After more than a century producing some of the most cherished pieces in watchmaking, in 2013, Cartier announced the arrival of its first serious chronograph, finally playing a hand in the lucrative sports-luxe chronograph market, alongside the likes of the Rolex Daytona, IWC Portuguese and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Naturally, this came as intriguing news to the watch community, but how does their new design fair against such distinguished opposition?
The Ref. 3578 chronograph forms part of the wider Calibre de Cartier family, Cartier’s new wave of watchmaking brought about after they established their Fine Watchmaking division in 2008. This initiative, headed up by Carole Forestier, one of the top watchmakers currently on the circuit, has enough resources and talent to potentially change the shape of the industry, and so far it has been doing just that.
Until 2008, Cartier was known for dreaming up high-class dress watches with distinctive designs. Watches such as the Tank and Santos are two of the most cherished ever made. However, movements in these watches were of secondary concern. This is not to say they weren’t up to scratch, rather more they were typically modifications of well-respected ETAs, while others were quartz, and as such did not earn the acclaim of traditional the watchmakers.
With the relatively recent shift by top watch houses to create in-house movements, it became crucial for Cartier to follow suit. Since Forestier’s appointment, Cartier has produced nearly 40 movements, many of which boast high complications, and all of which are of the finest quality; an achievement not to be underestimated. Not only has Cartier played a hand in the game, but it has announced itself as one of the leading contenders.
While the Tanks and Santos and all the other iconic models are still selling as well as ever, the Calibre de Cartier collection is boasting technology and vision far superior. The 1904-CH MC movement, ticking inside the Calibre de Cartier Chronograph, is now on the same level as other top automatic chronograph calibres out there, not excluding those made by Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe.
In fact, it’s probably fair to say the movement is now the strong point of the design. The 1904-CH MC operates with a column wheel design, is highly efficient, durable and implements some innovative technology. It also functions and winds smoother than almost any other chronograph out there. Surprisingly, the finish doesn’t go much further than a Côtes de Genève pattern on the rotor and bridgework, so considering it’s on display through the rear sapphire window, one might have hoped for a little more distinction. Nevertheless, the movement is excellent and a promising sign of things to come.
The finishing elsewhere on the watch is considered and detailed, as one might expect from Cartier. The dial is eclectic and modern, with the hour markers a mix of applied and transferred Roman numerals, with an extra large “12”, yet with markers on the bottom half replaced by rectangular batons. This blend is the clearest example of Cartier trying to mix old and new, and attempting to produce a new-age look. A further example of this design consideration is the smart sloping bezel at the edge of the dial with Arabic numerals on a rail track. Other nice touches include the snailing pattern framing the hour markers and the elegant recessed sub-dials. Following the DNA within the Calibre range, is the date window with three dates, and the “hidden” signature at 10 o’clock — a revival of a popular detail from archival Cartier watches.
The case and bracelet are superbly finished and the watch sits comfortably and firmly on the wrist. At 42mm, it’s large, another modern trait, and probably best at home on bigger wrists. The steel is brushed, affording the finished look a rich feel, and the crown is set with a bright blue cabochon gem in traditional Cartier style.
The overall effect is indeed modern, and the colouring and range of finishes make for a highly legible and sporty dial, but perhaps not quite as flawlessly stylish as Cartier classics or the legendary pieces I mentioned in my introduction.
The pre-owned price puts this timepiece in a similar league to the Omega Speedmaster and IWC Portuguese, yet considerably below the Rolex Daytona. Alongside these three, I’d say it’s a worthy and far less known alternative. So if you’re charmed by the old-meets-new Cartier look and have large wrists, this fine chronograph is certainly an excellent alternative.
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