SIHH is officially in full swing and, with it, a host of new horological marvels on which to gaze. Even before this year’s show kicked off, there were plenty we were looking forward to seeing: IWC’s gargantuan pilot, Vacheron’s women’s collection and Piaget’s heritage-inspired superquartz to name but a few.
It was Cartier however that really caught our interest. They were both following the ‘year of women’s watchmaking’ that seems to have gripped the show while at the same time showing off some stunning haute horology – all before the show even started.
What we weren’t expecting was, on top of all that, an entire new collection. Now, while nothing will ever take the place of the Tank, it also helps matters that the new collection is quite possibly our second favourite from Jeweller of Kings. Introducing the Drive de Cartier.
Despite the name, the Drive de Cartier isn’t a driving watch in the same vein as Parmigiani’s Bugatti, MB&F’s HM5 or anything with that trademark side-on dial. Think of it more as a watch for anyone with a passion for vintage cars; if you own a DB5, the chances are the Drive will be your next watch.
Cartier seem to have grown bored of rectangles and circles. Last year’s elliptical Cle was certainly unusual and the Drive follows suit, this time opting for a more masculine cushion shape, one whose strength of line makes it seem just a hair short of octagonal – which, come to think of it, would be a watch to see.
These lines are at the core of the Drive de Cartier, mirrored time and again on the dial to create a linear, segmented look. It’s not a shape that bears any overly-obvious countenance of motorsport or classic automobiles, but one you can’t help but equating with that same air of strength and elegance in harmony.
Preferring the more subtle allusions to their subject material, the only somewhat obvious reflections of cars in the watch are in the finer details. The guilloche, for example, is imitative of the patterning on a radiator grill; think a 1920s Bugatti rather than a Lamborghini. The chapter rings as well imitate the reality, inspired by the markings on a dashboard despite the more elegant Roman numerals, especially on the subdials.
Cartier being Cartier, it’s a wonder they keep anything hidden, at least for long. If this were one simple watch, perhaps in a few dial variations, we’d still be impressed – the three colour variations of the small seconds are stunning, especially the anthracite dial. But that just wouldn’t do for the Richemont flagship. Oh no.
The first of the last two is the Drive de Cartier with large date, retrograde second time zone and day/night indicator. Powered by the calibre 1904-FU MC, first seen a couple years ago on the Rotonde de Cartier, it’s a more technical look for the Drive.
The second time zone would be at the home of any dashboard, while the most obvious automobile reference in the collection is the fuel meter-esque day-night indicator. The date has been moved to the top, yet even with indicators everywhere, the guilloche seems to continue unabated, tying the dial together gracefully. If Cartier want to stay classical they will.
Even as a small complication the calibre 1904-FU MC is an impressive watch, even in the face of its grand complication sibling, the ultimate expression of the Drive de Cartier – the Flying Tourbillon.
A complication of this level probably required more engineering skill than any vintage car, the calibre 9452 MC a masterpiece of the watchmaker’s art. It’s the kind of piece that necessitates manufacture in Cartier’s "Poinçon de Genève" workshops along with the most complicated watches the house has ever made. So what if it’s about as useful in everyday life as Rolls-Royce’s Spirit of Ecstasy? It’s just as impressive.
It’s all too easy to wax lyrical about the Drive’s haute horology pieces and ignore the technical merits of the standard pieces, so let’s give them their due. Back in 2010, the 1940 MC was one of Cartier’s first in-house movements and still remains a superlative production calibre. Accurate, stable and double-barrelled, even if it’s not flush with complications it’s a solid movement.
That said, solid might be putting it down a little; the care lavished on the finishing is nothing short of extraordinary. The sapphire case back shines a window onto a maze of Côtes de Genève embellishment punctuated with shining polished screws.
In fact, you could say that the movement sums up exactly what the Drive de Cartier is – discounting of course the small and grand complications. It’s simple in its conception and miraculously detailed in its execution, minimal where it needs to be and embellished where it can be. The Tank might forever be Cartier’s flagship timepiece, but the drive may well be capable of catching up. Cars are much faster, after all.