If Gérald Genta is the Phil Spector of watch design, then Cartier is the Berry Gordy, having produced some of the 20th century’s greatest hits: the Tank, the Santos, the Ballon Bleu. The past few years have seen Cartier paying homage to its most iconic watches—2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the ever-popular Tank and the reintroduction of the Panthére, born of the 1980’s glitzy excesses. This year, the spotlight turns to the Baignoire, a style that epitomizes the house’s penchant for pieces with sleek, geometric lines.
Named for its distinct oval dial (the name translates to “bathtub” en français), the Baignoire was designed by Louis Cartier in 1906, though it truly rose to popularity in the 1960s after being donned by screen sirens Catherine Deneuve and Romy Schneider. With its elegant curves and delicate proportions, the Baignoire is pure feminine grace.
But the latest batch of Baignoires, debuted at Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie 2018, leave all of that demure heritage in the dust. The new collection, called Cartier Libre, takes the classic oval form and turns up the volume, distorting and reimagining the shape in four limited-edition styles: These are all about big, bold extravagance, pushing the Baignoire’s silhouette to extremes.
The Baignoire Débordante, which translates roughly to “overflowing bathtub,” features an elongated black dial surrounded by white gold rays dripping with diamonds and black spinels. The Baignoire Infinie uses a thick cuff bracelet as the base for a microdial surrounded by rings of sunburst marquetry, inlaid with a mix of diamond baguettes, black spinels, and white-and-gray mother-of-pearl.
The Baignoire Etoilée turns the oval horizontally, with a quilted dial suspended from a fluid bracelet of cascading white diamonds that fade into black spinels. The Baignoire Interdite also features a horizontal dial, but oversize and obscured by glossy black Roman numerals that haphazardly wrap around the face and diamond-studded bezel like very luxurious bondage.
Each of the styles will be produced in numbered editions of between 15 and 50 pieces, making them inherently collectible. But the appeal of Cartier Libre goes beyond mere exclusivity. Not only are these four designs imaginative displays of the brand’s decorative savoir faire, they are evidence of what is surely a rare occurrence: Cartier throwing orthodoxy out the window and reveling in its wild side.