Since it was set up in 2010, Cartier’s Fine Watchmaking Club has served as the vehicle for communicating to the press every December the pending treasures to follow at Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) held in Geneva every January. As sneak previews go, the quality of the timepieces has always justified the melodrama. Or should that be foreplay?

Because the group is small, Cartier is able to go into greater detail than would be possible when dealing with upward of 2000 journalists at the Salon. The club’s members are treated to hands-on access, detailed presentations and a wealth of technical material.

For 2017, the taster involves three fascinating timepieces, including a wild complication for the ladies. Following the Cartier Fine Watchmaking themes of mystery watches, skeletons and those with a panther motif, the trio of new models addresses each one.

Rotonde de Cartier Minute Repeater Mysterious Double Tourbillon

It’s a mouthful, but then the watch it describes is both an eyeful and an earful, too. As the name promises, the Rotonde de Cartier Minute Repeater Mysterious Double Tourbillon combines three features to delight those who enjoy the presence of complications. Any one of them would be justification for acclaim, Cartier having revived the “mystery watch” with great panache. Here, the mysterious moving element is the floating tourbillon, and it’s a double tourbillon to boot.

As if those two devices weren’t enough, this watch also contains the “complication de la decennia”: the minute repeater. This is a feature which has never been hotter than it is right now, thanks to the efforts of Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, Chopard and others who have shown renewed interest in watches that make music. Cartier has identified four properties of sound which they’ve dubbed “loudness”, “timbre”, “richness” and “duration”, and developed a 45mm titanium case with gongs attached at two points, tuned to achieve the optimum of all four values.

Powered by Cartier’s in-house manual-wind Calibre 9407 MC, with 448 components, “Poinçon De Genève” finissage and 3.5 day power reserve, the Rotonde de Cartier Minute Repeater Mysterious Double Tourbillon has been treated to an open-work display with contrasting black rhodium finish. The 60-second flying tourbillon appears to float in mid-air, and this “mystery” element completes one rotation every five minutes to add to the drama.

Double tourbillon, mystery function, minute repeater AND open-work movement? This will start as many conversations in bars filled with watch nuts as would any grand complication. This stunner is limited to only 50 pieces and has the added distinction of visuals as arresting as any skeleton on the market … especially if you appreciate the privilege of studying the works from the dial side. Gorgeous.

Rotonde de Cartier Mysterious Hour Skeleton

For the second watch in the trio, also a Rotonde, Cartier has dispensing with the tourbillon and the minute repeater, but retained skeleton work and a mystery movement. This combination appears for the first time in a Cartier, and either of these defining features of this watch make it noteworthy, especially as Cartier’s Rotonde aesthetic enhances both. In part, it’s thanks to the generous 42mm palladium case, but that’s not what makes the piece such a standout.

Inside is the manually-wound manufacture Calibre 9983 MC, which peers through the skeletal elements that cleverly form the hour markers. This is a Cartier trademark that helped to elevate last year’s re-imagined Cartier Crash to the top of many “wants lists”, wherein the numbers are elongated, curved and part of the physical structure.

As with the earlier mystery watch in this series, the dial is asymmetrical, with the hours-and-minutes display in a subdial at 9 o’clock, surrounded by the stylised numerals. The hands appear to float in this subdial, begging the wearer to remove it and hold it up to the light, or place it against a coloured backdrop.

By now, every watch enthusiast has solved the mystery, which for Cartier goes back to their first mystery clocks of over a century ago. The mechanism consists of two sapphire discs to which the hands are fitted, the discs having teeth around their circumference. When activated by the movement, one disc turns for the minute hand and the other for the hour hand. Simple, but hugely effective.

Thanks to the size of the watch and the scale of the skeletonising, the watch’s train is visible through the numbers. Cartier, though is crafty: despite the naked state of the movement, the technology behind the mystery element remains a secret.

Panthère Joueuse De Cartier

Cartier – not I, he added hastily for fear of the repercussions from the sisterhood – calls this their “feminine complication watch.” However innocuous that may sound, it will upset those who turn everything into a feminist issue, but so be it: this is Hello Kitty for little girls who’ve grown up. And regardless of one’s letter of choice in the gender-based alphabet soup, this watch is a dazzler.

Cartier’s house pet is the panther, which often finds its way into the maison’s jewellery and watches. For 2017, animation is the means by which Cartier celebrates this feline symbol, rather than applying mere maîtres des arts craftsmanship (sorry about that second syllable …) to a panther image, so the pussycat on the Panthère Joueuse De Cartier appears to pounce from the dial in pursuit of a ball.

Set against a black background, the panther’s head is fashioned from diamonds, with black lacquer spots and two shaped emeralds for the eyes. A diamond-covered paw extends outward to grab the ball. A total of 255 diamonds was needed to create this cat, applied with the usual display of gem-setting mastery.

Itself a single, large diamond, the ball encircles the dial, serving as the hour hand, while the head and paw denote the minutes. Motion is supplied by the in-house Calibre 9918 MC automatic movement with 48-hour power reserve, housed in a 40mm 18c white gold case paved with 320 diamonds and fitted with a white alligator strap. Should the latter fail to impress, there is also a pavé bracelet version.

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