A surprising thing about Marie-Laure Cérède, creative director of the maison Cartier, is that he never wears his clock wristwatch set to the right time. “It’s a creative statement,” says a Vogue. “I don’t want my Cartier watch to tell me the time. My time is always full and this is an object of grace and beauty ”. His words echo those of artist Andy Warhol, who – rarely seen without his Cartier Tank – once he said: “I don’t wear a Tank watch to tell the time. In fact, I never even load it. I wear a Tank because it is the watch to wear ”.
The watches created by maison that is 174 years old and was born as a simple jeweler, they have long adorned the wrists of elegant and influential people: from Princess Diana (Tank Solo) and Michelle Obama (Tank Française) to Dua Lipa and Bella Hadid (both fans of Panthère de Cartier). And Cérède is tasked with continuing to work on that heritage, which dates back to 1904 when Louis Cartier first created a leather strap watch for Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont.
At the fair Watches and Wonders, held April 7-13 in Geneva, Switzerland, Cartier unveiled several new designs including the particularly innovative and painfully chic SolarBeat Tank Must (it’s the house’s first solar-powered watch), complete with a non-animal leather strap. We caught up with Cérède on Zoom at this year’s digital event to find out what inspires her.
Dua Lipa with a Panthère by Cartier
© Robert Kamau
Where did your passion for watchmaking and watch design come from?
“I like watchmaking because it has a certain complexity. You have to express your creativity but there are technical constraints: you have to respect the movement and the technical requirements of the material, all while freeing your way of thinking. I find this tension between savoir-faire and creation really interesting ”.
Your first Cartier?
As soon as I entered the house there were sales for the employees, which made it much more convenient [😂]. I bought a Tank Divan, which has a beautiful horizontal case ”.
What is the most important aspect of your job?
“On the one hand we have the unparalleled treasure of our archives and on the other we have to build the vocabulary of tomorrow. Cartier was a jeweler before he became a watchmaker, so we have to make watches with the same audacity as jewelry. This connection with the past, this desire to master the cultural heritage to bring it into the future is very important ”.
© The White House
Exactly, how do you honor the maison’s legacy as you guide it into the next chapter?
“Looking at the archives and being inspired by them is part of our daily life. But we don’t stop there: every time we launch an Icon – that is, a collection that brings together Cartier’s most enduring designs – we look at how we can improve it, from technical components to sustainability standards. For example, for the Tank Must we inserted a photovoltaic movement, a panel that converts sunlight into electricity, and we fitted it with a non-leather strap.
“For the new Cloche models – of which there are six – we looked at every version that has ever been made since it became a wristwatch over a hundred years ago and rotated its bell case 90 degrees, so that can be placed on a bedside table or desk. We have decided to equip some of the versions with a skeletonized movement with Roman numerals ”.
What do you do to find inspiration?
“I grew up in Gabon, Central Africa, so I am attracted to the colors of nature, especially exotic flora and fauna such as porcelain rose and bougainvillea, as well as gems: fine stones like Paraiba tourmaline with its blue hues. neon, which reminds me of a lagoon, and watermelon tourmaline.
“I love contemporary furniture and decorations for their noble and living materials, as well as the woodwork, natural stone and hand-made fabrics. I often go to Italian furniture auctions and look for pieces by Tobia Scarpa, Gae Aulenti, Driade and Pulpo. And the central philosophy of wabi-sabi, “beauty lies in imperfection”, really resonates in me.
“Beautiful writing also inspires me. For example What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt [Sceptre, 2003], The Lovers by Alice Ferney [Atlantic, 2003], Sur les Chemins Noirs by Sylvain Tesson [Gallimard, 2016] is Disturbance by Philippe Lançon [Europa Editions, 2019].
“And contemporary art. I particularly like the Taglialatella Galleries, with the works of artists of the caliber of Kouka, Lucas Ribeyron and Ivan Messac ”.
Princess Diana has a Cartier Tank Solo on her wrist
© Tim Graham
What makes a watch design truly exceptional?
“It’s easy to create something beautiful. What is not easy is to remove all decorative details and keep only the essentials. I always tell my team that a Cartier creation should be a one-stroke written signature. It’s all a question of emotion ”.
Do you have any inspiring muse?
“I have more passions than muses. Thinking in terms of muses could limit my creativity ”.
You have been working for Cartier since 2002, a time when smartphones became an integral part of our lives: how has technology affected your work?
“Today, the function of a watch is not just to indicate the time. We have so many things, for example a smartphone, as you say, that tell us the time. So a Cartier watch is a way to assert your aesthetic identity; it is a declaration of beauty, self-expression and uniqueness rather than simply a tool for telling the time ”.
Your work revolves around time: how do you manage yours effectively and how do you find a healthy work-life balance?
“Even though I am a mother of three children, I have no problems with work-life balance because my job is a passion and part of myself. It is quite natural for my children to see me as a mother and a creative person, it is quite a fluid thing. Creative people always think about creation, there is no time to create and a time not to create. Sometimes you see something in a personal moment and a new idea is formed ”.