News & Insights

Cartier: Timeless Watch Designs

30th May 2023. By Adam Wasdell

Cartier is synonymous with elegant, timeless watch designs that remain as coveted today as they were in the opening years of the 20th century. With simple, clean lines and a clarity of design, Cartier’s most iconic models are still much in demand at auction.

Cartier was founded in 1847 in Paris by jeweller Louis-François Cartier, who passed the burgeoning business to his son, Alfred, in 1874. However, it was only after Louis-François’ three grandsons, Pierre, Louis and Jacques, took over the reins in 1899 that it became an international sensation. Branches would open in London, New York, and St Petersburg, and they were soon jewellers and watchmakers to royalty around the globe.

The first watch recorded in Cartier’s accounts was a ladies’ watch made in 1888, and in the closing years of the 19th century they produced beautifully made pocket watches and set movements into dazzling pieces of jewellery. However, it was not long after the three grandsons took over the business in 1899 that they turned their attention to making watches, and here we look at three of their most recognisable designs.

Cartier: A Steel and Gold Calendar Centre Seconds Wristwatch, signed Cartier, model: Santos, ref: 1566, circa 1995 - Estimate: £1,500-1,800 plus buyer’s premium


A favourite amongst watch collectors, the Santos was where the making of modern wristwatches began for Cartier. In 1904 Louis Cartier was asked by his close friend Alberto Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian aviator, to make him a watch that would be easy to check whilst flying, without having to take his hands of the controls to fumble for a pocket watch. The result was a flat, square bezel watch on a leather strap, that could be easily read with the merest turn of the wrist.

In 1911 Cartier launched their first men’s wristwatch onto the market, the Santos, inspired by the aviator’s watch, which retained the iconic square bezel and easy to read dial.


Cartier: A Steel and Gold Rectangular Wristwatch, signed Cartier, model: Tank Solo, ref: 2742, circa 2010 – Estimate: £1,200-1,500 plus buyer’s premium


The demand for wristwatches increased, and Louis, who ran the Paris branch, took the lead in the designing of watches for Cartier. He was skilled at reducing an object to its purest form, and in 1917 designed the Tank model, his interpretation of the outline of a First World War Renault FT-17 tank when viewed from above.

The Tank model was introduced in 1918 and went into full production in 1919. It would become Cartier’s most iconic dress watch and is still the most desirable of their watches on the open market today.


Cartier: An 18 Carat Gold Automatic Calendar Centre Seconds Wristwatch, signed Cartier, 330ft/100m, model: Pasha de Cartier, ref: 85 0045, circa 1995 – Estimate: £2,500-3,000 plus buyer’s premium 


In 1932 Thami El Glaoui, the Sultan or Pasha of Marrakech, approached Louis Cartier to make him a watch suitable for his active lifestyle, that was water resistant – a rare feature for the time. Cartier’s response was a watch with a relatively large diameter dial, a crown cover and a metal grid to protect the dial. It remained a unique creation until 1985, when Cartier launched the Pasha, the name a tribute to the Moroccan lover of fine watchmaking who was a lifelong customer of Louis Cartier.

The modern incarnation of the watch features a large round case, standing out from Cartier’s usual square, rectangular and oval watches, as well as the screw-down crown cover. Some luxury models also feature a protective grid. The modern Pasha case was designed by the very talented Gerald Genta, who produced numerous iconic watch designs for other brands, such as the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the Patek Philippe Nautilus.

Today, Cartier are still producing these classic designs, constantly reinventing them for each new generation without losing what is quintessentially Cartier, clean lines, simplicity, practicality, and the finest craftsmanship.


All the watches featured above will be offered in the Fine Jewellery, Watches & Silver Sale on 15th July 2023.

Adam Wasdell

Adam Wasdell

Wostep, MBHI

Watches, Clocks and Barometers Specialist, General Valuer

+ 44 (0) 1969 623780

Find out more
< Back to News