As Patek Philippe has shown, themed brand exhibitions are a great way of showcasing the history and values of a traditional watch brand to the general public. While Patek Philippe’s travelling exhibition (which will be on show this summer in New York) is managed entirely by the brand itself, the new exhibition entitled “Cartier in Motion” at London’s Design Museum takes an entirely different approach. After the museum acquired Cartier Tank and Cartier Santos wristwatches for its permanent collection, Museum Director Deyan Sudjic approached Cartier with a view to commissioning none other than star architect Sir Norman Foster to curate an exhibition on design at Cartier.
Sir Norman Foster
The result is an exhibition that has been conceived, designed and produced by Sir Norman Foster and Foster and Partners right down to the smallest detail, from the mood board by Sir Norman (which was so clearly structured that it features in the exhibition and has even been used as the flyer for the exhibition) to the individual videos in the exhibition, which have all been filmed by a Foster & Partners in-house video crew. A total of 170 exhibits are on display, sourced primarily from the Cartier Collection and complemented by loans from the Monaco Princely Palace collection, the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace at Le Bourget airport and the Rockefeller Center.
The exhibition starts with a look at early 20th Century Parisian architecture, as Baron Hausmann was designing a model of symmetry for Napoleon III and the city was dominated by the now iconic Eiffel Tower. As far as art was concerned, the world was in the midst of the Art Nouveau period, yet the influence of Hausmann’s symmetry and geometric shapes is evident in Cartier’s designs of the period, clearly moving away from the ostentation of Art Nouveau.
In the early 20th Century, Paris was also the cradle of aeronautics and the Cartier brothers (Louis and Pierre) were both members of the Aéro-Club de France, the equivalent of a turn-of-the-century start-up incubator rather than a mere club for aviation enthusiasts. Its members came from the worlds of science, industry and sport. Just one year after the Wright brothers made the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft in 1903, Louis Cartier made his first wristwatch for his aviator friend Alberto Santos-Dumont. Over a century later, this watch is still in the brand’s current collection.
The Santos watch was notable for its square case shape at a time when the majority of watches were still round. In the following years Cartier made a name for itself as a specialst in shaped watches, launching the Tonneau in 1906, the Tortue in 1912 and the Tank in 1917, all characterised by the same purity of design. Cigarette cases, letter openers and desk sets attest to Cartier’s desire to cater for the international traveller in the inter-war years before continuing its experimentation with design shapes from the 1950s onwards, which saw the birth of the Oval (1958), Crash (1967), Maxi Oval (1969), Panthère de Cartier (1983) and, more recently, the Drive de Cartier (2015).
The exhibition is being held at from 25th May until 28th July at the Design Museum, 224-238 Kensington High Street, London W8 6AG. It is open daily from 10am until 6pm with late opening until 8pm on the first Friday of every month.
For more information: designmuseum.org.