The term icon is as abused in the watch-world, as Gran-Turismo was with cars. It was once used to designate a rare breed of powerful yet comfortable sports cars, built to transport the elite in style from Paris to Nice, or Geneva to Lake Como in hours. In the 70s, this term, often under its abbreviation GT, made it onto cars less fitting. Marketing was doing its work, hoping that some assumed glamour of the name could lure a buyer or two. These days, you can even buy a Kia Picanto GT-Line…..’nuff said.
With watches and the term icon, one can easily make the same argument. Of course, a Nautilus, a Royal Oak, or a Submariner can quite easily and rightfully claim the term, but sometimes the press release of a new watch already mentions the word without any track record. In the world of Cartier, there are many icons as well, like the Tank Louis Cartier, Santos (Dumont), and Tortue, for example. But what about the Panthère de Cartier? People might not immediately name it when asked today, but this was quite different in the 1980s, in particular for men.
Launched in 1983, the Panthère de Cartier was a stroke of brilliance that was spot on with the spirit of the time. Its design was inspired by the original Santos-Dumont, with slightly softer and well-rounded lines and a superb five-link bracelet, also known as the Figaro bracelet. Available in several sizes in either stainless steel, steel/gold, or full gold, the watch became an instant hit and was worn by men and women alike. This was still the time when a 36mm Rolex was already considered large, and elegance wasn’t a curse word for men. The fact that Keith Richard wore one, as well as Pierce Brosnan in his role as Remington Steele, says enough. Its success matched that of the Santos, but dwindled down in the 1990s, when many men considered larger synonymous for better.
Living with the Panthère de Cartier today
Today, as a man, the Panthère de Cartier is a somewhat uncommon choice. Even in its largest size, it had a diameter of 29mm. This sounds small, but do remember that this watch is square, so it still has quite some wrist presence. I am a firm believer that any timepiece should be judged on its true character, rather than merely its sizes anyway.
With the Panthère de Cartier, this means that you also have to take the Figaro bracelet into account. While Cartier also made some outstanding Grain de riz and teardrop bracelets for the Tank Louis Cartier, I personally consider the Figaro the best La Maison ever created. Here all the qualities of Cartier, the jeweller of Kings and pioneer watchmaker, are combined in a single piece. It looks elegant and robust at the same time and follows the shape of any wrist closely. The closure is so well concealed, and well made, that even after three decades of use, it is still hard to spot it, when closed. While not an integrated bracelet per se, the Figaro adds a great deal of character and is an inseparable part of the Panthère de Cartier’s appeal. Not literally, as it can be removed, and you can even fit a strap if you like, but that changes the looks of the watch significantly.
As a child of the 1980s is the Panthère de Cartier fitted with a quartz movement, and the centrally mounted seconds hand will constantly remind you of that. You can either love or hate it, but fact of the matter is that you can’t find a Panthère de Cartier without it. To me, it is also part of the watch character and comes with both pros and cons. It makes for the perfect grab-and-go watch, that blends in with your personal style, as well as the occasion, with ease. That is also why I don’t understand why so many men overlook this model when looking for a Cartier “youngtimer.” Or actually I do, as to appreciate this watch fully, you need to have had it on your wrist and experienced it in the metal. While I could have gone without the date, that also is in the spirit of the time when it was created, so should be respected.
A more masculine future for the Panthère de Cartier?
At Troisanneaux, we are dreaming for over a decade of a larger, stainless steel Panthère de Cartier, with a thin case, manual wind movement, and Figaro bracelet. We got somewhat what we wished for, with the Santos Dumont. It offers similar lines, a generous dash of elegance, yet no bracelet. When relaunched in 2017, Cartier only offered a 22mm and 27mm version, and the latter is even on the small side for very open-minded men. This, unfortunately, turned the Panthère de Cartier into a women’s only watch. As a male version, without a doubt, would first and foremost cannibalize on the sales of the Santos Dumont, we are likely to dream on, but with a vintage Panthère de Cartier on the wrist, that ain’t such a bad thing!