The mystery dial is one of the most dramatic styles in watchmaking and continues to capture the imagination of both enthusiasts and laymen alike after over a century of production. Skeleton movements occupy a similar area of visual spectacle in horology, but the two concepts rarely intersect. Cartier delivers a dramatic combination of the two as part of its Watches and Wonders 2022 novelties, adding an additional layer of mechanical drama with a never-before-seen twist. By integrating the entire movement into its own winding rotor and hiding its connection to the crown, the new limited edition Cartier Masse Mystérieuse pulls off one of the most magical and intriguing visual feats in modern watchmaking and should make for a truly one-of-a-kind experience on the wrist.
Model: Masse Mystérieuse
Water Resistance: Not Listed
Case Material: 950 Platinum
Movement: Manufacture 9801MC (automatic movement contained within winding rotor)
Frequency: 28,800 bph
Power Reserve: 42 hours
Strap/Bracelet: Charcoal gray alligator leather strap
Price & Availability: €250,000, Limited to 30 pieces, Available now
The Cartier Masse Mystérieuse’s 43.5mm 950 platinum case takes a classical, dressy approach in images, with a fully polished finish, simple straight lugs, and an elegantly featureless smooth bezel. Cartier gives this minimal presentation a touch of character with its traditional crown, topped with a brilliantly polished ruby cabochon. Overall, however, Cartier keeps things simple for the case and allows its mystery dial concept to take center stage.
Strictly speaking, very little of what is visible underneath the Cartier Masse Mystérieuse’s sapphire crystal is a dial. The platinum outer chapter ring continues the traditional design sensibilities of the case but showcases an impressive range of finishing in images, including raised polished Roman numerals, heavily grained sunburst finishing for the hours ring, and a razor-sharp transition to radial brushing for the beveled chemin-de-fer minutes scale. It’s a design that feels at once both luxuriously modern and eminently familiar to fans of the Cartier brand and remains minimal enough in images not to detract from the main event – the sapphire disk spanning most of the overall dial area. This disk is the core of the mystery dial concept, allowing a full view of the Masse Mystérieuse’s one-of-a-kind movement design while acting as a crucial part of the gear train by connecting the movement to the crown via a hidden set of gears inside the outer hours ring. The slim polished Roman sword hands are pure classic Cartier as well, creating a refined and minimal look that allows the movement’s intricacy to shine through unimpeded.
Cartier claims the in-house 9801 MC automatic movement inside the Masse Mystérieuse is the product of eight years of design and development, and the end result is undeniably dramatic. The entirety of the movement — the gear train, mainspring, escapement, bridges, and all else except for the few hidden gears connected to the crown — is encased within its own skeleton winding rotor, meaning the whole movement rotates on a central axis. Although this undoubtedly creates a conversation-starting spectacle as the wearer turns their wrist and the entire movement repositions itself, it also creates several unique engineering challenges. In order to ensure that the hands do not spin out of position when the movement rotates, Cartier has created a unique limited-slip differential system, not unlike that in a modern performance car. The 9801 MC’s solution to the issue of the spinning movement affecting the accuracy of the balance wheel is arguably even more complex, as the movement rotates at an irregular speed in both directions to ensure the balance wheel always maintains the same vertical position. From an aesthetic standpoint, the 9801 MC offers a cleanly futuristic look, with intricate web-like skeleton bridges finished with radial brushing and anglage above radially brushed wheels and a frosted matte mainplate. Despite its wild appearance, the 9801 MC offers firmly middle-of-the-road performance, with a 42-hour power reserve at a 28,800 bph beat rate. Cartier finishes the Masse Mystérieuse with a handsome alligator leather strap in charcoal gray.
With a truly innovative movement concept and an unmistakable Cartier-style visual flair, the limited edition Cartier Masse Mystérieuse brings a timeless quality and a revolutionary spirit to the often hyper-modernist haute horlogerie arms race. Only 30 examples of the Cartier Masse Mystérieuse will be made, and the watch is available now through authorized dealers. MSRP for the Cartier Masse Mystérieuse stands at €250,000 as of press time. For more details, please visit the brand’s website.