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Photos: Cartier

In February 2023, LVMH mogul Bernard Arnault made international headlines when he purportedly intended to acquire Richemont Group. While Richemont Group owns several highly sought-after watch brands like A.Lange & Söhne and Vacheron Constantin, Arnault, one of the richest men on earth, was rumoured to be eyeing its top money-spinner — Cartier. 

If this takeover had happened, although it eventually didn’t, some bookmakers predicted that Arnault would double down on Cartier, Richemont’s golden goose, which has soared in recent years to become one of the few watch brands that gross over a billion dollars per annum.

Still, I wouldn’t put it past Arnault to remain closely monitoring Cartier, the same way some of us might find it difficult to take our eyes off a Cartier watch or bracelet if we spot it in a room. Most of us instantly recognise their unmistakable shapes and are reeled in by their elegance. Like Arnault, many of us fell in love with Cartier and its watches, and I think I may know why. 

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An early blueprint of the Cartier Crash. (Photo: Cartier)

Shaping history

Although Cartier’s jewellery propelled Cartier to become a vaunted global brand, the maison’s watches have gradually risen to become a second, rock-solid pillar of the business.

While I won’t downplay the contributions of past Cartier CEOs like Alain Dominique Perrin (who was responsible for the two-toned Santos with gold screws, which is still highly valued today), the fact is that Cartier leapfrogged Omega in 2022 to be ranked number two highest-grossing watch brand — according to an in-depth Swiss watch industry report that’s co-authored by Oliver R. Muller of LuxeConsult and published annually by Morgan Stanley — under the stewardship of current CEO Cyrille Vigneron. 

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The 2023 New Bond Street exclusive version of the Cartier Crash. (Photo: Cartier)

When Vigneron took over as its CEO in 2016, he made strategic moves to shine the spotlight on trademark Cartier designs, highlighting the patrimony and elegance of each shape.

As a result of Vigneron’s extensive and sophisticated marketing campaigns, many of us can recognise Cartier watch shapes from afar, such as the Ballon, Pasha, Pebble, Santos, Tank, and the list goes on. For the aficionado and the casual fan alike, recognisability, and association with prestige are key to cementing brand equity for years to come. 

Furthermore, it bears repeating that Cartier has achieved something that few brands have ever achieved: The brand is universally desired across all age groups, from baby boomers to Gen Z millennials. It does this by offering a wide range of price points and engaging eminent celebrities, just like the Cartier of old was synonymous with royalty, heads of state, and Hollywood superstars. 

An exponential trajectory

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Cartier CEO Cyrille Vigneron. (Photo: Cartier)

Retrospectively, however, it’s a miracle that Cartier is still alive, let alone thriving as an industry leader, having survived World Wars, ownership changes, drastic changes in fashion trends, and the quartz crisis.

But thanks to its well-preserved history, Cartier today can leverage its heritage and place emphasis on its distinctive DNA. Festivities and relaunches help Cartier achieve high brand awareness and recall — the Tank’s 100th anniversary in 2017, the Cintrée’s 100th anniversary in 2021, and the Pebble-shaped watch’s 50th anniversary in 2022 come to mind.

Besides causing quite a stir every time it relaunches a classic icon, Cartier’s new novelties also enjoy warm receptions, thanks to the brand’s tireless attention to and relentless pursuit of perfect proportions. 

Furthermore, unlike its contemporaries in top-tier luxury, Cartier ensures that the models it advertises are actually readily available to consumers. Shunting the sales tactic of creating scarcity has, in fact, won great favour among watch collectors.

Foreseeable speed bumps ahead

And although Vigneron has said that Cartier does not aspire to usurp global frontrunner Rolex, Cartier is still subject to many other impending challenges. Now more than ever, jewellery brands are asked to evidence the ethical and eco-friendly sourcing of their precious materials, like gold and diamonds. This has led Cartier to maintain high transparency when it comes to sourcing and carbon neutrality.

Another challenge: counterfeits. While the proliferation of watchmaking knowledge has nurtured a borderless global hotbed for independent brands, it has also produced many high-level counterfeit watchmakers, which presents a long-term challenge for an in-demand brand like Cartier.

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The 100th Anniversary Tank Cintrée. (Photo: Cartier)

Changing consumer tastes is another inevitability that Cartier will have to address when the time comes. While collectors might view Cartier watches as the bees’ knees right now, the watch industry has proven that a consumer trend can do a 180-degree turn within five to 10 years. 

For example, the 40-plus-millimetre watches popular in the 2010s are given the cold shoulder now, and where women more commonly wore it in the past, men are now increasingly seen to covet jewellery watches too.

Still, it’s impossible to predict what the next two years will bring for any watch brand much less Cartier. Now that the global waves created by the crypto boom and COVID lockdown-motivated spending have completely died down, 2024 and 2025 are looking to be quieter years, not just for Cartier but for the luxury industry in general. 

Geopolitical tensions in regions like the Middle East and Ukraine and between the United States and China have impacted not just tariffs but supply chains and disposable incomes. In our more connected world with more socially aware consumers, such international events have more influence on consumers’ inclinations towards specific brands and their brand values, which is a new reality that brands like Cartier have to navigate delicately.

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The desirable Cartier Pebble watch, first unveiled by Cartier London in 1972 and re-released in 2022. (Photo: Cartier)

However, when it comes to the universal hurdle that is digital transformation, Cartier has its finger on the pulse of modern e-commerce. Cartier’s online retail presence is futuristic and alluring. If you visit Cartier’s online platforms, the virtual experience of this luxury brand is unassailable. 

And even though authorities have not been able to quash astronomical crime rates in Cartier strongholds like London and Paris — luxury consumers face a high likelihood of being robbed in these cities — Cartier’s gratifying virtual marketing and retail experiences have kept its watches and jewellery selling like hotcakes around the world.

Regardless of what the future holds, Vigneron and his band of merry men are not known to rest on their laurels, and we are confident that the chief (and his successor, who will be announced around 2025) will be able to tackle new challenges as they present themselves astutely. We’ll keep our eyes peeled.