold. Unlike many of the elaborate complications emerging from Cartier's Fine Watchmaking division, the RCMH is tastefully simple, similar in that sense to the Jaeger Le-Coultre Master Ultra-Thin Jubilee. The mechanism is straightforward: the hour and minute hands are mounted on transparent sapphire crystal plates. Rims containing tiny metal teeth line the circumferences of these discs, connecting them to the movement. Mystery solved? Not quite, as the gearing driving the discs is hidden from view. Would it be cheating if we were to simply look to Montblanc's Grand Tourbillon Heures Mysterieuses for answers?
Turning the watch over reveals a well-finished manufacture movement. The dimensions of the case are in line with contemporary expectations: 42 mm in diameter and 11.6 mm thick. Given the dressy nature of the watch, a slightly thinner case (9 mm or thereabouts) would have been preferable. While we're on the topic of niggling flaws, having the time display offset to the left might be a minor inconvenience for those who wish to check the time inconspicuously with an undetectable adjustment of their left shirt cuff. Offsetting the time display to the right would require a complete reimagining of the keyless works, and it's difficult to say whether such a move would ultimately upset the overall aesthetics. Instead of continuing to nitpick, let's commend Cartier for a job well done!
The RCMH is by no means a mass market luxury watch, but it is one that is accessible to many well-heeled clients. Both flavours of the RCMH retail for just over 50,000 USD, with the white gold model being ever-so-slightly more expensive. Whether this beautiful watch becomes a seasonal sensation might come down to how it wears on a hairy wrist...a mystery yet to be solved.
An excellent pictorial preview of the Rotonde de Cartier Mysterious Hours, which includes a nice shot of the movement, was recently posted by The Purists. We highly recommend you check it out.