At the exclusive watch show SIHH, Cartier has one of the largest booths. A lot of their space is dimly lit with museum style showcases offering glimpses of items you probably won’t see anywhere else. Given that the show is not open to the public, most people will never see these pieces at all. In the cases are a range of artistic and high-jewelry creations that the French brand has produced for the year. Some of these are piece uniques, some parts of limited editions, and some might not even be sold at all. Whatever the nature of the item, I am usually sure to find at least a few beautiful things.

Not all of these items are watches, but most are. High-jewelry (or haute joaillerie as it is often known) enjoys having “mystery display” watches where dials are only revealed after opening or sliding something to the side. That is certainly the case with an item I have not covered in this article, but will in a separate piece. It is just too amusing to be part of a pack, and is how Cartier does Pandas.

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Big cats are always a theme of love for the panther-esque brand. You can see the hunting feline in many of their watches each year. A few this year get emerald eyes, and one gets a special watch where a dial-mounted panther is the automatic rotor. Again, that is a subject for another piece. Cartier’s high jewelry watches are most typically beautiful creations with an emphasis (though not exclusively) on animals. Museum quality designs dazzle us with their clever and attractive settings to enhance our view of sparkles. For most people, the ability to own these watches or other items does not exist, but looking at them still feels gratifying. It also helps Cartier sell their standard jewelry watches in a big way.

In addition to a selection of high jewelry watches each year, Cartier employs the talents of various craftspeople to offer limited edition collections of their “artistic crafts” watches. An interesting one that I didn’t grab a picture of was done in straw marquetry of a koala. Yes, the image was produced by hand from tiny pieces of colored and split plants. That model, by the way, is the Rotonde de Cartier 35mm watch, white gold, koala motif, straw marquetry. Yes, that is the name of the model and it is limited to 20 pieces.

My personal favorite in the art collection for 2012 is the watch at the top of this article. It uses a Santos-Dumont XL case and displays a horse. The process is actually micro mosaic. From counters to coffee tables, stone or tile, mosaic is a popular and celebrated craft. Here, the art of mosaic work blends with gold engraving. Parts of the horse are engraved gold, while the majority of the dial is a hand-created mosaic of gemstones. According to Cartier, each piece of this limited edition collection requires over 120 hours of work to complete. Each stone must be individually selected, cut, and placed to form the image. This watch is called the Cartier Santos-Dumont XL watch, horse motif, gemstone mosaic and will come in a set of 40 pieces in 18k white gold, and 10 more pieces with diamonds on the case.

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Another interesting art watch is the last one shown being the Rotonde de Cartier 42mm watch, white gold, tiger motif, enamel grisaille. By the way, each of the 2012 Cartier art collection watches contain Cartier in-house made caliber 430 MC or 9601 MC manually wound mechanical movements. Enamel grisaille is basically a form on black and gray enamel work – here used to create the face of a tiger. The result is a crisp animal in black and white tones, with an almost life-like face aside from the watch hands  sticking out of the predatory cat’s nose. I try to convince myself they look like additional whiskers but alas, they only tell the time. Good for big game hunters back at the safari lodge, this watch will be limited to 100 pieces and reportedly requires about 40 hours of enameling work on each one.

It is always a pleasure to see these types of beautiful and effortful artistic creations from Cartier. From time to time Cartier offers exhibits showing some of this stuff and I recommend you check them out if possible for a better look at creations you may never see again. Of course, head over to your local Cartier boutique if you want to start talking the required numbers to be on your way to owning one.

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