Cartier’s Tonneau: The Absolute Niche Model For The Connoisseur!

The Tonneau, Louis Cartier’s second watch that the maestro designed in 1906 after the Santos Dumont,  was just like the Tortue, originally designed for men. In these early years, most models were and the cases of these models were indeed much smaller than nowadays.  Despite the fact that the case was small, it still was a mens‘ watch.

– Cartier Tonneau 47mm in platinum –

A smaller ladies version was released later. Another difference is the fact that the Tortue has a roomy case that has been used for complications, like a mono poussoir, minute repeater or perpetual calendar movement, while the Tonneau, due to its slim case, always was and still is a Time only dress watch, or a two timezone watch, with two small individual movements. 

– The 51,4mm Tonneau XL from 2006, on the wrist –

A small resistance with the Tonneau as a men’s watch appeared in the eighties when men found the watch too elegant, mainly due to its very thin strap, that looked a bit feminine, especially on the inside of the wrist. The size of the case was not much of a problem since even the vintage version was not small at all.

– Wider strap beyond the lugs –

And just at the moment when the watch existed a century in the Cartier catalog. Cartier solved that problem elegantly by releasing a Tonneau XL in 2006, in a 51,4 mm case and that made it the largest Tonneau model, that Cartier ever created. Not only was the XL case larger, but also the strap was wider and was designed to go slightly beyond the lugs!

– Tonneau XL from 2006 in pink gold –

Perfect solution, since these few millimeters gave that extra width that was needed, for what is today seen as a good width for a men’s strap. The Tonneau is thé Dandy watch in the collection, actually, even more than the, better known,  curved Tank Cintrée, that is always seen as thé dandy model. Until 2008 the CPCP versions of the Tonneau were the last ones that were released. Three sizes were available at the time and two-time zone models, all produced in very small quantities. The Tonneau was, like previous versions, available in gold and platinum and for a short period only. Only the two-time zone models also came in white gold.

– The new 2019 models in 47mm for the new series ‘Cartier Privé’ –

But this year two new models were finally launched at the SIHH in Geneva and became available in October 2019. The time only in pink gold and a limited edition of 100 pieces in platinum, both in 47mm, and there was the two-time zone with skeleton caliber. We did a special article on these two models that you can find HERE and another short story about the Skeleton model that you can find HERE. The current Tonneau models are stunning dress watches and remember, when you try these models on the wrist and you find the strap too narrow, that you can still do the same trick as Cartier did with the 2006 XLmodel. Have a new strap made that goes beyond the lugs. This helps to give the watch a more sturdy appearance.

– From the book ‘The Gentlemans Files’, Composer Igor Stravinsky, wearing his Tonneau watch –

The Tonneau is an exclusive timepiece, that was the beloved watch of composer Igor Stravinsky. It is a typically a design that’s not understood by the mass and meant for a more niche clientele. Personally I am happy that the watch is back again in the collection and although a model like this belongs to the category dress watches, I wear mine more often casual with jeans and chino’s. and that just looks marvellous.

2 thoughts on “Cartier’s Tonneau: The Absolute Niche Model For The Connoisseur!

    1. I agree, the Tonneau is indeed the best dress watch of the century.
      But it may be too Dandy for some and then the Tank Cintrée might be a good option.

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