Cartier has, for well over 100 years, been a watchmaking powerhouse. The brand’s history and heritage are an integral part of watchmaking writ large, and its catalog has more icons and classics than almost any other brand. For a long period, though, Cartier was perhaps defined as much by its distinctive designs as it was by any other watchmaking bona fide. This was especially true when Cartier introduced Collection Privée Cartier Paris line, but it was that line that heralded the beginning of Cartier’s return to form as a maker of haute horlogerie timepieces. One such model from the CPCP line is the exceptional Cartier Tortue Monopoussoir Chronograph W1525851, which has not only a beautiful design, but all of the pedigree that an eager watch lover could hope for.
In the years preceding the 1998 release of the Cartier Tortue Monopoussoir, Cartier, like all brands, was clawing its way out of the quartz crisis. Unlike many brands that had fallen victim to quartz, Cartier had been able to stabilize itself, not just by being a high-end jeweler, but by embracing quartz for its watches (the entire Must line was born of this approach). As more and more watchmaking brands demonstrated the renewed viability of luxury mechanical timepieces, the time came when Cartier saw the need to commit in earnest and revisit its roots. The vehicle with which they sought to achieve this was the Collection Privée Cartier Paris (CPCP), a portfolio of the company’s most iconic watches drawn from its archives.
The Tortue was the third watch model Cartier offered, released in 1912, with a monopoussoir version released in 1928. Not quite as famous as the Tank, Santos, or Crash (all of which received the CPCP treatment), the Tortue Monopoussoir nevertheless brings its own twist to the collection. As Cartier still lacked the in-house watchmaking acumen to develop the movements for the CPCP collection, they looked outside to a small movement manufacturer called THA Èbauche. Where it gets interesting is that this was no ordinary manufacturer: THA Èbauche was the brainchild of three of today’s greatest watchmakers, F.P. Journe, Vianney Halter, and Denis Flageollet (the founder of DeBethune). All at points before their careers took off, it was actually the trio who suggested the Tortue Monopoussoir as a CPCP model (to hear Flageollet tell it, Cartier was a bit wanting for knowledge of its own archival pieces).
The 18k white gold case of the Tortue is, as you may have guessed, inspired by the form of a tortoise—a large rounded body with stubby legs. Translated to watch language, that’s a tonneau case with short lugs. At 35mm wide, 43mm long, and just 10mm thick, the Tortue case is small without being dainty; it’ll be subtle but present on most wrists. The entirety of the case features a high polish, with softer edges between the various facets. At 3 o’clock, the octagonal crown is fitted with the brand’s hallmark sapphire spinel and operates the chronograph with successive pushes. The reverse of the watch features a display caseback—and thank goodness for that. The periphery features expected dial text, including the number of the watch—the CPCP Tortue Monopoussoir is estimated to have had a run of no more than 2000 pieces. The watch sits on a blue leather strap with an 18k white gold deployant buckle in Cartier’s classic style.
Under the curved sapphire—not domed, as the crystal follows the slope of the bezel—sits a beautiful silver guilloché dial. The dial features classic blued Breguet hands instead of Cartier’s more common sword hands. However, there are two elements that are hallmarks of the CPCP line: the rose guilloché pattern, and the “Cartier Paris” text on the lower half. All the printing on the dial is blue, including the tracks on the sunken radial subdials, displaying the 30-minute chronograph counter and the running seconds. The chapter ring is punctuated at the hours with ‘T’ markers, while applied white gold markers sit just inside, excepting for the oversized roman “XII.” Of note, this is the second iteration of the CPCP Tortue Monopoussoir: the first was released at almost the same time, but featured a solid gold case with a more traditional dial design, closely mimicking the 1928 original.
The hand-wound Cartier caliber 045MC is the handiwork of the three brilliant minds at THA Èbauche—Halter, Journe, and Flageolett. The 157-component movement features stunning hand-finishing on every component, including anglage, perlage, and brushing. Most notably, the Cartier “double C” motif is repeated throughout the bridges, another signature of the CPCP line. The trio took a unique approach to the chronograph’s actuation: using a clutch system and a double swivel pin, the jolt common with chronograph seconds hands is avoided, ensuring a smooth start and sweep around the dial. The 045MC features 22 jewels, beats at 21,600 vbh, and has a power reserve of 40 hours (34 hours with the chronograph active). In fact, the movement is such an achievement that Denis Flageollet used it for one of De Bethune’s earliest watches, the DB8 monopusher. Aside from that appearance, the 045MC has been confined Cartier’s Tank and Tortue monopushers.
Versus the Competition
Turtle-shaped cases aren’t new, and Cartier isn’t the only brand to have done them. Take the Patek Philippe Gondolo 5030P. The case is almost identical to the Cartier Tortue, but while the 5030P is offered in platinum, it’s dial doesn’t have nearly as much going on. Instead it offers an inky black surface set with diamond hour markers. One advantage it does have? Despite being two millimeters thinner, the Gondolo is fitted with an automatic movement.
While the Tortue Monopoussoir may have the unique appeal of the THA Èbauche names, there are other models well worth a look in Cartier’s modern Privee Collection lineup. The Cartier Tank Asymetrique features a case even more uncommon than the Tortue and finds its roots in an original 1936 model. This specific example is limited to 100 pieces and like all Asymetrique models, features a skewed case and rotated dial. The sunburst brushing on this example is especially beautiful, though you may prefer something a bit more exciting.
Has the idea of an F.P. Journe timepiece pulled you away from the allure of the Cartier at hand? Sincerest apologies for the temptation. As long as you’re in the mindset, it might be worth having a look at the eponymous brand’s point-of-entry masterpiece, the F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain, available in a number of dials and cases, including rose gold and platinum. Exceptionally traditional with unimpeachable finishing, the Chronometre Souverain is the bedrock of F.P. Journe’s horological excellence. (If you want the F.P. Journe name and the Tortue case form, then the answer is one of the Vagabondage series.)
The Cartier Tortue Monopoussoir is a watch for true lovers of horology. Those among us who treasure the history and the people involved, often also value restraint in design, with just a splash of elan. That’s exactly what this watch offers: a refined and sophisticated timepiece steeped in heritage. The Tortue Monopoussoir is for those in the know, who want to have conversations with other like-minded individuals when the moment strikes (which it will, with this on the wrist).
The Cartier Tortue Monopoussoir Chronograph provides everything a true connoisseur might want from the brand, including heritage and several of Cartier’s classic design elements. On top of that, the watch marks a transition for the brand as it returned to its glory as a mechanical watchmaker, in this case with assistance from three watchmakers whose own brands have become among the most coveted in the world. This Tortue Monopoussoir is a true index of horological history.