A Legacy of Cartier: the Curves of Time

This year sees a new chapter in the Cartier Privé saga as the Maison reawakens the legendary Tonneau watch.

Cartier’s new Tonneau watch.

Each year, Cartier delights its fans and clientele with another new collection of stunning timepieces. But what really has connoisseurs and serious collectors waiting with anticipation is the Cartier Privé—a capsule collection, if you will, each celebrating one of the Maison’s famous silhouettes with intricate reinterpretations of iconic models. In 2015, Cartier reacquainted the world with the Crash watch; in 2017 it shone a new light on the Tank Cintrée. Now, it is the year of the Tonneau.

The original Tonneau watch from 1906.

Genesis of the Barrel

The word “tonneau” is French for “barrel.” It’s not exactly something that people would associate with fine watches, but it was quite fitting. Introduced in 1906—following the debut of the Santos watch in 1904—Cartier’s Tonneau watch features a dial that could only be described as being “on the cusp between a rectangle and an oval.” Through this bold new design, Cartier once again challenged the traditional round pocket watches that dominated the era.

The case of the Tonneau, meanwhile, was slightly curved to better fit the wrist, showcasing the brand’s focus on ergonomics almost half a century before the term was coined. Extra attention to detail was also apparent by way of the “vis amuerier” tube screws that adorned the lugs of the watch. Furthermore, the case was coated in platinum to emphasize its avant-garde aesthetics and, yet again, defy the prevalent notion of making gold watches. On the flip side, Louis Cartier chose leather—a simple, natural and humble material—for the strap.

“All of the codes of Cartier watchmaking are present, from the Roman numerals and the iconic trail track to the cabochon on the winding crown, screws on the lugs and the leather strap”

In short, when it first made its appearance, the Tonneau was the very definition of a modern watch. And today, more than a century later, the legendary watch shape is taken to a whole new level through two contemporary models.

The Tonneau

Much like the original model of the watch, the new Tonneau watch features an oblong, curved shape that follows the contours of the wrist. This sleek silhouette is further enhanced by the bezel, which is formed from a single block of metal without any overhangs or breaks in the plane. The contour of the bezel, and also the lugs, seemingly melt into the case.

Unsurprisingly, all of the codes of Cartier watchmaking are present, from the Roman numerals and the iconic trail track to the cabochon on the winding crown, screws on the lugs and the leather strap. The numerals, by the way, are polished and rhodium-plated, which contrasts nicely against the dial.

Finally, the hours and minutes model of the redesigned Tonneau watch comes in two flavours: The first comes in a pink gold case, champagne-coloured dial and brown alligator leather strap. The second variation is a limited edition of 100 pieces featuring a platinum case, silvered dial and grey alligator leather strap. Both variants are powered by the Calibre 1917 MC manufacture manual winding movement.

Close up of the movement powering the Skeleton Dual Time Zone Tonneau, highlighting the configuration of the geartrain in a single line.

The Skeleton Dual Time
Zone Tonneau

If the hours and minutes model described above is a true reinterpretation of the original 1906 Tonneau watch, the new Skeleton Dual Time Zone Tonneau pays tribute to the Tonneau XL dual time zone model from the Collection Privée Cartier Paris or CPCP collection.

While the earlier model used two separate mechanisms to run the home time and second-time zone displays, the new Skeleton Dual Time Zone Tonneau uses a single movement—the Calibre 9919 MC manufacture manual winding movement, to be exact—to run both displays. Cartier has also famously placed the geartrain in a single line. This is, without doubt, one of the best demonstrations of Cartier’s incredible technical mastery. The skeletonized movement further highlights this notion, while also making the watch lighter and the time displays easier to follow.

Like the hours and minutes model, the Skeleton Dual Time Zone Tonneau has two case options: pink gold and platinum. The pink gold case is completed with a gray and burgundy alligator leather strap while the platinum variant has blue and black alligator leather straps. Both models are limited editions, with 100 pieces each. There is also a platinum version of the watch set with baguette-cut diamonds, of which only 20 pieces are available.

With its unique combination of a storied heritage, an inventive spirit, mechanical excellence and elevated aesthetics, these two new Tonneau watches perfectly embody watchmaking à la Cartier.

The Skeleton Dual Time Zone Tonneau.