The name Cartier needs no introduction. As one of the most influential and celebrated jewellery and watch brands of the last 100 years, it has always stood as a mark of luxury and desirability. Without taking away from its historical significance, I would say that when it comes to watches, Cartier has always been predominantly known as a ‘design’ brand rather than a pure watchmaking one, with stunningly iconic models such as the Tank, the Crash, and the Santos Dumont all seen as important due to how it looks. In fact, to this day, it is the beautiful and unconventional designs that attract collectors and allow it to hold a unique position in the watch brand hierarchy that no other possesses.
Among all of Cartier's designs that have achieved 'icon' status, one design that has particularly intrigued me is the Tonneau, a model that is not often talked about even within collector circles. The Cartier Tonneau holds a special place as one of the earliest watches crafted by Cartier in 1906, appearing just two years after the introduction of the Santos Dumont pilot watch. The term "Tonneau", which translates to ‘barrel’ in French, derives from the elongated and curved shape of the watch case. Interestingly, it gained recognition as a fashionable choice during the 1920s to 1930s, a period when most watches were heavily influenced by the Art Deco movement. Instead of adhering to the prevalent Art Deco design principles, Cartier conceived the Tonneau as a bold departure, challenging the conventional round shape of pocket watches at the time.
The example offered here today is no ordinary Tonneau though; this is the limited edition Cartier Privé Tonneau Skeleton Dual Time. Released as part of a 100-piece limited edition in platinum, it represents a contemporary interpretation of the classic Tonneau aesthetic which features an open-worked dial with a double fuseau (French for double time zone), a complication that has adorned various Cartier case styles throughout the years, including the Tank Cintree and Tank Louis.
While I've expressed my reservations about skeletonized dials in some of our previous listings, I must reiterate that Cartier's open-worked offerings hold a special place in my appreciation. There's a unique allure in Cartier's execution that never fails to captivate me. Take, for instance, the technically impressive movement here—the highly skeletonized manual-winding Cartier Cal. 9919 MC. Comprising a total of 197 parts and boasting a power reserve of 60 hours, this movement features two individual dials for the two time zones, indicated by two sets of blued-steel sword hands and sharing the same gear running train. Upon closer inspection through the open-worked dial, the impeccable finishing and beautiful decoration become evident. The bridges holding the Cal. 9919 MC in place are finely grained, and polished with chamfered edges. That said, what truly stands out here is how the architecture and construction of the Cal. 9919 MC mirrors the shape and curve of the tonneau case seamlessly. If such meticulous craftsmanship doesn't leave an impression, I'm not sure what will.
With a platinum case measuring 29.8mm in diameter, 11.9mm in height (at the widest point), and 52.4mm lug to lug, the Tonneau Skeleton is finished very well, with contrasting brushed and polished surfaces that give the watch a very refined look as a whole. Completing the Tonneau Skeleton Dual Time’s platinum case are two blue sapphire crystal cabochons on the right side of the case, where the upper one functions as your regular winding crown while the lower one is actually a pusher which allows you to conveniently set the hour on the second dial below.
While this example deviates significantly from the classical aesthetic of the Tonneau, I firmly believe that this particular reinterpretation does justice to the original. It serves as a testament to the Tonneau's potential by showcasing what it could look like as a modern interpretation. Amidst Cartier's subsequent iconic designs postdating the Tonneau, both modern and vintage versions of the Tonneau remain unequivocally definitive for a Maison like Cartier. It exudes opulence, exclusivity, and a subtle air of mystery.