From our Special Reporter
In Geneva, Cartier’s flagship has been reopen beginning of November after several months.
The flagship store is now the biggest in Europe.
Enter the secret room behind the wall
But who would have imagined that in this corner street shop , behind a moving wall, were
hidden the Restauration workshops of the brand ? Getting in there is a tough job. Only a few
VIPs, including your devoted, had the honor and chance to enter this secret garden.
The restoration workshop is one unique room, large enough to welcome two watchmaker’s
benches and a couple of furnitures. This is the particularity of the workshop : very small, only
two experts, full time devoted to restore pieces from the early past century.
Two doctors looking after unique extraordinary vintage pieces
Under their loupes, there is not a whole bunch of open movements. These very skilled
watchmakers work only on two or three pieces at the time. It can go from extremely rare
complications to simple three-hands watches or clocks but with an historical interest. Some
of them are ‘simple’ gold pieces, but many of them are adorned with true jewelry artwork –
jewelry being the very first job of Cartier.
Back in the 1920’s – 1930’s, LeCoultre was the dedicated supplier of calibers for Cartier.
Edmond LeCoultre and Louis Cartier were close friends. The brand EWC (European Watches
& Clocks) was even what we would have called a joint venture between them, EWC being
Cartier’s exclusive supplier of blanks. Today, Cartier gets back some of these old pieces
through two different chanels : auctions or public sales (even on the internet), and sales
of private collectors.
All the collected pieces are fully restored – Cartier provides all its clients with a lifetime
warranty of restoration. Afterwards, some are kept for Cartier’s own legacy collection,
while some other are reinjected into the sales process, only in boutiques. As for now,
Cartier’s network offers 300 of these restored vintage pieces, split over 10 stores in the world.
Sometimes, the brand has some surprises. Good ones, in fact : one day, Cartier saw
on a website a Grande Complication pocket watch from 1920’s, for sale at 5,5 millions
CHF. This piece was so unique that Cartier made the trip to Hamburg were the piece
was located. It reminded the brand a piece that had been stolen a couple of years before.
The intuition was correct : this outstanding piece was the one Cartier was looking for for
ages ! It went back (for free, obviously not for the 5,5 millions requested) in Cartier’s
High pressure job
Being one of the two watchmakers of the Tradition workshop is a privilege in the company,
granted only for most skilled ones. The reason is simple : restoring such vintage pieces not
only requires true watchmaking skills but also a huge culture of early XXth century, as well
as the ability to recreate some parts of these old ladies. For that purpose, the two doctors
were given by Cartier all the required tools (including the most sophisticated ones) to rebuild
any part from any watch. In fact, as if the restoration workshop was a small manufacture in
The workshop obviously repair all types of calibers from any watch or clock. Some complicated
pieces, such as Répétition Minutes or Pendules Mystérieuses may require up to one full month
of dedicated work. The watchmaker in charge of this amazing job is reponsible for ‘his’ piece
from the very first day to the moment where it’s sent back to the client.
Needless to say that the pressure is way higher on these two people than on any other of their
peers in the La Chaux-de-Fonds manufacture : in Geneva, they work only on unique pieces,
all broken or badly injured, not produced for ages and most of the time without any proper
information attached ! Extreme watchmakers for an extreme job, in a nutshell...
Olivier Müller, live from Geneva, Switzerland
Images © David Carteron / Delos Communications
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