The Parisian Maison heralded the return of its Pasha de Cartier collection a couple of weeks ago, during the virtual edition of Watches & Wonders 2020. Originally launched as a collection in 1985, the Pasha was discontinued about ten years ago. Awakening after a decade of slumber, the Pasha de Cartier arrives in two new case sizes of 41mm and 35mm and is clearly being marketed as a unisex watch. Apart from the high jewellery and skeletonised/tourbillon models, the core collection is composed of three-hand models in different case materials fitted with mechanical automatic movements and Cartier’s QuickSwitch strap changing system. How has the original 1985 fared in this latest transformation? Was it really commissioned as a one-off waterproof piece by the Pasha of Marrakech in 1932? Read on and find out what we thought of the legend behind the watch and the 41mm steel version we had for our review session.
CARTIER’S REMARKABLE SHAPED CASES
The legendary Parisian jewellery house really came to the fore under the reign of Louis, Jacques and Pierre, the three Cartier brothers (great-grandchildren of founder Pierre Cartier) attracting European royalty, Indian maharajas and nouveau riche US millionaires like moths to a light. Together the brothers forged their different skills to make Cartier an international name: Pierre was the business mind, Louis the creative inspiration and Jacques the gemstone expert. Commissions were very much a mainstay at Cartier and royal clients, like the Maharaja of Patiala requesting a resetting for his 1,000-carat diamond ceremonial necklace, only increased the allure of the Maison.
Louis Cartier’s talent for design was not limited to spectacular jewellery and in 1904 he responded to a request from the pioneering Brazilian aviator Santos-Dumont to create a watch that he could attach to his wrist while airborne. Unlike anything on the market of the day, which was saturated with round pocket watches, the elegant geometry of the square Santos-Dumont wristwatch was not just a precursor of the streamlined aesthetics of Art Deco, it was the precursor of the male wristwatch.
Distinguishing features of Cartier watches would be their unconventional shapes, their often unusual source of inspiration (including a Renault WWI tank) and key traits like Roman numerals, the sapphire cabochon crowns and railway minute tracks. Models like the Santos, the Tank (and all its derivations), the Tortue, the Pasha, the Crash, the Tonneau and the Baignoire all attest to the Maison’s daring creativity put to work in these shaped watches. The fascination with these models has not waned over the years and they are periodically revisited. This year alone, the Santos-Dumont, the Tank Asymétrique and the Pasha have all been refreshed for a new generation of watch lovers.
Making a Case for the Pasha of Marrakech
The Pasha de Cartier appeared as a fully fledged watch collection in 1985. Supposedly inspired by the lines of the original 1932 model made by Louis Cartier for the Pasha de Marrakech, Gerald Genta revived the Pasha in the 1980s respecting its quirky design details. However, there is one thing missing: the original watch.
Although many watch writers do not buy the exotic origin story behind the creation of the Pasha watch, that it was commissioned by the extremely wealthy Pasha of Marrakech as an elegant waterproof wristwatch in the early 1930s, there are some facts that might substantiate its existence. After all, Louis Cartier was accustomed to requests for bespoke models from wealthy clients and its very peculiarity points in that direction.
Thami El Glaoui (1879-1956), the Pasha of Marrakech, a.k.a Lord of the Atlas, the Black Sultan and the Gazelle of the Sun, has gone down as a traitor in Moroccan history for having sided with the French colonisers and helped overthrow Sultan Mohammed V. El Glaoui amassed great wealth (almond, saffron, olive, mining etc.) during his lifetime and was renowned for his extravagant lifestyle and famous friends, entertaining Winston Churchill and even Charlie Chaplin in his lavish palace, Dar El Glaoui. His fascination with Western culture even secured him an invitation to Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, although she didn’t accept his lavish gifts. Awarded all sorts of distinctions by the French government, El Glaoui was a true Francophile and enamoured of all things French.
On one of his many Parisian shopping trips, El Glaoui might well have met with Louis Cartier and asked him for a very special watch: a watch that would look smart enough for his countless social appointments and grandiose living but that could withstand a dip in the pool. If the story is to be believed, this model marks the first waterproof watch for Cartier. Not the first waterproof watch on the market, Rolex had secured that primacy with its 1926 Oyster, but certainly the first watertight watch for the French brand. In 1932, the Pasha got his watch. Reflecting the sleek, smooth silhouettes of the prevailing Art Deco style, the one-off solid gold Pasha is said to have had a round case with a thick bezel, a contrasting square railway minute track in the centre, large Arabic numerals, a protective grille over the dial and a curious screw-down cap protecting the crown with a little chain attached to it so it wouldn’t get lost.
1985 Pasha: A Square Peg in a Round Hole
The Pasha, as we know it today, appeared in 1985 and responded to a gap in Cartier’s watch portfolio for a luxury men’s sports watch. There were plenty of dress watches in the line-up, but none with a sporty appeal or water-resistance so it will come as no surprise that the design this watch fell to the man of the hour, Gerald Genta. After all, as the man behind Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak, the first luxury sports watch in 1972, followed by the Patek Philippe Nautilus, the commission was right up his alley.
Exceptionally large for its day, the Pasha measured 38mm and true to Cartier’s penchant for unusual shapes, it was conceived around the concept of a square inside a circle – the circular case housed a square railway minutes track on the dial. Rowing against the tide of other Cartier models, Genta opted for Arabic numerals instead of Roman numerals and stuck to just four large numerals with an Art Deco font placed as 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. However, what really set the Pasha apart was the cabochon-capped protector over the crown attached to a small chain. Combined with a sealed caseback, the watch was water-resistant to 100m. Other distinctive features of the first Pasha included the date window (no Cyclops) and the Louis Cartier Vendome lugs.
The Pasha prospered in countless iterations – from chronographs to GMTs and from perpetual calendars to moon phases – until its swan song in around 2011. One of the most outlandish models was the 1997 Pasha model with a diver’s bezel and a gold grille protecting the dial (similar to WWI trench watches). Another extremely unusual Pasha was the model made for golf players (Ref. 30010) a crazy-looking watch with four buttons in different colour gemstones to distinguish the players and keep score (El Glaoui was an avid golfer and converted acres of drought land into golf courses). Another Pasha model that was extremely popular was the Day and Night of 1998 made in collaboration with watchmaker Svend Anderson (inspired by a 1915 Cartier clock with a similar indication) with its 24-hour scale placed on two rows and read with one hand with a sun and a moon. Just before it was retired, two massive 46mm Pasha models bid farewell to the collection: the Skeletonised Flying Tourbillon and the 8-Day Tourbillon Chronograph.
The Return of the Pasha in 2020
The new Pasha is still very much a Pasha with its round case and hallmark capped-crown-and-chain device along with the distinctive way the strap is attached to the case. Designed and patented by Louis Cartier in 1934, the Vendome-style bars that traverse the strap/bracelet feature rounded pyramid shapes at the ends (aka Clous de Paris extremities). The model we have here is the 41mm stainless steel with a slender height of 9.95mm, pretty thin if you consider that it is water-resistant to 100m.
As you can see, the surfaces feature a mix of brushed and polished finishes that exalt the shapes of the watch. The thick sloping bezel is polished to a mirror-like finish while the outer links of the bracelet and the caseband are brushed for a sporty feel. This new 2020 model has most of the original design elements and at the same time offers modernity with its sleeker shape.
There’s no denying that the Pasha de Cartier is a very distinctive design, with a polarizing presence and its (very) own personality. This new model, with a 41mm diameter, feels comfortable on most men’s wrists, due to the sloped lug module, helping the watch to feel balanced once strapped. The bezel, which is flat and not rotating (we hope to see this model return to the original rotating bezel, as a nod to the 1985 version), is quite thick and massive, emphasized by the dial that sits low in the case. The 2020 Pasha feels visually larger than what’s announced on the specs sheet; however, this isn’t a sensation that is true in terms of wearability.
It’s all about personalisation these days and if you unscrew the blue synthetic spinel cabochon covering the crown and let it dangle on its one-link chain, you’ll see a small plaque on the caseband that can be engraved. Yet, as we’re talking about the crown, while the cabochon cover is pretty massive, the crown itself (the one that actually used to set the time) is one of the smallest we’ve seen recently and isn’t easy to manipulate – you’ll need your fingernails.
The silvered dial features a stamped guilloché scallop-shaped decoration that plays with the ambient light and shimmers intriguingly. New to this 2020 and in line with the current trends, the Pasha de Cartier has a discreet but pleasing dégradé effect on its dial, the edges being slightly darker than the centre. Naturally, the four large Arabic numerals are present and placed just outside the square minutes track in the centre. The inner railway track features a date aperture between 4 and 5 o’clock but is not covered with a magnifying lens like some models in the past. Sword-shaped and blued hour and minute hands are complemented by a central seconds hand.
Calibre 1847 MC
Powering this new Pasha de Cartier collection, and used in both 41mm and 35mm 3-hand models, is a manufacture movement. Produced in Valfleurier, calibre 1847 MC is the entry-level automatic engine of the brand replacing the former ETA calibres and clones. To counter the magnetic fields we are exposed to these days, Cartier has beefed up the anti-magnetic properties of the movement. Calibre 1847 MC uses non-magnetic nickel phosphorous components for the escapement mechanism as well as a shield made of a paramagnetic alloy. The movement beats at 4Hz, offers 40 hours of power reserve and is pleasantly decorated with Côtes de Genève on the rotor and bridges.
Bracelet and Strap, quickswitch and SmartLink
The 2020 Pasha de Cartier models come with an invisible mechanism that allows you to change the bracelet for a strap, or the strap for a bracelet, in no time at all. Equipped with Cartier’s special QuickSwitch system, the look of the watch can be altered dramatically in the comfort of your own home. By simply pressing a button on the backside of the lugs, you can remove the bracelet and in a firm, simple click, the leather strap (with specific end-links) will be secured to the watch. A new look in about 20 seconds. Cartier has here one of the most practical systems in the industry.
But there is more to this watch, in the form of a bracelet length adjustment system. Known as Cartier’s SmartLink system, a push-button releases the fixing bar to let you add or remove metal links on the bracelet. A nice feature for those of you who live in countries with extreme temperature fluctuations, or a simple way to immediately enjoy your new watch without the need to run to the (not so) nearest Cartier boutique or retailer to adjust the bracelet.
The bracelet is nicely executed alternating brushed and polished surfaces and is closed by a folding buckle. It gives this 2020 Pasha de Cartier a sportier look. Once mounted on the dark alligator strap, the watch gains in comfort (it is obviously lighter) and in casual elegance. The strap is matte for a modern look and equipped with Cartier’s classic folding buckle.
I’m a bit of a pushover when it comes to a good story and the Thami El Glaoui connection was irresistible. Take it or leave it, the Pasha watch is one of those polarising models that some will swoon over and others will frown upon. Personally, I love it. It has a lot of presence. It’s stylish and it also happens to be water-resistant.
I could certainly dispense with the date window, as well as a larger crown and can’t see why Cartier can’t put a real sapphire cabochon in the cap and crown instead of a synthetic blue spinel, but the artful juxtaposition of shapes, the fiddle-enticing cap on the crown, the elegant numerals, the discreet gradient effect of the dial and those beautiful lugs give it its idiosyncratic, très Cartier nature. It is a bold watch, no doubt. Now, if only you can weave the El Glaoui Pasha story into the mix…
The Pasha de Cartier stainless steel 41mm large model with a steel bracelet and grey alligator leather strap retails for EUR 6,800 (the mid-size 35mm model for EUR 6,250). The watches are expected to be available in September 2020. For more information, please consult cartier.com.