The complete renovation of the Geneva boutique might have been a mere pretext – although it does in itself represent an impressive accomplishment, since the surface area of the Maison Cartier has expanded from 169 square metres to almost 1,000 metres, of which 700 dedicated exclusively to sales! That makes it the largest Cartier boutique in Europe, as well as the best stocked, since almost all the timepieces produced by the Manufacture can be found at this address. Nonetheless, its greatest wealth is invisible to the public at large.
Fake walls and true treasures
Anyone fortunate enough to be granted a glimpse of this horological haven must go up a floor and allow themselves to be guided to a set of private lounges – where an impressive security device reveals the improbable sight of a fake sliding wall giving access to the inner sanctum, the Cartier restoration workshop.
The stage-setting itself speaks volumes, for this area to which only a privileged few enjoy access harbours the historical heart of Cartier watchmaking. The patrimonial wealth concentrated there represents the exact opposite of the universe created for this purpose: a single, sparsely furnished less than 30 square-metre room. On the left, a wide picture window looking out onto Lake Léman; on the right, a discreet storage cupboard; and in the centre, two watchmakers seated at two facing workbenches. You could hear a pin drop in this hidden corner of the Cartier universe that is pervaded by a resolutely studious atmosphere.
On the workbenches sit two models, one for each watchmaker. Few tools and no apparatus are in sight to lend a modern touch to the scene: everything is done by hand here. A mere glance at one of the two timepieces gives a pretty clear idea of the issues at stake here: an imposing Cartier Grand Complication Replica Watches UK from the 1920s (complete with perpetual calendar, split-second chronograph and minute repeater). Only two of them are known to exist worldwide…
“We offer all our customers a lifetime guarantee of repair for any Cartier models. Failure is not an option: anything entering the Tradition department must emerge from it in full working order”, says Bernhard A. Berger, Director of Cartier Tradition.
The pressure on the two watchmakers is thus palpable. Cartier is constantly enriching its heritage with models that the House buys up at auction, or more rarely from individuals.
These timepieces are often known but sparingly documented. A lengthy analytical process serves to determine their origin in order to restore them to their original condition. Any personal enhancements, modifications or interpretations are strictly forbidden.
“Louis Cartier and Edmond LeCoultre were close friends”, explains Bernhard A. Berger, Director of Cartier Tradition. “In actual fact, almost all our historical movements stem from LeCoultre, which gives us a solid basis on which to undertake our restorations”.
To enable them to complete their daunting task, the two watchmakers have been given the technical possibility of identically reproducing any component. “It often proves necessary”, one of them points out. “Before the 1950s, no models were water-resistant. Corrosion has often significantly and sometimes irremediably damaged certain parts of the movements. We sometimes even have to remake certain tools that no longer exist!”
The result must necessarily be perfect. Some rare models that enter the restoration department will remain within the House, joining its heritage collection that has been steadily built up since 1983. Others will be put up for sale. Around 300 collector’s pieces thus restored are judiciously spread between ten Cartier boutiques worldwide.