Creative director of watchmaking Marie-Laure Cérède tells Vogue what makes her tick as she unveils her new designs for the 174-year-old brand.
A surprising fact about Marie-Laure Cérède, Cartier’s creative director of watchmaking, is that she never wears her wristwatch set to the right time. “It’s a creative statement,” she tells Vogue. “I don’t want my Cartier watch to tell me the time. My time is busy, and this is an object of grace and beauty.” Her words echo that of artist Andy Warhol, who was rarely seen without his Cartier Tank, of which he once said: “I don’t wear a Tank watch to tell the time. Actually, I never even wind it. I wear a Tank because it is the watch to wear.”
Watches created by the 174-year-old maison, which first began as a jeweler, have long adorned the wrists of the stylish and influential, from Princess Diana (Tank Solo) and Michelle Obama (Tank Française) to Dua Lipa and Bella Hadid (both Panthère de Cartier fans). And Cérède is charged with building on that legacy, which can be traced back to 1904 – when Louis Cartier first created a watch with a leather strap for Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont.
At the Watches and Wonders trade show (7 to 13 April) in Geneva, Switzerland, Cartier unveiled several new designs including the particularly innovative and achingly chic SolarBeat Tank Must (the maison’s first solar-powered watch), complete with non-animal leather strap. We caught up with Cérède over Zoom during this year’s digital event to find out what makes her tick.
What initiated your fascination with horology and watch design?
“I like watchmaking because there is a complexity to it. You need to express your creativity, but there are technical constraints; you have to respect the movement, the technical requirements of the material, all the while freeing your way of thinking. I find this tension between savoir-faire and creation really interesting.”
Do you remember who gave you your first watch?
“Me! Not long after I joined Cartier, there was a staff sale, which made things much more affordable [laughs]. I bought a Tank Divan, which has a beautiful horizontal case.”
What’s the most important aspect of your job?
“On the one hand, we have the unrivalled treasure of the archives, and on the other, we have to build the vocabulary of tomorrow. Cartier was a jeweller before it was a watchmaker, so we need to make watches with the same audacity as jewellery. This connection with the past, of mastering the heritage, is very important.”
And how do you do that – honour the maison’s heritage as you take it into its next chapter?
“Looking at the archives and being inspired by them is part of our daily lives. But we don’t stop there – whenever we launch an Icon [a collection that brings together Cartier’s most enduring designs], we look at how we can improve it, from the technical components to the sustainability standards. For instance, for the Tank Must we inserted a photovoltaic movement [a panel that converts sunlight to electrical energy] and equipped it with a non-leather strap.
“For the new Cloche designs [of which there are six], we looked at every version that had ever been made since it became a wristwatch over one hundred years ago and rotated its bell-shaped case 90 degrees, so you can set it on a nightstand or desk. We decided to equip some of the versions with a Roman numerals skeleton movement.”
Where do you go to find inspiration?
“I grew up in Gabon, Central Africa, so I’m drawn to nature’s colours, especially exotic flora and fauna such as porcelain rose and bougainvillaea, as well as gems – fine stones such as Paraiba tourmaline with its neon-blue hues, which reminds me of a lagoon, and watermelon tourmaline.
“I love contemporary furniture and decor for its noble and living materials – woodwork, natural stone and handmade fabrics. I often go to auctions of Italian furniture and seek out pieces by Tobia Scarpa, Gae Aulenti, Driade and Pulpo. And the central philosophy of wabi-sabi – ‘beauty lies in imperfection’ – really resonates with 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] and Disturbance by Philippe Lançon [Europa Editions, 2019].
“And contemporary art. I particularly enjoy the Taglialatella Galleries, with its works by the likes of Kouka, Lucas Ribeyron and Ivan Messac.”
What makes a watch design truly great?
“It’s easy to make something beautiful. What is not easy is to remove all the decorative details, and keep only the essentials. I always tell my team that a Cartier creation should be a signature in a single stroke. It’s all about emotion.”
Do you have any muses?
“I have more passions than I have muses. To think in terms of muse could limit my creativity.”
You’ve worked for Cartier since 2002, in which time smartphones have become an integral part of our lives – how has technology impacted your job?
“Today, the function of a watch is not only to tell the time. We have so many things – a smartphone, as you say – to tell us the time. So a Cartier watch is a way to assert your aesthetic identity; it’s a declaration of beauty, self-expression and uniqueness rather than simply an instrument to tell the time.”
Your work revolves around time – how do you manage your own time effectively and find a healthy work/life balance?
“Although I’m a mother of three kids, I have no trouble with the work/life balance because my work is a passion and part of myself. It’s quite natural for my kids to see me as a mother and a creative person – it’s quite fluid. Creative people always think about creation, there isn’t a moment to create and a moment to not create. Sometimes you see something in your own time and you form a new idea.”
Originally published on Vogue.co.uk