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    

Cartier Santos 100 Womens Cartier Santos 100 Xl 2656 18k Gold/stainless Steel Automatic Men's WatchCartier Tank Louis Men's White Gold WatchCalibre De Cartier Divers WatchCalibre De Cartier Automatic Watch Swiss Made Water Resistant Diver W7100041Cartier Santos 100 Xl Authentic Watch - Stainless & 18k Yellow Gold Good ShapeCartier Santos 100 Xl W20073x8 Automatic 42mmCartier Pasha 42mm Cartier Calibre Chronograph Ref#3389 Automatic WristwatchCartier Tank Americaine 18ct Yellow Gold Brown Leather Strap Watch (2314)Cartier Ladies Midsize Panthere 2 Tone 18k/ss Diamond WatchVintage Cartier Santos 18k Gold & Steel Automatic Cartier Santos Automatic Mens Ref.1172961 Gold 18k & Steel Swiss Mens 29 X 40mm Men's Cartier Santos Chrono 29mm Ref 2425 Chronoflex 18k Gold/ss Date Watch/boxCartier Santos Ronde Aviator Gmt !!! Limited Edition 150 Years Anniversary !!!Must De Cartier Tank Ladies Manual 18k-gp White Dial Diamonds Watch18k Gold Stainless Steel Cartier Santos Galbee Mens Working Calendar WatchCartier Tank Solo 3169 Stainless Steel Black Leather Swiss Quartz Cartier Ballon Bleu Steel 36mm Automatic Midsize 3284 Roman WatchCartier Ladies Pasha 18kt White GoldCartier 21 Chronoscaph Sports Men Swiss Made Quartz Stainless S Watch 2008 Jl69Must De Cartier Classic Vermeil Quartz Watch Men'sCartier Roadster 2675ss Wrist Watch For WomenCartier Pasha 38mm Automatic Men Watch. With Box & PapersCartier Santos 100xlCartier WatchCartier Pasha De Cartier Stainless Steel Men's Watch 102.4 Grams NrWomens Cartier Panther Diamonds EverywherePasha De Cartier Mid Size Watch Stainless - Silver Dial - Ref# 2324Authentic Must De Cartier Tank Argent White Dial Gold Plated Quartz Mens WatchCartier Santos 1551, 18k Gold And Stainless Steel (quartz)Pasha De Cartier Mid Size Watch Stainless - Silver Dial - Ref# 2324Genuine Cartier Panthere Ruban In Mother Of PearlPasha De Cartier Automatic Women's Watch 2475 Stainless Steel Date Mint $3000 Cartier Ladies 18k Gold Ss Must 21 Watch & Box Cartier Vendome Paris 18k Solid Gold Automatic Watch Vintage Must De Cartier Tank Black Dial Argent 925 Eel Band Original BoxMust De Cartier Tricolor Argent Mens Vermeil 925 Plaque 100% Swiss Made TankLadys Must De Cartier Argent 925 Plaque 20m String 100% Swiss Made Nubers RomansEstate $3000 Cartier 18k Gold Ss Ladies Watch & Box Rare Must De Cartier Tank Paris Watch 18 K Gold Vermeil / 925 Sterling SilverAuthentic Must De Cartier Tank Gold Plated White Dial Manual Ladies Wrist WatchCartier Men,s Vintage Ultra Rare 18k Gold Electroplated Tank Watch, Manual WindCartier Must De 21 Ref 1330 18k Yellow Gold & Stainless Steel, Box & All PapersVtge Unusual Cartier Must Tank Blue Dial 18k Vermeil On Solid Silver Men Watch. Vintage Must De Cartier Vermeil Quartz Argent 925 Gold Plated Ladies Watch(2313)Cartier Midsize 18k/ss Double Row Panthere - Cream Roman Dial - Beautiful!Swiss Made Cartier Quartz WatchCartier Must De 21 Century Gold Plated Quartz Ladies Watch $3000Women's Stainless Steel Cartier Pasha "c" Ref.2324Cartier Watch - Gold PlatedCartier Tri-color 18k White/rose/yellow Gold Rare Vintage Lady Watch No Reserve!Vintage Must De Cartier Tank 925 Gold Plated Ladies WatchCartier Francaise 2302 23mm Automatic Stainless Steel WristwatchMust De Cartier Paris 925 Gold Plated Quartz Swiss WatchAuthentic Cartier Must De 21c Ladies Quartz Combi Ivory Color Dial WatchCartier 2601 Tank Divan 18k Yellow Gold WatchCartier Tank 18k Gold Electrolplated Handwinding Mechanical Ladies Swiss WatchBeautiful Cartier Calibre Tang Buckle With Half Blue Rubber StrapWomen's Cartier Automatic Stainless Steel Wristwatch 2423