Cartier’s newest sports watch for 2015 is the Ronde Croisiere collection, and in many ways, it is an unexpected but not surprising move from the brand. Cartier is the most important brand within the larger Richemont Group of luxury companies, easily out-earning its colleague watch making family members such as Piaget, Panerai, Vacheron Constantin, IWC, and more. That means Cartier has a lot of responsibility to not only pick up on, but also react to market trends and demands. The Cartier Ronde Croisiere, when looked at from various perspectives, can very much be seen as Cartier’s answer to what some collector’s have voiced interest in, as well as what the consumer watch market seems to demand.
So what are those cries that Cartier is responding to? Well, for one thing, people are really into relatively simple and classic looking sports watches. Second, people have been complaining (and in many instances, very rightly so) that luxury watch prices are simply too high for what they are getting. Thus, the Cartier Ronde Croisiere is not only a retro-inspired casual sports watch, but is also a model – with an in-house movement – that comes with a starting price of well below $5,000.
Overall, I like the Cartier Ronde Crosiere collection a lot in both styling and concept. It is a comfortable and attractive watch that serves a lot of stylistic utility. However, there are some very odd design choices and instances where you feel Cartier is specifically trying to defend the more extensive detailing in their higher-priced watch offerings.
I’ll begin with my biggest complaint about the Cartier Ronde Croisiere watch, which are the hands. People who know me are familiar with my pickiness over hands, but in this situation, I promise you that I am not being overly sensitive. As you can see, Cartier opted to go with skeletonized hands for the hours, minutes, and even a bit with the seconds hand. It is as though they chose the proper hands for the Cartier Ronde Croisiere dial, and then rather than include the expected luminant material, simply decided to skeletonize them. Even the round tip at the end of the seconds hand is skeletonized.
I find this design choice abundantly puzzling. For years now, I’ve seen an odd fascination with watch makers skeletonizing hands in situations where it makes no sense. Skeletonized hands can look cool and also serve to let the watch wearer more easily see subdials or other information on the dial that hands might otherwise obstruct. On a time-only dial (with or without the date), there is no functional purpose to skeletonized hands.
Speaking candidly with various watch designers over the years, I’ve inquired about this odd trend and have only determined two possible reasons. One reason is that most watches these days are designed in computer software where lighting can be manipulated as well as deceptive. What looks nice and legible in a computer drawing does not represent how something will look like in real life because of how various colors, materials, and finishes react to light. So that is one reason that you see many skeletonized hands on modern watches.
Another reason is simply “design.” Totally counter to the logic most watch lovers have, some designers feel that “hands are simply too bold and take over a dial.” Well, that is sort of the point isn’t it? Designers seem to be skeletonizing hands to reduce their visual “weight” in order to (in their mind) make a watch dial appear more aesthetically harmonious. Of course, to anyone who appreciates watches for actually reading the time at a glance, this notion seems… well, just really misguided.
At launch, there are three versions of the Cartier Ronde Croisiere and, while they are all attractive in the abstract, only one I can universally suggest as something to buy. That would be the silver dial model with the black hands. This is the only version where you have enough contrast between the dial and the hands for the watch to be legible in most situations. The gray dial is a close second, but not as good as the silver dial. On this model, Cartier was good enough to satin-finish the hands so that they provide more contrast with the shiny gray dial. Again, it is not as legible as the silver dial, but it is manageable. However, the most interesting model with the gray dial and pink gold-toned accents is almost totally illegible in many lighting situations. I can get creative with the photography and show the dial in its most flattering light (literally), but it would be misleading to suggest this as a sport watch that can be relied upon to easily tell the time at a glance. That is really a shame because I quite like that model.
In fact, when seeing these watches on my wrist, one of the first things I thought was “this is such a cool concept, and I want to adore these timepieces. I wonder if you could simply replace the hands with something better – filled with lume?” There are watch modifiers who could probably do this, and perhaps Cartier will change the Cartier Ronde Croisiere hands in the future. I don’t know, but my advice to them is that this would be a much better watch with hands that can be read on all dials.
OK, so now I’ve gotten that major complaint out of the way. I don’t like complaining (well, actually, I do, I just don’t like being overly negative without being constructive), but I can now proceed to talk about many of the very real positives about the Cartier Ronde Croisiere collection. In French, croisiere means “cruise,” and I think in this context, it refers to the fact that this timepiece is not just a sports watch, but a “casual” sports watch. Looking closer, you can see that what Cartier did was to combine design elements of 1950s and 1960s era dive watches with their own product DNA in regard to having a dial made up of revolving Roman numeral hour markers. The combination actually works, and the wrist appeal for such a design is very high.
Of course, the Cartier Ronde Croisiere isn’t a dive watch. Cartier already has one of those with the Calibre Diver (aBlogtoWatch review here), which is currently my favorite sport watch in the brand’s product lineup. But the Cartier Ronde Croisiere isn’t a dress watch either. I would call it an elegant causal sport watch. To that end, the case is water resistant to 100 meters, and it comes on a nice black calfskin leather strap that has the visual look of canvas.
The Cartier Ronde Croisiere case is rather thin, at just 9.7mm thick and 42mm wide. The steel case has shorter lugs and is totally polished, making for a vintage-style look. The thin profile on the wrist makes it very comfortable, and the stubby lugs makes the 42mm wide size comfortable on most all wrists. I quite like the size and wrist presence of the Cartier Ronde Croisiere a lot – which is certainly a highlight of the piece.
The Cartier Ronde Croisiere is designed with a bezel that looks like a rotating diver’s bezel but it is fixed. The steel bezel has an ADLC black coating in a matte finish to give it that distinct look. This works really well on the steel and gold model that adds some 18k pink gold-plated accents on the bezel and an 18k pink gold crown. Black spinel is used as the cabochon material in the crown, versus the more common blue sapphire crystal of many other Cartier watches. The crown is very much within the scope of Cartier design DNA.
From a simple design perspective, the Cartier Ronde Croisiere dials are lovely. You have a traditionally-styled minute track on the outside followed with a ring of Cartier Roman numerals and some texturing on the inside. Everything fits well and is nicely proportioned, but there are, of course, the issues with legibility. On the gray dial models, the Roman numerals are too heavily polished and refract light, and this impedes legibility. In a sense, they serve to highlight the silvered dial Cartier Ronde Croisiere model since it works so much better given the much better contrast and less light reflectivity.
Inside the Cartier Ronde Croisiere is the brand’s popular and in-house made caliber 1874 MC automatic movement that operates at 4Hz and offers about 42 hours of power reserve. Given either the price or thin nature of the Cartier Ronde Croisiere, there isn’t an exhibition caseback, which is a bit less common for watches with the 1847 MC movement.
Cartier is a brand known for doing a lot of things right. They spend an awful lot of time making sure their cases are both refined and comfortable, and their timepieces tend to have an actual market appeal and wearing purpose. Another issue I would, however, like to take is with their deployant clasp used on most watches with straps. The system involves severely bending each side of the strap in order to size the watch – which is a bit frustrating. The good news is that when done correctly, you get a very precise fit. Also, the deployant uses a tension lock which, for me, always feels like you have to apply way too much pressure to close it. They look nice, but I’ve found putting on some Cartier watches to not be as “luxury” as it should be. Nevertheless, Cartier has some excellent bracelets with corresponding deployants, so I know the brand is capable of more.