The name Cartier needs no introduction. As one of the most influential and celebrated jewelry 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 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 a unique position in the watch brand hierarchy that no other possesses.
As I have mentioned many times, the ’90s was an unconventional and murky time for watch brands, having just come out of the quartz crisis that decimated most of the industry. Brands were either experimenting like crazy or strictly conservative, wary of the fact they just survived the equivalent of a nuclear bomb. The industry was slowly coming back, with consumers beginning to take an interest in mechanical watches, and with this in mind, Cartier decided that it was time to improve its image as a true watchmaking brand.
The result was the Collection Privé Cartier Paris division, referred to simply as the CPCP. The intention of the CPCP was to be the premier mechanical watchmaking division of Cartier and looking back on it today, it was one of the best decisions they ever made. The philosophy was simple, the CPCP took iconic models that were already loved by many, and reproduced them with high-grade movements, working with bonafide watch manufactures such as Piaget, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Frédéric Piguet, Girard-Perregaux, and more.
The easiest way to differentiate a CPCP watch was by the dial, with all but one model (Tank Cintrée) featuring a ‘Cartier Paris’ inscription- an ode to its heritage. The dials were always crafted from solid gold and often featured a strong hand-turned guilloche pattern with Cartier’s signature ‘rosette’ in the middle of the dial beneath the handset.
The example you see here today is an extremely rare Tank Louis Cartier Wandering Hours Ref. 2918. While Cartier is famously known for their unusual case designs, they too at times pushed the boundaries with how time can be displayed. With a ‘wandering hours’ complication, this Ref. 2918 features an aperture at 12 o’clock that displays the rotating hours while a single hand displays the minutes. At 6 o’clock there is another aperture that displays the date.
While seemingly complicated, it is actually an ingenious way to read the time and one that is surprisingly legible and symmetrically beautiful. Based on my experience, the Tank a Vis Wandering Hours are seen more frequently and you almost never see one in a Louis Cartier case making this example extremely special and rare.
The Tank is one of the most important watches in Cartier’s lineup and is named as such because, well, it looks like a tank from above. It was created in 1917 during World War I and the name was inspired by the new Renault tanks at the time. Since then, there have been countless iterations of the Tank, from sizes and complications, with the ref. 2919 being one of the more unique ones. Whatever it may be though, the Tank will always be known as both a beautifully elegant and timeless watch and a piece of design that is historically important.
The CPCP collection ran for 10 years between 1998 and 2008 and I can confidently say it is one of the most significant periods in Cartier’s history. It’s beautiful to see that Cartier was doing ‘reissues’ before it was even a thing and doing it the right way- respecting the past while producing something that is modern. Not only this but the CPCP models were produced in truly limited numbers, with many having a designated run of 50 to 100 pieces. For those in the Collection Privé that weren’t strictly ‘limited’, it is estimated that only 250-300 pieces were made for each reference making any CPCP watch out there truly special.
Collectors are finally taking notice of this, and Cartier in general is a brand worth collecting. With more knowledge available now, the demand for Cartier has been huge and I only see it getting larger, especially for important references such as those from the CPCP line.