verything at Cartier seems to have a special flavour. Take its communication: while most brands are content to send out standardised press releases, Cartier’s press kits seem to be designed as true visual experiences: a dance of typography, optical illusions, word games, monochrome radicalism. The geometry of Cartier, this master of shapes, is embodied in the smallest details of its brand image.
One man perhaps more than any other is the custodian of this concern for coherence and precision. Pierre Rainero has worked for the brand for 38 years. Over the decades, he has honed his eye to ensure that the Cartier style is indelibly imprinted in every one of the many creations of a brand in the thick of international expansion.
The geometry of Cartier, this master of shapes, is embodied in the smallest details of its brand image.
His department has an unusual title: Image, Style and Heritage – “organised independently of the sales or marketing departments,” he stresses. Put more simply, he is the heir to the Cartier culture, the generational transmission belt in a fast-changing luxury world. Innovation, yes, but not at the expense of betraying its heritage. The brand has audacity to spare, but experimentation is controlled and concentrated, such as in the “Cartier Libre” special collection. This coherence is more highly valued than ever by an increasingly well-informed clientele.
- Pierre Rainero, Director of Image, Style and Heritage at Cartier
Europa Star: You joined Cartier in 1984. How is the brand of today similar to the one you started with and, conversely, how is it different?
Pierre Rainero: I can only give you a rather paradoxical answer. On the one hand, it is the same brand in its approach, its relevance and its loyalty to its values. On the other hand, the company I joined in the 1980s was completely different from the one we know today, in terms of size of course, but also in terms of context: we were still in the middle of the Cold War and entire territories were inaccessible. The globalisation of the last thirty years has transformed Cartier. But not its values. And this is perhaps what explains its success. Because consistency is the basis of authenticity.
- Cartier jewellery in the columns of Europa Star in the 1950s.
- ©Europa Star 1952
Indeed, the most successful brands over time are very consistent. You are the guardian of Cartier’s image and style. What are your principles for ensuring this consistency, given the brand’s abundant production?
I can answer this question more easily. It is relatively simple to discern the stylistic heritage of Cartier objects, whatever their category. And the way to move forward is to always look at the big picture. Among other things, our heritage serves to clearly identify the motivations behind the creation of certain objects over the course of Cartier’s history. We can’t look at them through a contemporary prism, we have to understand the “why” and the “how”. This ongoing creative translation is what makes the objects we craft today so relevant. It’s the link that unites our past, present and future production.
“The globalisation of the last thirty years has transformed Cartier. But not its values. And this is perhaps what explains its success, based on consistency.”
What place is there for innovation in this context of vigilance for a certain heritage coherence?
It is immense. This approach does not in the least contradict the exploration of new territories and new technologies. Last year, for example, we introduced solar cells on our Tank Must. This year, the basic structure of a new version of the Coussin de Cartier is made by 3D printing.
- The magic of the Masse Mystérieuse comes from its mobile calibre, condensed into a semi-circle and transformed into a skeleton oscillating weight. This patented movement is the result of nearly eight years of development at the Manufacture Cartier, where it was designed, developed and assembled. The most advanced technology is placed in the service of design and aesthetics.
Does this search for coherence also mean knowing how to abandon certain creative paths? I’m thinking in particular of your return to the brand’s icons in recent years, after numerous developments in Haute Horlogerie.
You know, nothing is ever lost. We continue to accumulate know-how in Haute Horlogerie. This has enabled us to launch the impressive Masse Mystérieuse model this year, with its movement that acts as an oscillating weight. We are making a considerable investment in our manufacture, which is already the source of 39 different calibres, always with a very Cartier style. Of course, many of this year’s novelties are in the shape watch category, further accentuating our distinctive contribution to watchmaking.
- In 2022, the Pasha de Cartier Grille returns to the forefront. A strong piece whose grid adds to the uniqueness of the watch – and of the Cartier style.
How do you organise your heritage?
The essence of our heritage is our archive. At the beginning of the 20th century, Louis Cartier began to classify and collate the brand’s archives, including a great deal of correspondence. This is still very useful to Cartier, both in terms of creation and also communication, in order to respect the language of the House. In fact, you can’t really distinguish between the technical and commercial aspects of the brand’s history; it’s a coherent whole. We are fortunate in that we have complete control over our communication, thanks to our integral photo studio, which has produce Cartier’s imagery for years. This studio has itself become an element of our heritage, a photographic witness!
“Our heritage allows us to identify the motivations behind Cartier’s creations over the course of history. We have to understand the ‘why’ and the ‘how’. It’s an ongoing creative translation.”
Are your archives fully digitised?
Yes, the archive has been digitised for over 20 years. The brand’s archives are spread over three sites, in Paris, New York and London. A dedicated department was created in 1973 to ensure the processing and accessibility of this documentation internally. We also systematically reference everything that the “outside world” says about Cartier. Including this interview, by the way. (smiles)
Are these collections accessible to a wider public?
Researchers and journalists may access some of the items on request.
- The modern version of the Santos-Dumont watch presented in 1981 in the columns of Europa Star.
- ©Europa Star 1981
What about the physical items?
We have a collection of pieces that we make available to cultural and artistic institutions. The recent “Cartier and the Arts of Islam” exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris is a good example. And we do not intervene in the choice of the pieces exhibited. This must not become a marketing tool. What we always cultivate is an original point of view. So it’s up to them to interpret Cartier in their own way.
- The “Cartier and the Arts of Islam” exhibition, held from 21 October 2021 to 20 February 2022 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, highlighted the influence of the arts of Islam on Cartier’s production of jewellery and precious objects from the early 20th century to the present day, through more than 500 pieces.