Last month, I headed to the London Design Museum for the preview party preceding the opening of the Cartier in Motion exhibition. Curated by the architect Lord Norman Foster and the museum’s director, Dejan Sudjic, the exhibition tells the story of Cartier watchmaking and its evolution through the years, focusing in particular on the invention of the modern wristwatch. An almost ordinary, if not old-fashioned object nowadays, the wristwatch sparked a revolution: suddenly, everyone could instantly tell what the time was just by looking at their wrists, helping the wearer make the most of the day.
It is no coincidence then that the wristwatch was born at the turn of the 20th century, an exciting period that saw upheavals in architecture, travel and lifestyle habits that, from the glamorous jet, slowly trickled down to the rest of the population. It is no exaggeration to say that this historical period forever changed the lifestyles of million of people, a feat made possible by the abundance of pioneers, such as Gustave Eiffel and Alberto Santos-Dumont, that lived through it. The relationships these pioneers enjoyed with Louis Cartier, the founder’s grandson who was responsible for establishing the brand’s name worldwide, is one of the most fascinating parts of the exhibition.
Other themes explored by the exhibition include the evolution of Paris and its influence on Cartier shapes, the impeccable craftsmanship that is at the heart of everything that Cartier creates, and the lifestyle changes that occurred during these times. My favourite pieces on display included the mystery clocks and necessaires for motorcyclists, the watchmaker’s workbench and tools used to create the stunning pieces on display, the sophisticated everyday objects designed especially for the needs and tastes of the wealthy and famous and the designs for cars, boats and planes penned by Louis Cartier himself.
But it was the wristwatch collection that stole the show for me: it was fascinating to see the evolution of iconic pieces, such as the Tank, the wristwatch that Cartier designed after seeing a First World War Renault tank and that has since been worn by the most glamorous women in the world, including the late Princess Diana and, more recently, the former first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. Extracts from a scrapbook that was found in the Cartier Archives complement the exhibition, providing valuable insights on the researching and designing process employed the French jewellery house.
It was an absolute honour to witness a glimpse of this beautiful exhibition before it opened. The launch party, which was attended by the likes of Lady Kitty Spencer, Jim Chapman and Cyrille Vigneron, the President of CEO of Cartier Internation, was a complete success – everyone was absolutely mesmerized by the history of this ancient house and everything it created throughout the centuries.
Cartier In Motion runs until 28 July 2017 at the Design Museum in London, from 10 am to 6 pm. Admission is free.