hen a watchmaker as renowned as Cartier decides to improve upon the reliability of the automatic movements used in its wristwatches, it often ends up setting a new standard. Such is the case with the Caliber 1904 MC, Cartier's first in-house automatic movement.
Released in 2010, the mechanism debuted in the exquisite Calibre de Cartier and now fulfills the all-important position of the base movement within the Cartier catalogue of mechanical movements.
Named in homage to the birth of watchmaking at the brand—it was in 1904 that Louis Cartier created one of the first ever wristwatches for aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont—the movement was created by Carole Forestier-Kasapi, who leads the design and manufacturing of Cartier's in-house movements, a role she has held since 2005.
In an industry populated mostly by men, she is a shining example of female ingenuity, and it shows in both the 1904 MC and the Calibre de Cartier.
"It is an extraordinary adventure to begin with a blank sheet of paper and write the first pages of a novel within such a beautiful company as ours," Forestier-Kasapi discloses. "[I experienced] real emotion in laying the first stone in the catalogue of movements at Cartier."
Forestier-Kasapi, who joined Cartier in 1999, leads a specialized team of more than twenty technicians representing all stages of movement creation—design, development, industrialization, prototyping, reliability and quality control—in the 1,000-man-strong Cartier factory located in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
The robust and aesthetic Caliber 1904 MC owes its reliable capabilities to the diligent research performed by Forestier-Kasapi and her team, who spent a full three years developing and perfecting it.
"We reflected on infinitesimal details in terms of what we could win in performance, time, and eventual cost of manufacturing, finishing, pre-assembly and assembly of the movement," she says.
"We had the chance to represent something new in the movement and to develop our products without using accepted ideas, questioning everything."
Measuring 25.6 mm by 4 mm, this grouping of 186 components was designed with chronometric stability in mind. Double spring barrels ensure long–term consistency for the mainspring. Further exemplifying its accuracy, the Caliber 1904 MC contains a stop–seconds function, which allows the wearer to set the time to the second, a feature that not all mechanical watches offer.
As much as anything, the 1904 MC reflects a new way of thinking about automatic winding. Most likely invented in 1770 by Abraham–Louis Perrelet, automatic winding uses a component called the rotor to take over the manual winding usually performed by fingers and the watch's crown. The rotor, a weighted element that swings freely upon ball bearings—in the case of the Calibre de Cartier, ceramic ball bearings for guaranteed longevity—takes over the function of crown winding. The kinetic motion of the wearer's arm continuously winds the movement, ensuring that the wearer never has to think about winding.
This is the most comfortable way to wear a mechanical watch, and the Calibre de Cartier remains wound for a full 48 hours without the input of additional kinetic energy. Additionally, Cartier does not use the traditional reverser in its automatic movement, having replaced this with a pawl system that results in faster and easier winding.
"This system has the great advantage of not including little parts—like the reverser does—which are delicate and fragile," Forestier-Kasapi explains.
The first Cartier wristwatch powered by the unique new automatic movement is the Calibre de Cartier, instantly recognizable as a product of the house of Cartier. The first thing that strikes the observer is the reinterpretation of the Roman numeral XII in subtle relief that graces many watch dials created by this brand.
Here, it is extra-large and resolutely modern, projecting a robust structure and masculine elegance. A date window is found at the three o'clock position while the subdial at six o'clock shows the passing seconds.
Housed in stainless steel, rose gold, or a mixture of the two for a two-tone look, the Calibre de Cartier is a pleasure to wear, thanks to its classically masculine size, four ergonomically curved lugs, and the polished, satin–brushed protection surrounding the crown, which not only enhances comfort but protects the crown and its sapphire cabochon from unnecessary duress.
The beautifully finished movement is visible through the transparent sapphire crystal case back of the 42 mm case. The rotor and visible bridges are decorated with Côtes de Genève and the base plate displays the overlapping circles applied using a wooden peg and diamond paste known as perlage.
"Obviously, our haute horlogerie collection will continue to receive new modular complications on the base of the 1904 MC. It is truly our reference caliber–outfitted with the reliability, durability and ideal chronometry to receive complications."
Going forward, Caliber 1904 MC will be Cartier's base for added modular complications to create other, much more complicated movements such as the Calibre de Cartier Multiple Time Zone and Perpetual Calendar models, which have already been released.
Given all that she has accomplished, Forestier-Kasapi is both modest and unassuming. Still, she is pleased with the creation she and her team have worked so hard to call to life.
"Caliber 1904 MC has proven to all that our company truly has strong ambitions in terms of movements and we have the means and the quality to be the best at those ambitions. My satisfaction is in seeing that today Caliber 1904 MC has the lowest rate of return of all Cartier movements. And at this moment in time, as a designer of movements, I recognize this as a real success."