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The house of Cartier was founded in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier when he took over the jewellery workshop of his master. His son, Alfred took over the administration of the company, but it was his grandsons, Louis, Pierre and Jacques, who were responsible for establishing Cartier as a worldwide brand.
Watches had been produced from the early days and from 1888 Cartier's account books mention wristwatches for ladies. It was in 1904 that Cartier created the Santos wristwatch for his friend and aviation pioneer Albert Santos-Dumont. The Brazilian pilot had complained to his friend of the problems he can in consulting a pocket watch whilst flying and asked for a solution that would allow both hands to be kept on the controls. The watch went on sale in 1911 but initially men were reluctant to wear wristwatches, believing pocket watches to be more masculine. The exploits of Santos-Dumont and the wide use of wristwatches during the First World War helped to overcome this.
In 1917, inspired by the latest military technology, Cartier created the "Tank" watch which has become one of their most iconic designs.
Early Cartier watches used movements from many of the top names in Swiss watchmaking including Audermars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin but in 1919 Cartier set up a company with Jaeger to produce movements exclusively for them.
In the mid-1930s Cartier created their first waterproof watch, a version of the Tank model, in response to an order from the Pasha of Marrakesh. The watch that bears his name was introduced later in 1943 featuring a screw down case and a canteen crown cover.
In 1968 "Les Must de Cartier" was launched. This was a wider range of accessories at a lower price but still with the Cartier name and cachet. The first product was a cigarette lighter, but soon the line extended to include watches. These were silver plated quartz versions of classic Cartier designs as well as the "21"model.
Cartier is unique in watchmaking in that it has always been a retailer of its own products. This connection with their clients and lack of completion at the point of sale has been a major factor in their success and has given them an ability to respond to the demands of the market, keeping their designs up to date.
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