When it comes to daring creativity and raw entrepreneurship, England pretty much tops the world league tables. Old Blighty can boast to being home of the industrial revolution, the birthplace of world wide web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and Apple designer Jony Ive. The country has this unique and enviable culture of rule breaking and irreverence, yet equally is the final word on decorum.
Such avant-garde creativity was not lost on Cartier, whose London outpost, now newly refurbished, was behind some of the maison’s most rakish and iconic watches ever made. The Swinging Sixties was by far the golden age, producing the likes of Crash, a surrealist, Dali-esque watch named after its legendary origins. The story is still something of an urban myth, but basically goes that a client had brought in his watch that had been damaged in an automobile accident, which went on to inspire a melting and distorted case.
The underlying watch was a Cartier Baignoire, which was shaped like a bathtub, but which also referenced the area of privileged seats in an opera house. ‘That section was shaped like a bathtub,’ says Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s image and heritage director. ‘At Cartier, those names were not supposed to be communicated, but just used internally for people to immediately understand what the shape was.’
The Baignoire was born in 1912, before its design was further honed and popularised in the 50s. But it was in 60s London that the Baignoire was given an exciting new lease of life. Here the oval was elongated and maxed out into the Allongée model: an ironic and subversive design that only a British sensibility could have conceived – and successfully pulled off.
For 2019, Cartier has once more reimagined the Allongée, creating a collection of six models, centred on two designs and two sizes (extra large and medium), and all powered by the new manual 1917 MC calibre. Paired with slimmed down straps in either alligator leather or diamonds, the look is super stylish, with a vintage touch, but at the same time subtle and classically simple. The exaggerated and prolonged form gives the Baignoire its unique character as it elegantly hugs the wrist, its slender lines just barely peeking out from under a shirt cuff or jacket – in a ‘if you know, you know’ kind of cult fashion way. That delicacy and finesse in fact echoes the Baignoire’s unique place in Cartier history. ‘Baignoire is still very discreet in our offer and has never really been expanded,’ says Rainero. ‘It’s another expression of femininity that meets the Cartier values.’
The most feminine, sophisticated pieces in this year’s collection are by far the pavé ones, with a bedazzling diamond-encrusted face with two slim blue hands. Headlining this design is a special pink gold model – limited to 100 pieces in each size – that comes on a smart navy alligator strap. A funky bezel of gold gadroons (a sort of inverted fluting) nods to the late 50s, when the Baignoire was given its first modern makeover and Roman numerals were added. For those wanting a proper dazzler, however, Cartier has upped the wattage with a white gold version staggered with diamonds, which reach around even to the case back. A matching, fully paved slim diamond bracelet tops it off, bringing the total gem count to 894 diamonds at 12.86 carats (857 at 11.68 carats on the medium size).
The second design in the new collection has more verve and panache, with its redesigned Roman numerals set on a silver sandblasted dial. Two diamond bezel versions are available – in either white or pink gold, and with either 304 or 267 diamonds – or there’s an über chic pink gold gadroon number. All models feature 30m water resistance, and when set on either their grey or taupe straps, ooze a super modern, everyday luxe feel.
Imaginative and energetic, the Allongée may not be for everyone, but interestingly, Rainero does not see it restricted to just women. ‘It could definitely be worn by a man, showing how masculine elegance can be close to feminine elegance too,’ he says, before adding, thoughtfully: ‘That can only be strong in England, and is so intrinsic to British culture. An elongated Baignoire? Splendid.’