Since as long as most of us can remember, the circular case shape has become synonymous with a watch. Sure, there are cushion cases, tank cases, and even wild patterns now, but we seem to come back to the circle more than anything. For the last 100 years, Cartier has been playing with case shapes, and in 2021 reintroduced the lovingly peculiar bell-shaped Cartier Privé Collection Cloche de Cartier in platinum, reference WGCC0004.
Per Cartier, the first time the cloche (which is French for bell) case shape appeared was in the 1920s. Why that particular shape? Well, at that point, it was a piece of functional jewelry so the focus was on aesthetics. It became a wristwatch a year or two later, before sporadically appearing and disappearing in the lineup. In 1984 it showed up as a quartz model, and then 1995 saw it come back as a mechanical watch, with the numeral layout rotated 90 degrees. 2007 saw a limited-edition appear, which occurred then again in 2021.
There is one rather obvious stand-out element of the Cartier Privé Collection Cloche de Cartier’s design that — once you’re past its case shape — is still quite out of the ordinary. Of course, we’re talking about the orientation of its dial. Though not the first of its kind, the approach is slightly different here. Most other watches with their dial orientation askew are designed for a particular task, largely to help folks dealing with high-performance machines (cars and planes, most often) to easily read the time without having to fully twist their arm parallel to their body.
The logic path is different for Cartier. In the case of the Cloche, this is done so that you can set the watch down on it’s flat side, and read it as though it were a rather small table clock. On one hand, this is a pretty clever usage, and reinforces the bell theme (particularly with the cabochon on the crown appearing as the plunger). On the other, this off-wrist functionality comes at the expense of needing to relearn how to tell the time when it’s on your wrist.
Inside the Cartier Privé Collection Cloche de Cartier is a manually wound movement that was first introduced in 2019 — the 1917 MC. This is a compact movement that appears in some of the brand’s ladies’ models, as well as a few others within the Privé lineup. Other than its compact size (fitting into a watch that’s 37mm by 6.5mm thick, in this case), there are not many details past its frequency (21,600 vph), jewels (19) and power reserve (38 hours). Still, for as simple as the movement is, Cartier still has it adjusted in 5 positions for accuracy. Put simply, this is a good no-frills caliber in a watch whose primary selling features reside in its case and dial.
Versus The Competition
The biggest competition for this watch comes from within the wider Cartier catalog. Many Cartier references capture the clean blend of luxury and jewelry that we see in the Cartier Privé Collection Cloche de Cartier. For a more classic look, the Cartier Santos Dumont would be a solid alternative. On the other hand, if you’re looking for that unique case shape, it would be hard to argue against the Cartier Crash. If you’re not familiar with the story of how the Crash came to be, do read up on it, as it’s one of the more interesting slices of horological trivia out there.
If you’re wanting to branch out from Cartier, but still pick up an iconic and unique profile, I’d suggest something from the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso family, such as this one. It’s a case profile that’s immediately recognizable, and gives you the benefit of two looks in one.
The Cartier Privé Collection Cloche de Cartier underscores the idea that a watch can be less a tool and more of a piece of functional jewelry. Will that resonate with everyone? Not necessarily, but it does hark back to the very origins of wristwatches. Truth be told, that’s what they still are today, even as we wrap them with additional complications and protections. You may not consider it as such, but jewelry they are, bracelets and all.
The Cartier Privé Collection Cloche de Cartier strips it back to the beginnings without diving into the ultra-complicated things Mr. Breguet created for the French court. This is done with a simplicity that belies the actual execution, and elevates the watch to rest confidently with the traditional jewelry that the brand is known for. With only 100 of this latest version having been produced, odds of encountering one in the wild are going to be rare. Still, I hope one day to see an enterprising collector resting one alongside a desktop-sized magnifier to use the Cartier Privé Collection Cloche de Cartier as an extremely portable — yet still legible — desk clock.