The Cartier watch division is one of the most well-known luxury watchmakers in the world. The company has been around for over a century and makes some of the most beautiful watches you’ll ever see.
Cartier watches come in all shapes and sizes, but generally fall into one of seven categories: rectangular, square, oval cushion, round cushion, curved square (or “pebble” shaped), round ball shape, or curvy rectangle (these are also known as “drive” shapes).
This variety of shapes when it comes to watch cases is attributed to Louis Cartier’s history in jewelry design. He believed that your watch is a piece of jewelry and should be designed in such a way that the size, shape, proportions, and harmony of all its parts should reflect that.
Let’s explore the many shapes of Cartier and their often unique names.
The Tank (rectangular)
This shape is a legend designed in 1917. Cartier was inspired by the release of the first pictures of the tanks used in World War I, more specifically the Renault Tank FT that was used by the French. The large treads running alongside the massive machines can be seen in the lateral brancards (vertical sides) of the watch case. The case itself resembles the turret. So as not to take away from the simplicity of the design, the lugs and case stayed flush.
The Santos and Panthere (square)
The Santos and Panthere styles are among the most versatile Cartier watches, which can shift from dressy to casual. The Santos was the first watch Cartier created to be worn on the wrist in 1904 – more specifically for the pilot Alberto Santos-Dumont. The pioneer aviator wanted to be able to tell the time while in the cockpit without having to fuss with pulling out a pocket watch.
This face is square with a straight shape or rounded corners. With its square shape and exposed screw, it ushered in a new era of watches as it became available to the public in 1911.
The Santos has a classical look that can make any outfit look more sophisticated and dignified. It is also suitable for people with small wrists, as its size makes it easy to wear.
The Panthere has a similar aesthetic as the Santos but with a slimmer case design and longer lugs. With its link bracelet, it is also dressier take on the Santos – in fact, it was the choice “jewelry watch” of the well-heeled set in the 1980s.
Cartier Tonneau (photo: Cartier)
Created for the first time in 1906, the Tonneau was one of the first wristwatches released by Cartier. Named for the French word for barrel, its thin curved case, resembling its namesake, was designed to fit the wrist ergonomically.
At the time, this was a completely innovative shape that has been copied by many a watchmaker since.
It was labeled the ultimate dandy watch because it’s the epitome of sophistication and elegance. A big step away from the sports and military watches that men sported on their wrists.
The Tortue (French for tortoise) is a shape that resembles that of a tortoiseshell, hence the name. It was introduced in 1912 and became one of Cartier’s most famous models alongside the Santos. Originally designed as a dress watch for men, it has taken the watch world by storm and is a popular shape for men and women. With no chronograph pushers, the curves of this case remain unblemished.
One of the most expensive Cartier watches, the Cartier Tortue XL Grand Complication is valued at over $500,000. With extra features like a tourbillon, perpetual calendar, and chronograph, this sought after shape speaks volumes about the design capabilities of Cartier.
The Tank Cintree and Americaine (curved rectangular)
The Tank Cintrée and Tank Americaine are both curved rectangular watches. The former was designed by Louis Cartier and introduced in 1921, where he elongated the rectangular case into a slightly convex form. The Tank Cintree is widely considered to be the most elegant watch that Cartier ever designed, and also one of the most comfortable. The sleek, long curves hug the wrist to perfection.
The Tank Americaine, released in 1989, was largely inspired by the Cintrée. The later part of the decade ushered in the era of larger watches, and Cartier wanted to create a version of the Tank that would look and feel more substantial on the wrist. It came with a few updates from the Cintrée: the case back sits flat on the wrist; and it is also thicker to accommodate the automatic movement inside.
The Baignoire (oval)
The story of the Cartier Baignoire began in 1912, when Louis Cartier took the traditional round watch shape and stretched it, creating two parallel lines enclosed by curves. The watch was presented to one of Cartier’s top clients, the Russian Grand Duchess Pavlovna, and it remained an exclusive model for the next four decades.
In 1957, the Baignoire was made commercially available, but the name Baignoire didn’t come around until 1973. Cartier updated the shape in 2009 by tightening the curved case. The 2009 model gave nods to the case of the 1950s with its sleek lines, but tightened the oval for a more modern edge to the classic favorite.
The Tank Francaise (square inside a rectangle)
This relatively new addition to the Tank family emerged in 1996. This design is a true, strict square accomplished by integrating the case with the bracelet. Continuing the nod to the Tank watches that inspired the first rendition, the edges of the bracelet are indented further bringing those treads into the iconic shape. Softer angles are achieved through beveled the corners, giving the Tank Francaise a contemporary and sportier appeal.
The Pasha and Ballon Bleu (round)
The designers dug into the archives of the Maison and found a design that appeared in 1943 to influence the Pasha de Cartier watch collection. It is characterized by a round case with four Arabic numerals and sword-shaped hands on the dial. Another iconic feature is the screw-down cap on the crown with a small chain attached to the case.
In 2007, Cartier created another circular watch with a convex case on the front and back – the Ballon Bleu. The convex nature of the crystal magnifies the numerals on the dial making reading easy. The winding crown is fully integrated to the case under another round piece of precious metal, inspiring the name Ballon Bleu, which is French for “blue balloon”.
The Cle (round cushion)
Cartier Cle (photo: Cartier)
Cartier wanted to create another unique design that still gave a nod to the classic round watch shape. It’s all about the curves with this shape. The result was the Clé de Cartier, whose name comes from the winding crown that they integrated completely into the curve of the case. Clé in French means ‘key’.
This ergonomic design creates more of a key function than a crown and adds a new level of ease to the winding and time and date functions of the watch. A gentle twist changes the time and date. When you push it back in, it always snaps back into place parallel to the case.
The Drive (curved square)
Cartier Drive (photo: Cartier)
The Drive is one of Cartier’s most iconic pieces today because of its unique shape and design elements. It has become an inspiration for many other brands who try to recreate its look without success. This distinctive men’s watch has a large face that maintains tension for a truly unique feel.
The Crash (deformed)
Cartier Crash (photo: Sotheby’s)
The Crash is a round watch with a crescent-shaped case, designed to be worn on the inside of the wrist. It’s also known as la Croissette in French and comes from the word “crash,” which means “deformed” or “broken.”
There’s an interesting legend behind the creation of this shape. A patron brought a damaged watch in for repair in London after it was melted and distorted in a fatal car crash. The head of Cartier, Jean-Jacques Cartier, saw the new shape of the watch and thought it was impressive. The crash watch is a blend of shaped watches and non-conformity. This watch was made in limited editions and is now quite the collector’s item.
A new edition was designed and released in 2015 with a modern skeleton design showing its complex movement.
Cartier Pebble (photo: Phillips)
This limited edition watch nods back to the original Cartier Pebble watch from 1973. It represents the feelings of excitement following the Swinging Sixties, which was a period of creation all throughout London, and Cartier was no exception.
The pebble shape is a conglomeration between the classic round and Cartier square shapes. The round case hugs a square (or diamond) dial with blue sword-shaped hands and stunning Roman numerals.
Cartier Watch Shapes – Final Thoughts
We hope this article has helped you understand more about the different shapes of Cartier watches and where they come from. Truly, no other brand has mastered the use of different shapes in watchmaking than Cartier.
If you’re interested in learning more about Cartier or buying one for yourself, check out our vast selection of Cartier watches at SwissWatchExpo.com.