Cartier was founded in 1847 when Louis-François Cartier, then an apprentice to Parisian jeweler Adolphe Picard, took over the business when his master passed away. By 1853, young Louis-François had become a favorite of Napoleon III’s cousin Princess Mathilde, who helped Cartier gain entry to Parisian society.

For the next quarter century, Cartier was strictly a jeweler, but in 1874, Louis-François’s son Alfred gained the company’s reins. He in turn brought his sons, Louis, Pierre, and Jacques, into the firm—it was this third generation of Cartiers that would make the Paris jeweler’s name synonymous with luxury wristwatches.

The first Cartier wristwatches were diamond-studded bracelets for ladies, which were introduced in 1888 and languished until Parisian fashions changed enough in the mid-1890s to encourage the adornment of a bare wrist with a watch.

But the real wristwatch breakthrough came in 1904, when, according to Cartier lore, a Brazilian aviation pioneer named Alberto Santos-Dumont complained to his friend Louis Cartier of the shortcomings of fumbling with a pocket watch on a short test flight. Cartier made his friend a flat, square wristwatch called, appropriately, the Santos. In the process, Cartier popularized wristwatches in France and throughout the world.

In 1912, Cartier introduced the oval Baignoire and tortoise-shell shaped Tortue models, followed in 1917 by Cartier’s most famous early wristwatch, the Tank, which was reportedly inspired by the design of Renault tanks used during World War I. Rudolph Valentino wore a Tank in the 1921 silent classic The Sheik.

In the early 1920s, Cartier partnered with fellow Frenchmen Jaeger and Breguet to produce movements for its watches. Other illustrious Cartier collaborators included Swiss makers Vacheron Constantin, Patek Phillipe, and Audemars Piguet.

During the 1920s, Cartier started stamping its watches with four-digit reference numbers—today, knowledgeable collectors know to look for and verify these codes before purchasing...

By 1940, Cartier had introduced a motoring watch, with a curved shape that was designed to be worn on the inside of the wrist—the winder was on the back of the watch, against the wearer’s skin, rather than the side. And then, in 1942, after the death of Louis Cartier, the company began several decades of stagnation.

Countless variations of the Tank appeared (in the Chinoise, horizontal bars at the top and bottom of the dial rest on the Tank’s vertical "treads"), and in 1965 there was even a watch whose body was shaped like a parallelogram. But it was not until the Must de Cartier in 1976 and the reissue of the Santos in 1978 that the firm was able to reestablish itself as a player on the wristwatch scene.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Watch and Clock Museum

National Watch and Clock Museum

This virtual museum, created by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, lets you stroll through tim… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Mens Cartier " Santos " St.steel Automatic W/braceletCartier Stainless Steel Tank Francaise Watch With Crocodile StrapMust De Cartier Tank Paris Watch 18k Gold Vermeil / Sterl Silver / Box, PapersCartier Panthere 18k Gold And Stainless S Luxurious Swiss Made Lady Watch C2000Cartier Pasha Stainless Steel 1352 Men's Watch 100.9 Grams NrCartier Santos Date Automatic Ladies Wris Watch Ref.2423 Great ConditionElegant Super Fine Cartier Paris Vendome Watch 18 Kt. Gold W Original Case BoxMens Midsize Must De Cartier Argent 925 White Roman Dial QuartzCartier Chronograph Xl 3405 W6206019 Stainless Steel White Dial 50.2mm X 49.2mmGenuine Cartier Vintage Vermeil Gold Over Sterling Silver Tank WatchCartier Calibre De Cartier Steel Automatic Mens 42mm Watch Box/papers W7100013Cartier Santos 166930 Ladies Quartz Stainless And Gold Watch For Parts / RepairCartier Pasha Ref#2790 WristwatchLuxury Cartier Santos Swiss Made 18k Gold And Stainless Steel Watch C 2005 Ca80Cartier Santos Luxury Lady Swiss Made Automatic 18k Gold And S Steel Watch 2008Cartier Santos Unisex Automatic Mens/ladiesCartier Ballon Bleu Stainless Steel Automatic Ladies Watch Cartier Panthere Or Et Acier Ladies Watch 18k Gold-stainless Steel 66921029229Cartier Santos Stainless Steel Automatic Ladies Watch 7.5 Inches 9+ Out Of 10Classic Vintage Cartier Tank WatchGenuine Used Brown Leather Cartier Paris Watch Strap Band 20mmCartier Must 21 Chronoscaph 2424 Stainless Steel & Rubber Quartz Men's WatchRare Cartier Vermeil 18k Gold Women's Vintage Watch! Certified $4,200 Cartier Ladies Santos Automatic Date Ss Beautiful!!!Cartier Must 21 St.steel / 18k Gold Sapphire Jewel 123 000 P Watch & Box [522]Authentic Must De Cartier Tank Argent Gold Plated Manual Mens Wrist WatchCartier Roadster Chronograph Xl 2618 Stainless Steel White Dial 48mmMust De Cartier Vermeil Quartz Ladies WatchVintage Ladies Cartier Tank Vermeil Quartz Roman Dial 66001 Dress Wrist Watch Vintage Must De Cartier Sterling Silver Ladies' Tank Watch & Band Ladies Must De Cartier Tank Silver 925 Blue Roman Dial Quartz // BeautifulCartier Ballon Bleu Chronograph White Face W6920003 Automatic Men's WatchAuthentic Must De Cartier 21 Century Gold Plated Quartz Ladies Wrist WatchCartier Paris Vermeil Tank Quartz - Ladies Watch Cal: 057Cartier Vermeil 925 Quartz Round Leather Strap WatchLovely Ladies Steel Two-tone Must De Cartier Watch! 71.5 Grams Not Working #u6Eta 251.272 Cartier 272 Chronoscaph Movement Complete Nos Working Parts WatchCartier Must De Vermeil 925 Solid Silver Gold Plated Dress Watch Unisex SizeRonde Louis Cartier 18k. Solid Yellow Gold Mechanical Wristwatch Perfect.Cartier Tank Vintage Manual Wind Watch W/ Deployment Clasp 18k GoldLadies 18k Gold Cartier Diablo 150th Anniversary Watch, With Rubys, Ref 1440Must De Cartier 21 Ref: 1340 Two Tone Ladies WatchCartier Quartz 24mm Ref. 59002 Vermeil Gold Plated .925 Silver Swiss LadiesCartier Santos 100 Xl 18k Gold Stainless Steel Cartier Men's Watch AutomaticLadies Must De Cartier Tank Silver 925 White Roman Dial QuartzMust De Cartier Tank Watch Quartz 925 Sterling Silver VermeilLe Must De Cartier Stainless Steel & Gold Blue Leather Band Quartz Watch D384Cartier Roadster Chronograph Xl 2618 Stainless Steel Black Dial 48mmMens Cartier " Santos " St.steel Quartz W/braceletCartier Tank Santos 18kt Yellow Gold Quartz Crocodile Strap Deployment BuckleCartier Tank Francaise #2302 Stainless Steel Roman Numeral, Free Shipping!Cartier Swiss Lady's Wristwatch #3164071 Tank. With Original Box And ManualsCartier Vabene Mens Womens Lot Of 2 Watches No ReserveLadies Cartier Santos Automatique 18k Jewel WatchCartier Glasses Sunglasses Box And Case, Cloth, Book And Original Receipt.Vintage Large Size Mens Must De Cartier Gold Tank Wrist Watch W/ Box & BandMust De Cartier Men's WatchMust De Cartier Women's Two-tone 21 Quartz Watch On Leather BandVintage Rolex 6263 Daytona Paul Newman Double Signed Cartier Watch Dial Vintage Cartier Must De 21 Quartz Women's Watch , Two Tone/ Swiss Made