Another long post warning!
There are some fairly strong views regarding what qualifies as a “WIS” brand amongst the various watch houses out there. Some very, very good watches seem to be regularly disparaged and many have suffered the ignominy of being labelled a “fashion brand” by those in the know. I’ve seen this said of Cartier many times, when in fact nothing could be farther from the truth.
Founded in Paris, France in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier, the company actually remained under family control until 1964 and has been responsible for some iconic designs over the decades; think Panthère, Santos, Pasha and (of course) Tank and you begin to get the picture. In fact, it was way back in 1904 that the company took its first serious steps into the world of high-end watchmaking. Alberto-Santos Dumont complained that pocket watches were not reliable or practical (especially when travelling) and his close friend Louis Cartier took up the challenge of crafting a more reliable alternative. The Santos wristwatch was manufactured as a result, and believe it or not this is widely regarded as being the first men’s wristwatch to be produced. In 1907, Edmond Jaeger and Cartier signed a deal that saw Jaeger create the movements for all Cartier watches and the company established outlets for sales in Paris, London, New York, and St Petersburg. Then, in 1917, the Tank was first introduced; all three of these models, including the Tank range which was designed on the war machine of the same name, are still in production today although they’ve obviously been updated and improved since then.
Around the time that JLC were introducing the Reverso to the market (that is, the start of the 1930’s), Cartier first released the Tank Basculante. It was similar to the Reverso in that it had a mechanism built into the case to enable the watch face to be turned; unlike the Reverso, however, it was meant not for protection but instead for the watch to be angled on a bedside table so as still to be visible in bed. It was, purely and simply, a traveller’s watch. (In fact, I think I’m right in saying that Cartier’s design – dating back to 1926 – was the first of such reversible or tipping watches; there was competition in the shape of JLC and Universal Geneve, but both were beaten to the punch.)
In it’s modern guise – which in any event is near identical to the original vintage pieces – the Basculante is quite simply a beautiful example of form and design. Featuring Cartier’s trademark guilloche dial with distorted Roman numerals and central minute track, it is simplicity itself; two hands, in the main no date and unmistakeable classic Cartier style. The case itself is engineering perfection, comprising three parts that are visually separated by satin brushed and polished finishes. At the top of the dial sits the crown, and above the crown a blue cabochon – another Cartier design trademark, matching the blued steel of the hands.
The case itself (at least in respect of the larger sized variant – there are smaller models too) measures 38mm by 25.5mm, a very wearable size for a man and relatively large in terms of a rectangular dress watch. The watch housing itself is mounted in a frame, which is then hinged at the lower end to the third piece of the case, the back. Within its frame, the watch case can pivot for reversing or angling. Amazingly, the complete case assembly is just 6mm thick.
To demonstrate that the Basculante is not simply a “fashion watch”, it contains a first-grade movement – branded by Cartier as their calibre 060 but actually made for them by Frederic Piguet (used by the likes of Breguet and Blancpain). At just 6.5 lignes (15.2 millimetres) and [I]2.1 millimetres thick[/I], the calibre 6.10 beats at 21,600 vph and uses 21 jewels. In fact, and in the words of Walt Odets, “it’s a much finer, much more sophisticated piece of work than Jaeger LeCoultre’s basic Reverso movement, the calibre 846.” For anyone interested Walt’s article can be read here, and part two contains some fantastic shots of the beautifully decorated movement.
Why did I buy the Basculante, I hear you ask? Well, my love of JLC is certainly no secret, and at some time or another a Reverso was the inevitable missing link to be added to the two that I have. However, when I stumbled across this Basculante (which dates to 2002, although it had a full service at Cartier in October of this year) it made me think, and I proceeded to do a little bit of research which only made me like it more. In fact, I think it’s a seriously beautiful watch, housing a seriously beautiful movement.
It’s also quite refreshing to go for something a little less mainstream than the norm. Cartier is a misunderstood brand in my opinion, and is worthy of more recognition than it receives. Yes, it’s a name associated with fashion and jewellery but it also has it’s own place in horological history and has a richer heritage than many that are lauded as being WIS-acceptable. In fact, some would say that the Basculante is the real WIS model within the Cartier range, with an undoubted heritage and history behind it.