Cartier, the jeweler whose customers have included the tsar of Russia and actress Elizabeth Taylor, is working on new mechanical watch technology designed to enable timepieces to function for longer and be more accurate.
The Paris-based unit of Cie. Financiere Richemont SA has developed a prototype called the ID Two concept watch that uses less energy than standard mechanical timepieces and can function for 32 days without winding, compared with two to seven days for a typical watch, Cartier said today at a press briefing in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.
Watchmakers are experimenting with new materials and technologies to improve the functioning of their timepieces and get an edge over competitors. Geneva-based Patek Philippe has said it expects about 90 percent of its timepieces in 10 years to use internal components made from silicon. Cartier’s ID Two requires no lubrication with oil and the watch incorporates parts made from carbon crystal and a ceramic material.
“Some of the elements will become basic, some will become exclusive to certain watches,” Chief Executive Officer Bernard Fornas said in an interview. “It depends on the technological advances --- no lubrication is a phenomenal technological revolution because it brings more precision and reliability.”
The prototype’s vacuum-sealed case cuts air friction and lowers power loss, while the mechanism uses half the energy of a standard mechanical watch, in which about 75 percent of the energy can be lost, according to Cartier.
The ID Two technology also improves a timepiece’s durability and will enable new functions to be developed. Cartier plans to introduce the new features gradually in its watches over the coming three to five years, according to Fornas, who will step down at the end of the year. He will be replaced by Stanislas de Quercize, the current head of Richemont’s Van Cleef & Arpels brand.
Cartier continues to gain market share because consumers are sticking to established brands in difficult economic times, Fornas said.
“Things are not too bad,” he said, when asked about the Swiss watch industry’s double-digit export growth so far this year. “Don’t forget the emerging countries are still there to buy.”
Chinese consumers are buying at a faster pace outside China at present, though this may change, Fornas said.
Demand from Chinese nationals “holds very well but sometimes mainland China is lower because they go abroad, they know that there will be a better buy” in other countries, Fornas said. “Growth today is bigger outside than inside” China.
Swatch Group CEO Nick Hayek said this year that demand in China has slowed at the high end, while Richemont CEO Johann Rupert said growth has slowed in some coastal cities.
Fornas took over as CEO in 2002 after heading Richemont’s Baume & Mercier watch brand and following a career that included posts at Procter & Gamble Co. and perfume-maker Guerlain.
Cartier generated about 4.3 billion euros ($5.26 billion) in revenue last year, or just under half of Richemont’s sales, according to Rene Weber, an analyst at Bank Vontobel in Zurich. Richemont doesn’t disclose the brand’s revenue.
Cartier dates to 1847, when Louis-Francois Cartier took over the jewelry workshop where he was an apprentice. The company became one of the first to make a wristwatch, with a piece made in 1904 for Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont.