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 Ladies Swiss Made 18k Solid Gold And Ss C2000 Automatic Watch C78Cartier Santos Ss/18k Gold Elegant High Fashion Automatic Ladies WatchLadies Must De Cartier Tank Silver 925gp Tank Manual Winding White Roman DialCartier Pasha 2 Time Zone Power Reserve De Marche Gmt Automatic Watch - 38mm Cartier Santos Swiss Made Ladies Mid Size 18k Gold And Stainless Steel Watch C91Cartier Panthere Swiss Made 18k Gold And Stainless Steel Ladies Watch C 2005 C77Cartier Santos Ss/18k Gold Automatic Men's Watch W/ Date & Service PapersCartier Tank Francaise Stainless Steel Midsize Ladies' Watch @ $1 NrCartier 866010 18k Gold Elegant High Fashion Quartz Ladies WatchCartier Santos Ss/18k Gold Elegant High Fashion Automatic Ladies WatchCartier Panthere 18k Yellow Gold /steel *mint* W25028b6 / 1100 No Reserve!! Cartier Pasha 2379 Stainless Steel Skeleton Back Automatic 35mm Watch With GrillMust De Cartier Tank Quartz Watch 18k Gold Vermeil / 925 Sil / Box Papers More!Vintage Large Size Mens Must De Cartier Gold Tank Wrist Watch Amazing ConditionMens Midsize Cartier Must De 21c 18kgp & St.steel Quartz W/braceletAuthentic Must De Cartier Tank Gold Plated White Dial Manual Ladies Wrist WatchVintage Ladies Must De Cartier Tank Watch No Reserve!!!Mens Midsize Must De Cartier Tank Silver 925 White Roman Dial QuartzCartier Ballon Bleu 3005 W69011z4 Silver Roman Dial 36mm Ss Quartz Unisex WatchCartier Roadster W62031y4 Large Auto Two Tone 18k Yellow Gold & Steel List $8000Cartier Ballon Bleu, 18k Gold & Stainless Steel Automatic Ref: 3001Mint $3000 Cartier Ladies 18k Gold Ss Must 21 Watch & Box Mens Midsize Cartier Must De 21c 18kgp & St.steel Quartz W/braceletCartier Santos Galbee 1565 Women's Swiss Made White Dial Stainless Steel !!Vintage Cartier Men S Watch Come See Cartier Pasha Chronograph Ref#2113 WristwatchCartier Santos Octagon Mid Size 30mm 18k Gold Ss Quartz Ladies Watch Full SetLadies Cartier Argent Silver 925gp White Roman Dial QuartzCartier Tank Francaise 2384 White Roman Dial 20x24mm Ss Quartz WatchAuthentic Womens Cartier " Santos " St.steel Quartz WatchCartier Roadster Chronograph Xl 2618 Stainless Steel White Dial 48mmCartier Must De Cartier Tank Vermeil Ref. 2415 Women's Gold Watch W/ Arabic DialPreowned Cartier Automatic Santos 1910 18kt & Ss Ivory Roman Dial 34mmVintage Cartier Tank Ladies Watch Cal: Fhf 351Preown Cartier Roadster 18k/ss Automatic 44mm No ReserveVintage Ladies Must De Cartier Gold Vermeil Watch No Reserve!!Cartier Roadster Steel Black Roman Dial Leather Strap Mens Automatic Watch 2510Cartier Ballon Bleu W69012z4 Large Stainless Steel Automatic 42mm Full SizeEstate $3000 Cartier Midsize 18k Gold Ss Mens Or Ladies Watch & Box Rare Cartier Must De Paris Vermeil Quartz 31 Mm - Ladies Watch Cal: 91Authentic Panthere De Cartier Date Beige Dial Quartz Watch 1310Genuine Mens Cartier Tank Mechanical Watch Rare Roman Numeral Dial Needs FixingVintage Ladies Cartier Must De Tank Vermeil Quartz Roman Dial Dress Wrist Watch Cartier Santos Twotone 18k Gold & Stainles Ladies Watch Automatic 2423 Mint WowMust De Cartier Paris Quartz Watch 18k Gold Vermeil / 925 Sil / Box Papers More!Ladies Cartier Must De Cartier Tank Quartz Vermeil Sterling Silver WatchNo Reserve Cartier Panthere Two Row Yg/ss Ivory Dial 22mm With Papers And BoxUnisex Cartier Santos 18kt Yellow Gold / Stainless Steel Quartz Cartier Tank Francaise 1840 18kt Yellow Gold 27x31mm Automatic WatchSantos De Cartier Analog Quartz Wrist Watch No Reserve!Cartier Must De Cartier Vintage Watch Ruby Diamond Dial Brown Leather BandCartier 21 Ladies Watch 2-tone Stainless Steel & Gold Quartz +++no Reserve+++Cartier Tank Ladies WatchCartier Panthere 18k Yellow Gold 23mm Watch Quartz 63 Grams!!Cartier Pasha C Automatic In Stainless Steel Salmon Dial. UnisexAuthentic Cartier Tank Ladies Manual 18k-gp Black Roman Dial Diamonds Watch Vintage Cartier Lighter Box From A Small Collection FindCartier Santos Galbee Lm 2319 Guilloche Dial Automatic Men's Watch W20055d6Ss & Black Rubber Cartier Pasha De Cartier Seatimer 2790 -nice-Cartier Pasha 18kt Rose Gold & Stainless Watch 3129 37mm - W2715