Cartier’s Fine Watchmaking (FWM) adventure never achieved the results ‘La Maison’ was hoping for. In part, I am not that sad about it. While the watches and complications were astonishing, they weren’t Cartier. The Cartier brothers looked more at clocks for true complexity than at their collection wristwatches, apart from the occasional minute repeater and mono poussoir. There, two hands timepieces were often complicated enough, as they knew they excelled in design and finesse, with their many form shaped watches.
These days the market for vintage Cartier watches and pieces from their Collection Privée, Cartier Paris (CPCP) is booming, which makes the FWM collection almost forgotten. Cartier’s current management might be quite happy with this, but that also doesn’t do justice to this collection. First of all, FWM gave ‘La Maison’ also its skeleton watches, which were purposely designed like that from the beginning, and the mystery watches, which both are now seen as one of their specialties. Additionally, some of the FWM models are quite interesting by themselves. While their initial retail prices rivaled that of Patek Philippe’s with similar complications, the current prices for these high-end watches are much more palatable. As the recent focus is on Cartier’s vintage and CPCP watches, it might just be the right time to buy an FWM. However, the trick is to stay away from the more extreme creations and focus on what will age right. Here are three lesser-known pieces that might just do that;
Rotonde Jump Hour
How many jump hours do you know with Roman numerals? Exactly, that alone makes this Rotonde stand out. More so, because Roman numerals are one of the hallmarks of Cartier. George Cramer is not keen on this model because of the prominent and too large Cartier logo and the thick frame around the jump hour. While I understand his point of view, I see the frame on the dial more like the layout of an arena, with the box of the jumping hour as the place for the emperor to be seated. I am personally also less a fan of the plaque Cartier placed on the stunning guilloche to put their brand name in. A bit too much, but the overall design is attractive and good enough that I could pull the trigger on purchasing one. The minutes are charmingly indicated by an arrow placed on a ring, which moves around the center of the dial—quite a unique construction. While also available in pink gold, I think that white gold looks much better for this 42mm piece, as it offers more harmony and understatement.
Rotonde Annual Calendar
In the FWM collection, Cartier was actually quite good with calendar watches. I still think that this annual calendar is rather charming, although there is a lot to look at. The construction is once again quite unique, with a large date and month and day indication. While it still is a classic watch, it doesn’t look overly so. It is a watch that is not for everybody and might be a bit light on Cartier-DNA; however, as an annual calendar, it is rather interesting. Do note that it comes in two sizes, 45mm and 40mm. Please, immediately forget about the first, unless you are looking for an expensive and complicated coaster for your coffee cup. Cartier is elegance, and elegance is a smaller watch. The 40mm is very well proportioned and so much more Cartier than its much larger predecessor.
Rotonde Perpetual Calendar
With the perpetual calendar of the Rotonde, Cartier almost did the opposite as with its annual calendar. It is very stripped down, featuring only one sub-dial but adding an interesting retrograde function for the days of the week. Also, a pointer date on a Cartier is scarce. Because this watch’s diameter is, just as the annual calendar, 40mm is nicely proportioned. With FWM, this is something to keep in mind as quite a few of the watches in this collection were simply too large, and large watches tend to age not so well when they are from a more elegant inclined brand like Cartier.
One final word of advice; don’t expect the above-mentioned watches to all of a sudden take a leap in value as some more vintage Cartier’s do. And I doubt if they will anytime soon, if at all. But don’t let that stop you from getting one, wearing it, and enjoying it. They are not your typical Cartier’s, and for that reason, there is something to say to. Not everyone will like them, but as it will be your watch, there is no need for that either.