When Louis Cartier designed the company’s first wristwatch with a “panther-spot” motif. It was inspired by a painting he had commissioned called Dame à la panthère, depicting an elegantly dressed woman with a panther at her feet. At the turn of the 19th century, the panther was a popular symbol of feminine power and elegance.
Since that first watch, the panther has been used as a motif in the company’s jewelry and watches, a recurring symbol of strength combined with elegance. It also defines Cartier, as well as its high-profile clients. Some of the more famous pieces include a bracelet and necklace designed in 1931 for heiress Daisy Fellowes, depicting a panther with rubies and pearls. In 1948, Cartier made a brooch for the Duchess of Windsor with a panther reclining on top of a huge emerald.
A year later, the Duchess commissioned a panther brooch with the cat perched upon a sapphire cabochon of 152.35 carats, considered one of the master creations of long-time Cartier design director Jeanne Toussaint. Toussaint herself became known as “La Panthère,” not just because of her frequent use of the panther motif, but because of her fearless style and formidable personality. Whenever the panther appears in the Cartier collection, it is embellished. So it continues in recent years, with the increased interest in metiers d’art and the opening of Cartier’s new Maison de Metiers d’Arts in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.
For the past several years, Cartier has debuted four or five exceptional pieces at SIHH in Geneva, with sculpted panthers embellished with diamonds, gemstones, enameling or marquetry, with onyx or black lacquer used to depict the spots. Okay, technically a panther does not have spots – it’s all black – but Cartier’s panther is representative of all wild cats, including leopards.
The Cartier Panthères et Colibri watch with on-demand power reserve, makes a big show of the power reserve indicator. At the press of a button, a panther cub protrudes from the mother panther’s stomach (my colleagues dubbed it “the kangaroo panther”). Symbolically, the baby is chasing the gold hummingbird on the dial, which “flies” to a point on its arc that indicates the remaining power reserve. This is surely the most creative and poetic power reserve indicator ever made. There are several patents attached to the function. The sculpted Panther is set with 270 diamonds with spots in black lacquer and an emerald eye. The 42.75mm case is set with 314 diamonds and the dial is set with 11 diamonds on a black background. The black alligator strap has a double adjustable folding clasp in 18k white gold set with 43 diamonds. The Cartier Panthères et Colibri contains the manual-wound Caliber 9915 MC, with a three-day power reserve.
The Cartier Panthère Mysterieuse embodies two signature Cartier elements – the panther and the mystery movement, in which the hands are suspended between two sapphire crystals, driven by a movement that is out of sight, so the hands seem to be floating in the air. The panther on this watch is perched around the circumference of the bezel and appears to be stalking the dial. She is sculpted in 18k gold and set with 533 diamonds. Two pear-shaped emeralds form the eyes, and the spots are black lacquer. The 40mm case is set with eight diamonds, the crown is set with 37 diamonds, and the buckle on the black alligator strap is set with 43 diamonds – all round brilliant-cut. The case is 8.50mm thick. The Cartier Panthère Mysterieuse watch contains the manual-wound Caliber 9981 MC, with 158 components. It operates at 4Hz, with a power reserve of 48 hours. It is also available on a gem-set bracelet.
The Ballon Bleu de Cartier Granulation is a limited edition of 30 pieces, which makes sense when you consider the amount of work that goes into it. Each one takes a month to create, and there are only two people at Cartier who have the skills to do it, so they can’t even make 30 in a year. It combines two skills: enameling and the ancient art of granulation, traditionally done with gold balls. In this case, enamel balls are individually attached to the dial to form the composition, a panther’s head. Because the dials are made by hand, each one is slightly different. The 42mm case is 18k gold and set with 124 diamonds. The crown is set with a sapphire cabochon. The 18k gold buckle is set with 43 diamonds. The Ballon Bleu de Cartier Granulation contains the automatic Caliber 049 MC, and has a dark blue strap to match the dial’s background.
The Cartier Panthère Mysterieuse Pendant watch is a unique piece that falls into the category of high jewelry. It is made of white gold, with an agate, onyx, and obsidian dial and more than 17 carats of diamonds altogether. The Cartier Panthère Mysterieuse Pendant contains the manual-wound Caliber 9981 MC, a mysterieuse movement with hands moving between sapphire crystals. The 18k white gold case and chain are set with 1,256 brilliant-cut diamonds totaling 16.25 carats of diamonds. There are five triangular-shaped diamonds totaling 1.25 carats, one baguette-cut diamond of 0.05 carat. The eyes are set with pear-shaped emeralds.