It’s About Time a Woman Ruled the Realm of Fine Watchmaking

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Cartier Marie Laure Cerede
Photo: Courtesy of Cartier

When Marie-Laure Cérède joined Cartier 14 years ago, she was one of the few women working in her field. And as the current Creative Director of Watchmaking for Cartier, she still is. As a powerhouse who stands at the top of the luxury-timepiece realm, Cérède’s passion is as genuine as it gets – it radiates off her in palpable waves as she speaks lovingly about and handles every single watch that the brand is offering for 2019.

“It was intimidating at first since Cartier’s legacy is huge,” Cérède shared in an exclusive interview with Savoir Flair. “But, if you have your love and work ethic, it doesn’t feel like work. My challenge is to perfectly know the Cartier legacy. I am always interested to know what happened in the past – to know it by heart – but to also break free from the weight of the past and try something new.”

It is a delicate balancing act that few are capable of achieving so seamlessly. Though she spends profound hours embedding herself in the archives, she admits they are so immense that it’s impossible to know everything. That elusive aspect excites her. “It means there is always a chance to learn something new. I want to be creating the classics of tomorrow. Far from now, people will also look back on this period as part of the Cartier legacy.” She is speaking, of course, of her period as the Creative Director of one of Cartier’s most lucrative and enticing categories.

Not only has she been steadily reviving classics like the ‘Santos’ line, but she has also made remarkable achievements in both technical engineering and aesthetics with her experimental ‘Panthère’ collections. The latter are so stunning that they’re often the entry point for attracting new and younger clients who might never have paid attention before. Turning heads in this industry is tough to do, but Cérède excels at the element of surprise.

One thing she has noticed during her tenure is that women are finally taking an interest in fine watchmaking – not only that, but they are becoming experts, collectors, and connoisseurs. Getting to create for a very discerning audience of women thrills Cérède, and she is breaking ground every year with new offerings that astonish and delight. Few are granted this incredible privilege, but it was Cérède herself who recently took us, piece by piece, through all of Cartier’s new timepiece offerings. Below is her expert, in-depth perspective on what each new style has to offer. Listen in.

Cartier 'Libre' Collection

“For me, ‘Libre’ is all about freedom. With this collection, we can design anything we want, and I took that idea to heart. This year, we focused on adding color to the collection, which has mostly been in black and white before. The idea behind this is like the colorization of a black-and-white movie. We now want to see in color because it enhances the perspectives, the lines, the shape. It also adds intensity to emotion, which is very Cartier.

With the Cartier ‘Libre Tank Chinoise Red’ watch, you will notice that we have updated the square of the case with a new rectangle shape. The case comes bordered by two lines of rubies, is calibrated, and is built up by diamonds, with two lines of diamonds along the edge.

Meanwhile, the Cartier ‘Libre Diagonale’ watch is reminiscent of the Art Deco era, and sees an interplay of black and red geometry. The ‘Diagonale’ watch offers a creative experience. We wanted to pay tribute to our classics, so it looks like it is straight from the archives, but it’s not. Still, it is minimalist and contemporary. I think black and red enhances the lines and perspectives, while the play between color and diamonds reveals the multilevel architecture of the case.”

Cartier 'Baignoire' Collection

“The second model we introduced in the ‘Libre’ line is the ‘Allongée Baignoire Black’ watch, which comes in yellow gold touched with black spinels, yellow sapphires, and diamonds. The other version is in celadon and set with emeralds. For this, we didn’t want to change the roundness or sensuality of the ‘Baignoire’ style because it expresses the femininity of Cartier. We didn’t want to alter the original design, so we took the case as a starting point for creation, and we placed every little stone in it as you would a pincushion.

That was the idea; we just ‘pin’ the precious stones to it. It is very easy, but very extravagant too. We wanted to really blend the curve of the case, and we always want to show a very light and subtle version – not too decorative, just enhancing the original design. What I love about these pieces is this Clous [de Paris] design that perfectly follows the shape of the bezel, adding intensity to the original look. We wanted to be ambitious, to create a new signature for the brand and make a strong creative statement. It adds intensity to the original one. It’s very assertive, but sensual. It took a long time to bring it together – three months to create it, three months to draw it, and then eight months to mock it up.”

Cartier 'Panthère' Collection

“With the ‘La Panthère de Cartier Manchette’ watch, I wanted to emphasize the bracelet aspect by turning it into a cuff. I wanted the face to be off-center, quasi-melted into the bracelet to give it smoothness. What I love here is the modern creative look of the pixelation that is achieved by black lacquer. If you look at the design flat, you can understand how it is made – it creates a graph. It took us 20 drawings to find the right look.

Another work we did took our muse, the panther, and created a difficult exercise from it. We wanted to tell a story with the ‘Ronde Louis Cartier Regard de Panthère’ watch. For the first time ever, we added super minerals to the enamel, creating a luminescent pigment. This means that it is superb and elegant during the day, but at night, the eyes of the panther glow.

I had a difficult time with our famous ‘Révélation d’une Panthère’ watch as well. I do not like to simply do line extensions – one in green, one in red, one in black, for instance, I like to do something totally new and unexpected within the outline of the established design. So, last year, we used tiny cascading gold beads that fell from the top of the watch to the bottom by gliding through a special liquid. The effect is amazing. This year, however, we decided to update it by trading the gold beads for diamond beads. Gold beads are uniform in shape and size, but diamonds are not, which made the gliding effect much more difficult to achieve. But we did it. There are 650 diamonds in this watch.”

Cartier 'Santos' Collection

“One of our biggest focuses at SIHH is the ‘Santos’ style. It might be masculine, but I think it looks good on a feminine wrist. It’s very assertive. In a way, it’s gender-neutral. It’s not too masculine nor too feminine, it’s right in the middle. It’s a generous size, but still lightweight. This year, we are looking at new generations, new ‘Santos’ styles, and so our creative process was to address the young generation – not the father, but the son. Not the mother, but the daughter. That’s because the younger generation is starting to take interest in Cartier.

So, I brought young designers to my studio to help relaunch the new ‘Santos’ collection. Now you see it in many different sizes, and you can pick what suits you. As one of our most successful watches, it made sense to put so much attention on it this year, to make it available in a much bigger range of options. The skeleton style is also part of the collection. It is elegant and monochrome during the day, but there is a luminescent pigment injected into the bridge of the movement that makes it more noticeable at night. I love skeleton watches because exposing the function inside shows what makes the watch interesting. ”

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