Five Reasons Behind Cartier’s Enduring Success
The brand’s timeless appeal has a lot more to do with embracing change than living in the past.
Cartier needs no introduction, the famed maison founded in Paris in 1847 is so iconic that it lets its signature calling card, its red box, do all the talking. Whether you’re receiving an engagement ring, timepiece, or something in-between, the moment you catch a glimpse of that box, it’s over. You’ve officially arrived.
During Watches & Wonders, we had the opportunity to sit down with Arnaud Carrez, Cartier’s International Marketing and Communications Director. What was supposed to be a 15-minute chat turned into an hour-long masterclass on the Art of Luxury and joie de vivre, which Cartier embodies.
For this writer, there were five key takeaways from our insightful conversation with Mr. Carrez that are worth sharing.
If the last year has taught us anything, it's that adaptation is key to the survival of any species or company. Before the lockdowns, there was much doom and gloom written about the luxury watch industry. Fortunately, the watch industry survived the global health situation relatively unscathed.
Carrez explained Cartier’s approach to the last year, “It's been challenging, but [still an] exciting year for us. One year ago, we didn't know where we were heading. We were well, doing Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and making many adjustments to adapt ourselves. But looking at where we are now, I think Cartier has reinforced its position over the last year.”
Like many brands, Watchonista included, the period of March through June 2020 was quiet, but Carrez remarked, “Starting from last July, we could see an acceleration, and the last months have been positive. So I'm happy about our results, despite these challenging times. It shows that the overall strategy we developed and implemented several years ago was the right one.”
As you may have seen on Watchonista and throughout social media, Cartier has double down on its embrace of digital. This recalibration to digital was met at the perfect intersection of increased disposable income due to people not eating out, traveling, or spending money on experiences. Coupled with increased visits to online and social media, Cartier has seemed to navigate this new reality smoothly.
Carrez explained, “It’s true! We've been embracing all digital means, and many projects were going on, like our client-centric digital transformation. It all started before the crisis. But COVID has accelerated these digital transformations. Now we see triple-digit growth over the last year with e-commerce. Our boutiques are doing extremely well despite being only open upon on an appointment basis.”
But Cartier isn’t stopping there, as Carrez added, “Things are changing very rapidly. It's good for customers who’ve been adapting themselves. Spending time on digital platforms to discover, search, and be more knowledgeable about brands and products. So, it's good. It's positive for [Watchonista] as well.”
Sticking with What Works
At Watches & Wonders 2021, Cartier released a plethora of new models, including the re-introduction of the Tank Must, updates to the Ballon Bleu, a new Pasha de Cartier Chronograph, stunning high jewelry pieces, and more. Seeing these classical shapes refreshed was one of the highlights for me at virtual fair.
Carrez said this was entirely intentional, “We see our iconic collections as being very resilient in the current circumstances. And when we look at the Santos and Ballon Bleu doing extremely well despite the situation, plus we had the successful launch of Pasha in 2020.”
But does Carrez have a favorite among the 2021 releases? “[It’s] difficult to say because we have so many novelties, as you could see from the product lineup. Overall, the Tank collection is my favorite. First and foremost, because I would say the Tank collection is the classic reference in terms of style, in terms of elegance, and in terms of sophistication in the world of watchmaking. I think it also reflects on our perpetual quest for distinct shapes, for the exact proportions, for the purity of lines,” added Carrez.
How do you innovate and refine your products without jumping the shark? It is a constant challenge in the world of watchmaking. In the last year, we have seen everything from yellow ceramic to cases made to replicate the look of red hot lava. And while some brands manage to pull this off, Cartier stays true to its color theory.
When I asked Carrez how Cartier stays true to this design philosophy, he replied, “I would say, first and foremost, by being true to who we are. And when we look at our mission, the values, and design codes, we have some colors that we've been using year after year. The combination of red, blue, and green is part of our stylistic vocabulary. So we are very careful about finding the relevant colors and being first and foremost a designer of unexpected shapes.”
He continued, saying, “We want to ensure that our color palette matches the design of the watch, which is something we pay very close attention to. For example, in the new color animations on Ballon Bleu, the colors are very soft, very ambiguous, but consistent with the style of the watch. We look at the balance between the case between the color of the timepieces. This is of high importance for the maison’s creative studio.”
In recent years, Cartier’s Privé collection has undergone a renaissance of sorts. These exclusive timepieces captivate collectors but rarely seen at retailers and Cartier boutiques. And in 2021, the brand is launching the Cloche de Cartier, a bell-shaped watch that pivots the dial and case.
But it begs the question, will we see an increase in production numbers for the Privé collection? I think I speak for all collectors when I say the Crash is remarkable and the Tank Asymétrique is divine. But will collectors actually be able to get their hands on Privé pieces in the near future?
Carrez explained, “I would say that we will manage scarcity and exclusivity as we scale this collection. Several years ago, when we started to revamp some of our most historical shapes, such as the Crash and the Tank Cintrée, we had to be very careful about the number of pieces produced. And I can tell you that most of these models sold out very rapidly.”
But Cartier knows the appetite for these watches is growing. And as such, Carrez told Watchonista that the brand would try to find the right balance between availability and exclusivity: “We have to find, I would say, the right balance. These pieces should remain exclusive, but at the same time, we don't want to create too much frustration. But what I can tell you is that we will always ensure that these watches are limited editions, and we will adjust, when possible, the quantities because we want to meet people's expectations.”
Finally, Carrez told me, “I think the beauty of these pieces is that they are objects of desire. And as we saw earlier this year, the Crash reached a record at auction. So that's good to create this [kind of] desirability for Cartier’s watches.”
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)