Interview by Patrick Boyle

Cartier is the watchmaker of shapes. The Maison has always distinguished itself through the creation of unique forms, beginning with the design and crafting of silhouettes that fit instantly recognisable shapes. Born in 1847, Cartier’s rich heritage and consistent evolution have been key to the Maison’s success in the modern day. As Image, Style and Heritage Director at Cartier, Pierre Raniero plays a pivotal role in maintaining the vision of the founders, a focus on aesthetics and permanent evolution. Watches and Wonders 2024 saw Cartier unveil a host of new Santos creations, the return of the Tortue and a variety of jewellery watches inspired by the animals of the Maison.

We sat down with Pierre Raniero to discuss his role, Cartier’s latest novelties, and how the brand connects its past to the future.

PB: What are your key responsibilities as Cartier’s image, style and heritage director?

PR: A large part of my role revolves around style. Meaning my involvement in the creative process is in the name of a vision of what the Cartier style should mean today. On a day-to-day basis, not on a specific project but on all projects, I have to teach the teams about what Cartier is all about, giving them analysis, examples of previous productions and different samples of what we do. With that, the link to the heritage work is obvious because at Cartier when we talk about style we talk about a notion that has been invented by our founders, especially from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. They are the ones that really had that vision of a specific Cartier language through the different areas of jewellery, watchmaking, objects and so on. With that philosophy, we are creating an aesthetic vocabulary that is our own. The two notions of heritage and style are linked.

You cannot talk about Cartier’s style today without having a reference from previous creations. It is not a question only of taking examples from the objects from the past, it is also providing an analysis of that production to propose to the designers the principles behind those creations. The creations from 100 years ago, 50 years ago, even 20 years ago have evolved. It is not a question of copying what was in our past, but knowing what were the principles behind. We want to have the same kind of approach, but in a different context. There are two main axes that drive Cartier. One is beauty, we have to create beautiful objects. The second, creating objects that are desirable within people’s lives today. It is not only creating beautiful objects that you like and put on a shelf because they are beautiful. We intend to make objects that are desirable because you want to live with them. For those two axes, there is a permanent evolution. The very notion of beauty is evolving on a permanent basis. What we think is beautiful today is not necessarily what was felt as beautiful a generation ago. The second point is that the way of life of people also evolves on a permanent basis. The way we wear a watch today is not exactly the same way that existed a century ago. A century ago it was essential as you needed a watch to read the time. Today it is not at all a necessity. These are the things that we take into consideration and that’s why the aesthetics or the existence of those objects of the past are not what we have to do now. We have to reconsider everything on a permanent basis to achieve the object of being relevant on the different topics, beauty and the desire to live with these objects. This is how the roles of style and heritage come together. 

PB: You have been in your current position for over 20 years. How has the brand evolved across that time?

PR: What I express today is probably clearer for everyone internally and externally. I think Cartier is now better understood in terms of philosophy. I think 20 years ago that idea of being modern, being innovative while being faithful to who we are was less of an obvious thing to understand. I think today this is not only understood but also valued more than it was then. We didn’t change but the context evolved more to value what we are doing. We always adapted to the context, but the way we did it was probably less easily perceived than 20 years ago. I think then there was a perception that if you wanted to be accurate or modern or contemporary you had to turn a page from the past. In fact, it was not at all the philosophy of Louis Cartier who always thought that time is not always a notion of progress in terms of aesthetics, we had very beautiful things in the past, have very beautiful things in the present and will have very beautiful things in the future. It is not necessary to establish a ranking of what is better. It is a matter of taste of course, but it is not a question of relevance. I think that is the vision in which we live today. That permanent search for inspirations in different cultures and different ages of civilisation is the idea. Our field of expression is one of shapes, we live in the world of shapes, we create shapes and we are one of the main actors in that field. When you are in that field you understand that shapes don’t have limits in time or geography. That has been the philosophy of Cartier. It also explains the very specific view that Cartier has towards watchmaking. That is why Cartier is perceived as the watchmaker of shapes. 

PB: That evolution has brought us to the point we are at today. Can you tell me more about the inspirations behind the new timepieces unveiled at Watches and Wonders?

PR: First, we have the Tortue, the turtle shape watch which is very interesting. It is a very good example of philosophy in terms of the shapes of Cartier because it is a shape that exists since 1912. At the time that it was launched it was considered a disturbance, a very valid creation. When you look at the evolution of the shapes of Cartier in the 1910’s, you see that it was one step forward to make another essential shape, the one of the Tank. The philosophy behind the creation of the Santos in 1904, the Tonneau in 1906, the Tortue in 1912 and then the Tank in 1917 shows the research conducted by Louis Cartier and his designers to achieve the simplest shape possible for a watch to be worn on the wrist. Of course, the tank is two parallel lines and the Tortue is two parentheses. It is not a box that is attached to a strap, it is something that is conceived in harmony with the strap and that was new. That freedom of conception from the traditional world of watchmaking comes from the fact that we are a jeweller, when you are a jeweller you understand why shapes and creation are important. As a jeweller we integrated that idea of ergonomics, our watches also illustrate that. For example, the Tonneau barrell shape that was created in 1906 was elongated and because of this is was covering your wrist and had to be curved. The Tortue was small enough to be contained in the flat part of your wrist, so that’s why it was flat. It was not necessary to make a curved one. That explains a lot about the vision in terms of creation for Cartier. Today we decided to work with the shape of the Torteu because we are faithful to the vision of Louis Cartier. He once wrote in letters, when exchanging about a new collection, “this is a very good idea, it is a marvel idea”, meaning that not only was it beautiful, but it was very interesting because it could give birth to many variations. The Tortue is one of those marvel ideas. When we re-work it in terms of proportions, volume, movement and types of dial, it shows that richness that the model contained from its beginning. 

PR: We also bring new versions of the Santos watch from 1904. Santos is another example of a shape that can live forever. It was revamped at the end of the 70’s with the addition of a metal bracelet. It is another example of how a watch can be adapted to a new way of life. By adding a metal bracelet, you can use the watch in many different circumstances that didn’t exist at the beginning of the 20th century. The backwards Santos is very interesting with the 1 at the left instead of the right. It is a very interesting thing because it is for you, you have to get used to it. It also exists on another interesting point. Of course, giving the time is very important, but at Cartier the interest for the object is also key, there is a relationship between the object and yourself. That illustrates that very well. Nobody will be able to read the time like you will. 

PR: When talking about creativity, jewellery watches are very interesting. We have the Reflection de Cartier Cuff watch. The idea of course is to play with reflection. There is a polished mirror that reflects the dial of the watch to the other side, really illustrating what I explained before about our style. In terms of bracelet, the two head bracelet is something that we worked with in our creations since the beginning of Cartier jewellery. We took example from pieces that existed in very ancient times, if you go to ancient Greek jewellery you often have bracelets like this with two heads. It is inscribed in our history of jewellery with different animals. It is totally a-symmetrical and in a way, it gives an interesting twist. This is an example of beauty and harmony, harmony doesn’t come in essence from symmetry. The volume of the piece also gives it a sense of architecture. Talking about opening doors to future evolutions, by its shape itself and the little volumes you can multiply the opportunities for different iterations through colour and materials. It is a piece of jewellery that is very present on your wrist. Reading the time on it is part of the intimate relationship that someone has with their jewellery. I think playfulness is essential in jewellery, especially in bracelets and rings. They have a different status than necklaces. With necklaces you don’t see it yourself when you wear it. It is a projection of yourself but you don’t see it yourself. When you work in the world of shapes there is always a hesitation between abstraction and configuration and at Cartier we always played with the two. Not always proposing a straight border, we like to blur the limits and play with the ambiguity between the two. You can read the presence of an animal, a zebra, a panther, a tiger, and at the same time when you look precisely at it you see a geometrical shape and volume with whimsical details through colour.

PB: As a brand, you are fortunate to have so many icons. Why do you think these designs have connected with people for so long?

PR: In fact, when you think of that there is a logic. Nobody would have thought of talking about icons a century ago, the market was very different, production was a lot more limited than what it is today. Even if they had a notion of what was a success or what was not, the scale of a success was very different at a time when we had 3 stores in the world. Nevertheless, as a principal, they wanted to have strong shapes that could live through different variation. Because of this principal, we shouldn’t be surprised to see these shapes still existing today. It was not the case that we would issue one shape and then the next year replace it with another. 

PB: Looking towards the future, how do you envision Cartier’s heritage evolving?

PR: We don’t lose the idea of creating new shapes ourselves today. The most recent success in terms of new shapes was the Ballon Bleu in 2007. The Ballon Bleu today is the most important one in our sales. It shows how we have been successful in introducing a new shape. Talking about making new icons, we hesitate a lot to use the word. With the experience we have at Cartier, we think we need to wait at least one generation to see if the success is there. Even the Ballon Bleu, it is 17 years old now but we do wait to see. We have to be cautious in the light of our long history. The Tortue is more than 100 years old, the Santos is 120 years old, the Tank is also 107 years old. The Ballon Bleu is still a child.