Cartier in Motion. May 2017.

Dear Rowley,

To the private view and lunch for the Design Museum’s Cartier in Motion exhibition yesterday. The exhibit was curated by Norman Foster who was at the press conference with Cartier’s Director of Image, Style & Heritage Pierre Rainero and Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic.

Foster has the kind of presence that I’ve only felt twice before when interviewing extraordinary gentlemen Yohji Yamamoto and Paolo Roversi. When Vogue’s jewellery editor Carol Woolton asked if Foster’s research with Cartier might inspire him to design a watch or a jewel, he said that Cartier in Motion  had made him all the more inquisitive. To have such a thirst for knowledge is probably why Norman Foster is still such a powerful creative force in his ninth decade.

One does find oneself speaking in absolutes – ‘I loathe the Kardashians’, ‘I adore Donizetti’ – but Foster certainly taught me more than one lesson about keeping an open mind with Cartier in Motion. The exhibit engaged and attracted me to a subject that in the past singularly failed to inspire: watches.

The storytelling in Cartier in Motion is worthy of Jules Verne. Foster immerses us into a brave new world in Paris at the turn of the 20th century when Louis Cartier made one of the world’s first wristwatches for his eccentric friend the aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont. A recreation of the Demoiselle, a Heath Robinson-style contraption in which Santos-Dumont would circle the top of the Eiffel Tower in record time, dominates the gallery.

An eight-foot recreation of the Eiffel Tower features at the start of the exhibit and we see madly inventive blueprints for limousines and yachts commissioned by Louis Cartier, maps of metropolitan Paris and a recreation of the the aerial dining table that Santos-Dumont designed in 1900 with umpire’s chairs. The point of dining with your top hat brushing the ceiling is beyond me but Santos-Dumont was, after all, an early Surrealist.

There are posters for the Automobile Club de France, illustrations of airships that Santos-Dumont piloted above the rooftops of Paris and gold Cartier cigarette cases inscribed with maps of famous flight paths. You are so transported by Foster’s magnificent men in their flying machines that by the time you get to one of the early Cartier Santos watches (first made in 1904 for the aviator) you see it as a thing of great fascination: a horological Holy Grail.

My slight foideur about watches – however luxurious – is that they are largely mass produced so the stories become diluted. By wirinig Cartier in Motion into the story of Santos-Dumont and Paris, Foster brings these precious and rare survivors to life. To see the beginning of a design process that has inspired countless interpretations is like looking at Leonardo cartoons.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the gallery of greats who have since worn the Cartier Santos and the Tank such as Rudolph Valentino, the Baron de Gunzburg, Boni de Castellane, Noël Coward and Truman Capote.  Cartier’s Mystery Clocks - crystal faces with hands seemingly floating in mid-air with no visible mechanism – are a pleasure to admire having had the privilege to see how the illusion is achieved at the Cartier workshops above the Rue de la Paix flagship.

Granted, I gravitated towards a case containing diamond jewellery not least a Scroll tiara  made for the Countess of Essex in 1902. I also admit to being drawn towards diamond set ladies’ dress watches. A platinum watch set with onyx and rose cut diamonds made in 1914 was the birth of the Cartier Panthère. It is such an important milestone in Cartier’s story. My favourite watch design bar none in the exhibition is the Crash wristwatch with its distorted case and elongated numerals that I had previously thought was an homage to Dali.

My seduction into the watch world began when Tracey Llewellyn, editor-in-chief of Revolution, asked me to pen a column called Past Times telling the stories of people of fascination through their watches. So far we’ve studied Garbo, John Wayne, Richard Burton, Che Guevara, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Marlon Brando and Gina Lollobrigida to name a very few.

The lunch after the Design Museum private view was at Launceston Place and I was thrilled to be seated next to Lady Woolton and Pierre Rainero who carries his incredible knowledge with immense charm. Pierre really is the guardian of the Cartier house style and we have a Jewellery for Gentlemen mission to find out whether Cartier ever made a cufflink in the Deco Indian influenced Tutti Frutti style.

The jewellery business is such a pleasure to work with. Whereas fashion became flooded with bloggers – a pitch invasion in all but name – jewellery has remained trusted and true to the experts like Carol, Vivienne Becker and Joey Hardy. I’ve had the time of my life researching Jewellery for Gentlemen and all my future projects in 2017 are inspired by that world.

I can pay Cartier in Motion no higher compliment than to say it is utterly worthwhile and totally amusing. I went to the private view for the Victoria & Albert’s Balenciaga exhibition today of which more anon. There were garments designed by contemporary designers as homages to Balenciaga as well as a wealth of original couture pieces from the second half of the 20th century. Was it a success? Hmmmmm.

Balenciaga is the couturier’s couturier though I must admit the work of Pierre Balmain, Christian Dior and Jacques Fath while being less inventive is more to my taste. I will report back. From the V&A I have a mad dash to Derbyshire to see parents and the Cavendish Style exhibition at Chatsworth. As Lucia would say, ‘We shall see what we shall see’.