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  • Harry Fane

Cartier: Master Ilusionist

Cartier loved all manner of 'hidden' elements which were incorporated into the designs of jewellery, watches and objets d'art. First, there are cigarette cases with no visible clasps so they are impossible to open unless one knows exactly which button to push (these hidden push-pieces were known as 'Kodak push-pieces' after the camera aperture button). Then there are the watches where the winder is tucked away at the back of the case, so the watch seemingly has no visible way to set or wind it. (These are known as 'back winders'). Cartier also had a fascination with hiding the opening and closing mechanisms of their pieces of jewellery. If you study any piece of vintage Cartier jewellery, you will be amazed at how clever the clasps are and how well hidden they are. Nothing so mundane as a clasp would be allowed to spoil the look of a piece of jewellery. In 1935, Cartier patented a special, double-lock mechanism for bracelet clasps. This was a remarkably clever and tiny fitting which was very secure but hardly showed.

Of course, Cartier's greatest accomplishment with the art of 'illusion' was with the utterly remarkable 'Mystery Clocks. The secret of how the diamond-set hands floated in transparent dials was not even revealed to the buyers and these magical timepieces have enthralled and intrigued generations.

It was with these clocks that Louis Cartier finally synthesised his dream of creating 'a clock as a jewel and a jewel as a clock'.

This love of illusion was an essential part of Cartier's creativity. Just recently the continued appreciation of this was illustrated when this rare, white gold wristwatch with a semi-transparent dial sold at Christie's Dubai for a substantial $47,000.00. Here, there is only the suggestion of

illusion but there is more to this watch than might first meet the eye. Whilst catalogued as 1970, it might have been created as early as 1960. Can you imagine anything more modernist? Can't you see this on Captain Kirk's wrist as he strode around the USS Enterprise? The clean polished white gold is minimalist and stark and the hands, floating around the transparent dial, are intriguing. And look! No winder. Just clean sleek edges and the question of 'how does it work?'. Illusion! Whoever first bought this watch must have had tremendous fun wearing something so 'cutting edge'.

But however illusionist, however modernist, this watch displays how very close Cartier kept to their original designs and concepts. The case of this watch is known as Tortue (Tortoise) shaped. Cartier originally introduced the Cartier 'Tortue' wristwatch in 1912.

There is much more to this story so more will be added at a later date...

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