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 Tank Vermeil Vintage Sterling Silver/18k Gold Quartz Ladies Watch W/ BoxCartier Pasha Gmt Automatic Ref #2395 18k Yellow Gold Power Reserve WristwatchCartier Panthere 107000m Heavy 18k Gold Quartz Ladies Watch W/ Diamond CrownCartier Ronde 2933 Elegant High Fashion Ss Quartz Ladies WatchLadies Cartier Santos 18k Gold/ St.steel Roman Dial Quartz W/braceletCartier Santos 100 Xl 2656 W200728g Steel And 18k Yellow Gold Automatic WatchCartier Tank 2302 Swiss Made Automatic Men's 18k And Stainless St Watch C246Mens Cartier Rondo Silver 925gp Roman Dial Round Sub-second QuartzFerrari By Cartier Chronograph Moonphase Ss/gold Men's Watch Cartier Ballon Bleu Chronograph Ref. W6920003 Cartier Paris Vintage Tv Screen 18k Yellow Gold WristwatchStainless Steel Midsize Diamond Cartier Francaise Chronograph Tank Watch Cartier Panthere Sold Gold 18k 1280 2 Diamonds Rare Arabic Dial Watch LadiesCartier Must De Cartier 925/1000 Vermeil Rare Dial Sapphire Crown Ladies WatchMens Midsize Cartier Santos 18k Gold & St.steel White Roman Dial AutomaticCartier Santos Swiss Rare Lady Size 18k Gold Stainless St Automatic Watch C244Mens Midsize Cartier Must De 21c 18kgp & St.steel Quartz W/braceletOriginal Cartier Tank Wristwatch For Ladies 18k Gold Electroplated Runining Classic Cartier Paris Tank 18k Gold Plated Roman Numeral Dial MenCartier Vermeil Gold Plated Sterling Quartz Ladies Watch W/ Rare DialCartier Must De Cartier Tank 925 Silver Mechanical Hand Winding Swiss Watch C129Vintage Lady's Gold Plated Cartier Wristwatch With Box & PapersCartier Tank Solo 2716 Pre Owned Authenic WatchMust De Cartier Vermeil Tank Quartz Ladies Watch, Roman DialEstate $3000 Midsize Mens Ladies 18k Gold Ss Cartier Dress Watch & BoxCartier Must 21 Chronoscaph Ss Date 2424 Chronograph Mens Ladies WatchMint $3000 Cartier Ladies 18k Gold Ss Must 21 Watch & Box Cartier Roadster W62000v3 Wrist Watch For MenVintage Cartier Solid 14k Yellow Gold Ladies Automatic WristwatchEstate $3000 Cartier Midsize 18k Gold Ss Mens Or Ladies Watch & Box Rare Ladies Cartier 150th Anniversary 18k Solid Gold Limited Edition Panthere, C.1997Genuine Cartier 18k Gold Two Tone Roadster Date Working Ladies Wrist WatchCartier Santos Galbee Xl Mens Automatic Watch (w20098d6)Vintage Cartier Autoscaph Diver Automatic 330 Ft / 100mRare Vintage Cartier Panthere 18k Gold & Stainless Steel Quartz Watch, With DateVintage Cartier Tank 18k Yellow Gold Electroplate Unisex WatchCartier Santos Steel And Gold Rare Watch Box Papers Watch Finder £6000Cartier Santos Quartz Wrist Watch Swiss MadeCartier Cougar 18k 750 Yellow Gold Quartz Dial Women's Watch Box And Papers Cartier Panthere Panther Small Steel And 18k Yellow Gold Cartier Must Mid Size Unisex Swiss Made Stainless Luxury Dress Watch C 2000 C16214k Gold Cartier Estate Watch Folding Fob Key Corkscrew Bottle OpenerCartier Tank Solo Ref. 3169 Leopard Boutique Model Ladies Quartz Watch. Cartier" Le Must De Cartier"tank Large Vintagel Hand Winding Watch W/croco BandMen’s Must De Cartier Tank Yellow Gold Plated 925 Watch W/ Date. QuartzCartier Two Tone Tank Francaise 2465 Stainless & 18kt Watch W/ Diamond Bezel!! Vintage Cartier 18k Gold Electroplated Tank WatchCartier Tank Gold Plated Mechanical Ladies Watch W/ White Dial & Maroon BandLot Of 2 Women's Quartz Watches (cartier, Gucci )Exquisite Vintage 18k Solid Gold Ladies Cartier Watch W Orig Band $2500 RetailCartier Mens Wrist Watch Cartier "must 21" Ladies 18k Gold/st.steel Quartz Watch Sapphire Jewel [junk]Cartier Paris Oval Ref#2715 18k Yellow Gold WristwatchVintage Cartier Tank Watch 18k Gold Rare Vintage Cartier Ladies 18k Electroplated Tank Blue Lapis Watch. 17 Jewels The Lady Cartier Swiss Made Working Quartz Watches .Cartier Must 21 Chronoscaph 2424 Stainless Steel/ Rubber Quartz WatchCartier Tank Vermeil Gold Plated Sterling Silver Mechanical Ladies WatchCartier Roadster W62025v3 Wrist Watch For Men And UnisexCartier Ladies Santos Two Tone