he new releases unveiled at Watches and Wonders 2023 embody the singular vision of “Cartier time”, which is “cyclical, not linear”. Since his arrival at the helm in 2016, Cyrille Vigneron has undertaken a process to transform and reinvent the brand’s icons − and that process is bearing fruit. According to certain sources, Cartier is the world’s second largest watchmaker, behind only Rolex.
A Tank was, naturally, among the new watches on show at the fair, including a “new” series that references the very first Tank from 1917 and which goes by the name… Tank Normale! Fresh interpretations of the brand’s many iconic lines – Pasha, Baignoire, Panthère and Santos de Cartier – join this happy crowd that spans almost every horological shape imaginable. Not forgetting the incomparable Clash [Un]limited.
At an interview given to a handful of journalists during the fair, Cyrille Vigneron discussed his vision for the brand, the ground covered so far and what has still to be achieved. Not all the questions published below are by Europa Star but they have been compiled into a single article that reflects the content of the conversation. Think of it as an example of watch journalism united behind a common cause!
- Cyrille Vigneron, President and CEO of Cartier
Europa Star: Cartier introduced 87 new references at Watches and Wonders. That’s a considerable amount. What is the common thread?
Cyrille Vigneron: Compared to 2016, my first year back at Cartier, we are actually presenting fewer new products this year. Watchmaking used to be seen as a market driven by newness, and to a certain extent it still is, but if you look at the brands with the strongest growth in recent years, they aren’t the ones that have brought out the most new models. The most important thing is to have a strong and coherent image. The new releases can be quite different one from the other; but they are all Cartier. What distinguishes Cartier? Our shaped watches and the use of technique for the benefit of design. This technical innovation can be seen in the skeletonised Santos-Dumont that we are showing this year, the Cartier Privé Tank Normale with a 24-hour display and the movement that doubles as an oscillating weight for the Cartier Masse Mystérieuse, introduced last year. The Cartier Libre collection offers endless scope for creativity. This is innovation serving aesthetic and it must pass the test of time. This doesn’t mean ageing well; it means never ageing! Is this watch twenty years old or fifty? It’s impossible to say…
When you’re dealing in designs that really are sufficient unto themselves, is there a risk of “over-innovating”?
Innovation must never be an end in itself. The aesthetic legacy alone can suffice. Then it’s a question of taking a fresh look at elements which themselves are not new, the way an artist would. Outside the strictly horological context, this is what last year’s “Cartier and Islamic Art” exhibition succeeded in doing. It applies to communication, too. An example would be our Tank Française campaign, directed by Guy Ritchie, in which Catherine Deneuve reprises some of her most famous roles. Our boutiques innovate, with concepts that differ from one place to another, adapting to each city, each building. It’s not about designing the most modern boutiques or creating a single, uniform identity. It’s about getting it right. Innovation is everywhere: just don’t let it become an obsession.
- Since its launch in 1912, there have been multiple variations of the Baignoire watch. This year’s iteration, in rose gold, yellow gold or fully paved, has been given new proportions.
Last year’s Must watches were affordably priced whereas this year, your price positioning seems higher.
When we decided to revisit our iconic lines, our aim was to offer interesting proposals at every price level. You can find a model such as the Tank Française in steel, in gold or with diamonds. It’s not a question of one price range versus another. Every price must be the right price. This year prices have been adjusted for inflation. We’re seeing a similar situation on the secondary market: the price of certain models has surged, regardless of their original positioning.
Groups and brands are competing for a slice of the global jewellery market, where non-branded traditionally takes the lion’s share. Where does Cartier position itself?
For the past decade, we have concentrated on coherence. Someone recently told me a Cartier design was, in a way, “ineluctable”, which is a magnificent compliment. Of course, this takes a while to achieve. You know the saying: eternity is a very long time, especially towards the end! [smiles]. It was important that we found a Cartier style that could be both unique and universal, exuberant and restrained, creative and classic. We are taking designs often from a very long time ago and bringing them up to date with modern tastes. Of course people copy us. You hear commentators say things like, “It’s a Santos but not as good”. We need to get out of copying what has already been done. If you don’t remember the exact year this or that model was released, it doesn’t really matter. In fact it could even be better that way!
- True to the elegance of the 1904 original, the Santos-Dumont watch gets its first skeleton movement. Every detail of its architecture is designed in celebration of the aviator.
What have been the biggest challenges since taking the helm at Cartier? And what challenges remain?
The central idea was to bring about a change that would introduce Cartier’s uniqueness to a wider audience. We are not bent on being purely a “watchmaker’s watchmaker”. There is a tendency to associate men’s watches with mechanisms but men appreciate elegance, too. The Cartier aesthetic is clearly present, whether in the detail of the bracelets for the Panthère Graphique or in the energy of the Crash Tigrée. We are focusing on this identity, this sense of detail, this elegance. As for future challenges, one would be the need for greater traceability in a sector which has kept fairly quiet about the subject so far. We are making advances through the Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030 but there is still considerable resistance. Scarcity is another area we are looking into. When there is a lot of communication around a product that isn’t available, this can lead to a feeling of frustration among customers.
On that front, what are you doing to alleviate pressure in the supply chain?
Our industrial flexibility enables us to bring external production processes in-house. The more automated the process, the faster we can respond. New high-speed machining is an example. We have cut production times from between nine and twelve months to three months. Short supply chains and industrial flexibility are the way forward. We’re happy to share technology with suppliers if it means greater efficiency. We’ve also identified multiple synergies between our watch and jewellery production. For example, our facility in Glovelier stamps watch cases and also makes jewellery. Thanks to all this – not to mention AI, another area we’re working on – we are able to increase production capacities.
Some analysts predict that the certified pre-owned market will surpass the market for new watches. What is Cartier’s strategy regarding CPO?
The key is to work with trusted third parties, in our case Watchfinder & Co. and Bucherer. A neutral market maker makes more sense and is more credible than brands handling pre-owned sales themselves, with the exception of the oldest models which are no longer in the catalogue. A trusted third party also has a wider selection of models on offer.
- Clash [Un]Limited
In conclusion, what is the outlook for 2023?
Very good, especially with the opening of the Chinese market. Southeast Asia is performing well, too. Having said that, the watch sector is dependent on what happens in Europe and the United States, where there are fears of a credit crunch. Turbulence in the banking sector can have repercussions for the watch industry.