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 allows it to hold 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 bombing. The industry was slowly coming back, with consumers beginning to take an interest in mechanical watches again 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 Privée Cartier Paris division, referred to simply as the ‘CPCP’. The CPCP intended 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 bona fide 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 guilloché pattern.
Here, I have a Cartier Tortue Monopoussoir XL in 18-carat white gold- one of the few pieces that came about from the CPCP. The Tortue was one of the earliest Cartier wristwatch designs and has always been an iconic shape for the Maison. First introduced in 1912 by Louis Cartier, it was modelled after the shape of a tortoise, hence the name ‘Tortue’.
This watch features a white gold dial with Cartier’s classic Roman numerals and guilloché design. The case is spectacularly proportionate and what makes this model so special is how the chronograph is designed. Typically, watches would have pushers at 2 and 4 o’clock, but this Monopoussoir features a single pusher that starts, stops and resets; all via the setting crown. The small gap you see between the crown and the case is the space to activate the chronograph, which in my opinion is one of the most elegant ways to present this complication.
Powered by the manually wound and incredibly finished Cartier Cal. 045MC movement, the Monopoussoir is an astounding piece of horology developed in conjunction with THA Èbauche, which was then a collaborative movement manufacture helmed by Vianney Halter, Danis Flageolet (who later founded De Bethune) and, of course, Francois Paul Journe. Activated by a double swivel pin, the thud of the seconds hand which can occur in chronographs that are operated by a lateral clutch is removed and does not occur in the Monopoussoir. While this might seem like an insignificant detail, it is precisely the sort of horological engineering Cartier was aiming for with its CPCP division.
Of all the CPCP models, I’d say that the Tortue Monopoussoir is one of the most desired by collectors. This is partly due to the association with Francois-Paul Journe but mainly due to the genius design of it all.
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 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 as a brand worth collecting. With more knowledge readily 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.