If the Tank and Panthère watches from Cartier are the house’s timepiece stars, the Baignoire is their rebellious opening act. The unusual Baignoire, lovingly dubbed after its bathtub shape, is a firm French favourite. It isn’t quite classic enough to reach the wrists of royals—Princess Diana wore the boxy military-inspired Tank while Kate, the new Princess of Wales, lives in the sportier Ballon Bleu. Among its admirers? French aristocrats Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, and Catherine Deneuve.
The Baignoire is gaining new support from people who desire the cache of a Cartier without the predictability of, say, a Panthère as fashion changes its emphasis to eternal pieces. Step forward Tyler, the Creator, a well-known auctioneer for rare Cartier timepieces like the retro Petit Cylindre and the colourful Crash, and now Kendall Jenner, who was caught over the weekend with a Baignoire peeking out from the sleeve of her Bates Rave Flag Cafe racing jacket. Positioned beside her other high-end wardrobe essentials, such as The Row boots, an Olsen-designed bag, and Khaite’s Danielle jeans, the slimline watch appeared vivacious, interesting, and pricey in keeping with the piece’s heritage.
Louis Cartier, the grandson of Louis-François Cartier, was born in 1912 at a time when it was somewhat revolutionary to challenge watchmaking conventions. He created a striking oval-faced timepiece with a horizontally rotating dial and gifted it to the Grand Duchess Pavlovna, a prominent Russian client. The Baignoire, which is French for those opulent tub forms of the day, wasn’t released as a new Cartier signature until 1957. It came in a variety of metals and sizes, some of which featured 70 diamonds scattered across the band.
When it came to the unique Baignoire Allongée in the 1970s, the jeweller continued to stretch the design in keeping with the decade’s swinging fashion. The long and winding road eventually led to the rumour that a client’s Baignoire Allongée that was damaged in a car accident served as the inspiration for the Cartier Crash, a surrealist masterpiece and possibly the most sought-after of all Cartier watch designs (Jay-Z wears one and a 1967 model sold for a record-breaking $1.5 million at Sotheby’s last year). On that point, we’ll let horologophiles have their say.
As amusing as the smart item may be, it demonstrates how Cartier can evolve and win over new admirers like Kendall, who is attempting to carve out her own way among a group of It-girls who are constantly embracing the latest fashions. The Baignoire is an instant conversation starter thanks to its humorous past (watch aficionados are currently enamoured with the 1960s and 1970s), which is priceless in a business that profits from consumers’ tendency to purchase hero pieces in large numbers. Jenner’s French-girl transformation demonstrates the need for a change.