Not just a jeweller or a watchmaker, Cartier defies ordinary notions of a brand or a company. It might be more apt to define and approach Cartier as an institution in its own right because of its multiple faculties and indisputable expertise with each faculty. Jewellery, timepieces, small accessories, fragrances, and leather goods make up Cartier’s portfolio but the maison doesn’t see it that way. It refers to all of its products as objet d’art, and rightly so, for only recently had they been on exhibit at the Grand Palais in Paris. Making that exhibition doubly impressive is the fact that it was initiated by the museum, not Cartier. So what does it mean to be the CEO of a company like this one? To Stanislas de Quercize, who ascended to this role one year ago in 2013, the rules are different, but the game remains the same.
His appointment was not a big surprise especially to those who are familiar with the stellar results he had shown at sister high jewellery maison Van Cleef & Arpels. From 2005 to 2013, de Quercize had been the CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels, which under his charge famously invented the concept of Poetic Complications, now a trademark of the maison. Apart from steering the company safely through the 2008/9 financial crisis, de Quercize also laid the foundation for a strong watchmaking division, and in recent years, watches by Van Cleef & Arpels set the standard for traditional artisanal crafts which are coupled with creative mechanisms to tell a story. Rather than competing in the fields of movement making know-how or watchmaking tradition, de Quercize went a completely different way and blazed a new path. Perhaps this is what makes him the perfect candidate to take over from ex-CEO Bernard Fornas.
But de Quercize is not a stranger to Cartier. As a matter of fact, before his tenure at Van Cleef & Arpels he was already with Cartier from 1999 to 2005, first as general manager, then CEO of the North American market. This definitely explains the love and respect he has for Cartier, even as luxury, it can be said, is in his blood; de Quercize has an aristocratic lineage that leads back to the 17th century French royal court.
Having recently taken over the helm at Cartier, can you tell us what your ambitions are for the brand?
First of all, we call Cartier a maison, not a brand. We have the mission to be an artist and create jewellery and watches that are universal and eternal. Universal in that it appeals to connoisseurs all over the world; timeless in that it is revered and dreamed of today and also 50 or 100 years from now. There was an exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris showcasing 600 creations of Cartier since 1847. It’s called Cartier l’Histoire et le Style. This is really the root of the maison. Our creations go through decades and decades, yet they remain extremely relevant. That’s why it’s art, and that’s why they’re in a museum.
Tell us more about the significance of this exhibition to Cartier.
This exhibition in the Grand Palais is the 27th Cartier exhibition worldwide. We’ve been welcomed at the Metropolitan Museum, the British Museum, the Forbidden City, the Kremlin, and so on. You understand that the curator truly respects and assessed Cartier as an art form, an art decoratif. That’s why it shouldn’t be surprising to see that Cartier is the number one name in auctions for jewellery and the top three for horlogerie.
How do you spread yourself across the various divisions from jewellery to watches and from leather to fragrances?
Cartier has always been able to create. We are named the king of jewellers and jewellers of kings by Edward the Seventh, but we are also the king of creative watchmaking and objet d’arts. Louis Cartier said it. We wanted to create objets d’arts or gifts or leather accessories at the same quality as with the craftsmanship in jewellery and watchmaking because it’s the art de vivre. The luxurious art de vivire à la Parisienne.
How do you aim to achieve this?
The vision is to have a style that is recognisable from far away. We want you to say Cartier like you say Picasso. It has to have a recognisable style, a different style, bringing a different vision to the world. And it has to be something you want to keep forever.
So in terms of aesthetics, you want everything to have a distinctive look and feel?
Also it has to have audacity. Look at the AstroCalendaire. That’s in haute horlogerie a tour de force. It is something that’s unique, different and it brings a different view to tourbillons and style.
Cartier has undoubtedly achieved a lot since the Collection Privée Cartier Paris evolved into the Fine Watchmaking collection. Are there any other aspects of haute horlogerie you are striving for?
We believe haute horlogerie should be beautiful outside and inside. That’s why we embarked on the creation of 29 in-house movements for haute horlogerie. We believe the audacity of haute horlogerie is equivalent to the audacity it was for Louis Cartier when in 1904, he came up with the Santos Dumont, which was the first watch to be worn on the wrist. With the same audacity, Louis Cartier also came up with the Pendules Mysterieux in 1913. And we exhibited the same audacity when we put the mystery clock idea in a watch. The audacity of Cartier led us to bring newness to the market. Also the concept watches, ID One and ID Two, followed this vein in search of new ways to express horology in the 21st century.
With Cartier, we’re sensing a very broad approach, from concept watches to fine watchmaking to commercial pieces like the Santos. What are the challenges in managing such a broad selection of watches?
I see it as a staircase which is helping people to elevate and to go up and discover, during their whole life, different creations. Sometimes you want a watch for the day, sometimes you want one for the evening. Sometimes for business or casual or sport. We want this staircase to lead you and accompany you your whole life to discover new creations.
How inspired are you by the work of Carole Forestier-Kasapi?
I’m extremely excited. This excitement is the colour of passion. To be able to make people dream because you’re coming with something that will surprise them. You’re going to have this WOW effect, this emotion, which is part of life. But to do that, you have to create something which is audacious and different, like the Mystery Clock was different. To wear a watch on the wrist was different, to have the mystery dial on a watch is different. The AstroCalendaire with the tourbillon in the middle was unprecedented. That’s what we want to do. It was never-before seen and you can keep it forever. We bringing really artistic things to the world.
So this links back to your focus on breaking new ground yet remaining timeless?
If you think of it, what we are creating has two values. One is universal, so it’s recognised the world over whatever the colour of your passport or the language you speak. The second is timelessness, so a creation 20 or 50 years ago will always be sought after. When you have these two elements, these are the two characteristics of art. It’s an art form, an applied art, a decorative art. So you shouldn’t be surprised to see our works exhibited in museums or being part of art catalogues.
At the same time, having understood the robustness of the AstroCalendaire, I’m sure watch connoisseurs appreciate Cartier’s serious commitment to quality. Is quality something you think about a lot?
It’s essential because if you want to have timelessness, you need to be sure the timepieces will work forever. The quest for super quality is why we look for super materials like gold or diamonds or sapphire, and super craftsmanship. We know that watches are a symbol of passion, friendship or love, and so we want to assure that this passion or friendship or love will last forever.
Cartier has achieved quite a fair bit in the realm of haute horlogerie, what are you exploring right now?
It’s bringing new talents and new experiences like, for example, in métiers d’art for the first time, we use floral marquetry with rose petals done in the shape of a parrot. Never before has this been done in the history of haute horlogerie. We believe it is our mission to bring something which is not the repetition of the past. This is pushing the envelope. I believe the golden age of jewellery and watchmaking is now. Why now? Because golden age refers to an accumulation of crafts and experiences. We’ve been accumulating crafts and experiences since 1847, and the more we progress, the more we are experts. The more you’re an expert at what you’re doing, the more you can push the envelope.
Métiers d’arts is now fiercely pursued in haute horlogerie. Do you look at the competition’s achievements in general?
I think we are here more to conquer the market, you know. If you look at jewellery,
only 10 per cent of men and women buy jewellery with a name. It is a mistake to buy jewellery with no name and signature because if you want to sell it at the auction, it’s worth no more than the weight of the gold and diamonds. If you give it to your children, they will be puzzled because it’s not as valuable as when you have the signature of Cartier. That’s what all these craftsmen are here to do, to leave an everlasting mark in this world. We don’t look at the competition. We only look at ourselves, our mission. To be powerful and give power to the owners of Cartier’s creations. To be a reference, like a lighthouse. To be audacious and generous because we are here to evoke love and friendship.
What element of Cartier is its most valuable asset?
The passion of Cartier. That’s what makes Cartier so special. Red is the colour of passion. That makes Cartier unique. A passionate maison about creativity, crafting, and sharing in a passionate way. This year we celebrate 30 years of the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain. That’s passion. Helping young artists share their talent with the rest of the world.
Can you tell us where the Calibre de Cartier Diver fits in the overall scheme of things?
The Calibre de Cartier Diver caters to men and talks to them in the same way Louis Cartier talked to Santos Dumont, who was a pilot. The Santos watch was the first pilot’s watch to be worn on the wrist. This time, we have people with an active sports life who are seeking the elegance of Cartier to be on the wrist. That’s the ambition with this new watch.
What about the other commercial men’s collections like the Tank MC?
What I love about the Tank MC is its timelessness. That’s audacity because the idea of Tank is freedom. The inspiration was the first tanks of the British and American armies in the first world war which brought their liberation to Europe at that time. This idea of man bringing freedom to the world is truly inspirational. When you have this watch on your wrist, you have to bring something to the world. The Tank MC is a new interpretation of an icon of the maison. This is timeless style.
You’ve stressed on timelessness several times. Is that your definition of luxury?
You want to express your love and friendship, and you want that love and that friendship to stay forever. You want your creations to stay forever, to survive you. At the exhibition, you can see all the jewellery of the Duchess of Windsor and Grace Kelly and many more. They survived the lives of their owners to tell beautiful love stories.
What do you wish is Cartier’s greatest contribution to this world?
To make people dream. I help them express love and friendship and passion for art.
What events in our time would you consider are strong influences to Cartier?
Social media has helped increase faire savoir. The difference between savoir-faire and faire savoir is know-how and how to make something known, respectively. We have incredible savoir-faire in La Chaux-de-Fonds and in haute horlogerie as well as métiers d’arts. It’s interesting to be able to share this know-how, and social media helps people understand and appreciate the stories better. We love when people appreciate what they are having. There is the enjoyment in sharing in the pleasure of artistic creations.