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French luxury watches par excellence
The Pilot Watch Magazine
21 May 2024

The most famous luxury watches in the world

Cartier is probably the most famous French luxury brand, if not the most famous luxury brand ever. The company is headquartered in Paris. The brand is known and celebrated for the highest quality watches and unique jewelry pieces that are second to none in the world. While Cartier is one of the most respected luxury jewelry labels in the world today, the company’s roots lie in watchmaking rather than jewelry making.

Paris in 1847, today’s luxury empire began as a small store, that is, when Louis-Francois Cartier took over his master’s jewelry workshop. Despite constant unrest and the accompanying uncertainty during the French Revolution, Cartier is able to successfully establish his business. The jewelry made by Cartier with filigree craftsmanship soon became famous beyond the city’s borders. The nobility and the court are among the young entrepreneur’s select clientele – even King Edward VII of England later counts among the Cartier brand’s enthusiastic protégés.

Cartier, jeweler of kings, king of jewelers.

King Edward VII.

World brand with world fame

The Manufacture grows rapidly and expands its range, particularly to include timepieces made in-house. In 1874, the founder’s son, Alfred Cartier, takes over the company. Alfred, a very eager businessman, expands Cartier faster and faster and further and further. If he succeeds in establishing Cartier as the number one jewelry brand among the French elite, however, it is his three sons, Louis, Pierre and Jacques, who eventually build the company into an international brand of worldwide fame. Louis took responsibility for Europe, Pierre was responsible for expansion into the United States, and Jacques looked after England and the colonies.

The world’s first pilot watch

For those who don’t know, it probably wouldn’t occur to them to associate the sparkling world of Cartier watches with the first sky divers in their flying crates. But history teaches us otherwise. In 1904, more and more aviation pioneers conquer the airspace, Cartier develops the first pilot’s watch called Cartier Santos – a wrist watch with a flat geometric design, inspired by a ladies’ watch with a large square dial, screw-on bezel as well as with a leather strap.

Earlier, Louis Cartier and his Brazilian friend and aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont discuss necessary requirements for a pocket watch suitable for safe and reliable use on board an aircraft – the birth of Cartier Santos. Later, in 1906, Santos-Dumont was wearing this pilot’s watch named after him when he was photographed by photographers in front of one of his flying machines. The world of watch lovers, dominated by pocket watches, is delighted. Men, too, now want to wear the wristwatch, which had been spurned until then and was more the domain of women, to adorn themselves with the insignia of heroic conquerors of airspace – until today.

In 1911, a new variant based on the 1904 creation was launched, and further versions in different case materials as well as in countless bracelet variants followed over the decades. The Santos remains one of the most influential collections from Cartier.

From family business to luxury goods group

With the deaths of Jacques and Louis Cartier in the 1940s and of the last founder’s son Pierre Cartier in 1964, the family business initially broke up into three parts, was later reunited by a group of investors, and was finally taken over by the Swiss luxury goods group Richemont in 1997. And yet: the success of the brand, which continues to inspire people all over the world with its inspiration and innovation as well as its glamour and glitz, remains unbroken to this day, Cartier’s popularity unparalleled.

More from Cartier

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