The Cartier Mystery Clock

How it All Began


o you know the story behind the Cartier mystery clock? Well, It all began in 1911. Bolstered by the success of his Santos wrist watch Louis Cartier began focussing more and more on refining his ideas for timepieces. He started by engaging one of the most renowned and respected watch makers in all of Paris, Maurice Couët. Louis and Couët began by creating an expansive collection of desk clocks filled with innovative features such as dates, rotating dials and star motifs to define the minutes and hours.

However, Louis was not satisfied. He wanted to create a sensation, a clock so mysterious nobody could ever imagine how it operated. Inspired by the great illusionist Robert-Houdin, Couët was to create a crystal clear face, where the hands levitated inside as if displaying the time by magic.

 Working in complete secrecy, the team would take the next year to build and refine to perfection what we know today as The Mystery Clock.

Protecting the Secret

The clockmakers told Louis that it would be near impossible for them to create a clock to his specifications. However, Louis was known to be a bull to a matador, and persisted. Apparently, everyone in the workshop was terrified of him, and his constant revisions.

In 1913 the finished work would be unveiled. Fashioned from solid rock crystal, onyx, gold and rose cut diamonds the first mystery clock would be dubbed, “The Model A.”

Outside of the clockmakers and the Cartier family, nobody would be told about how the clock worked. Not even the Cartier salesmen would be told. Louis wanted to keep them infatuated with the clock and its secret mechanics. This would keep their sense of wonder conveyed to their clients in the purest of form. One of the earliest models would be sold to J. P. Morgan, one of the very few people who could afford such a luxurious clock.

A model “A” clock recently came up for auction. Belonging to a niece of Consuelo Vanderbilt, it would go on to fetch over half a million dollars.

Needless to say, the fascination with these time pieces still persists to this day, even though Cartier has let slip its secrets.

It would be in the Jazz age that these clocks would take their stride. Working side by side, Louis and Couët would continue to experiment with different forms, materials and subjects for their clocks. Boasting large panels of Chinese jade, hexagonal dials and freestanding gateways made of solid rock crystal pillars rising from their onyx bases.

Cartier's Jazz Age Inspiration

The Cartier brothers also had been raised with a deep respect of past civilizations, and would (with careful consultation of the Couët workshop) develop a timepiece which was beautiful, reliable and respected the integrity of an original artifact.

One such clock, created in 1925 (and pictured below) took two jade carp, and placed them amongst frosted rock crystal waves. Hour and minute hands would be transformed into diamond seahorse-dragons, rising above a bejewelled sea of mother of pearl, emeralds and blue enamel. The jade fish, immortalized in what would be come a fundamental of the Cartier style.

Regarded as the Faberge egg of their time, these clocks would go on to fascinate the worlds elite. Some of the wealthy clients included Anna Dodge, George Blumenthol and even British Aristocracy such as the Duchess of Westminster.

Although hers, which she regarded as “an exquisite little thing which seemed to work by magic” met a heart-breaking end during a nightmarish argument (over her husbands lovers, which included Coco Chanel) as it was hurled against a wall, and subsequently shattered into a thousand pieces.

I can still remember the first time I saw one of these clocks. It took some deep digging to satisfy the craving to learn how it operated. Louis and Couët were genius’ and I am sure that they are smiling down on us as we continue to express our child-like fascination over these majestic clocks.

Personally, I can’t stand spoilers. So, I won’t fill you in on how they work. So, instead I’ll leave you with this gallery showing you some of my favourite pieces.

– N