Crystal Magic: Cartier Presents the Astrotourbillon Carbon Crystal

In the male-dominated, testosterone-fueled world of watches and watchmaking, it’s easy to think that the imagination and drive to innovate must be an exclusively male domain, But one of the most creative and fertile minds in the watchmaking world belongs to Carole Forestier, who currently plies her trade as the mastermind behind the development of new movements and watches for Cartier.

Cartier may evoke images of its iconic Tank, Santos or Pasha watches, or of the icy combination of platinum and diamonds which it pioneered in the beginning of the 20th century, but in recent years the timepieces in its Fine Watchmaking Collection–developed under Forestier’s watchful eye–have garnered it newfound respect and recognition for what insiders have known all along: the world’s most renowned name in jewelry is also a force to be reckoned with in watchmaking.

In tandem with developing new watches for its Fine Watchmaking Collection—a collection which includes everything from exotic tourbillons like the Astrotourbillon to beautifully traditional perpetual calendars to never-before-seen complications like its Astroregulateur—Cartier and Carole Forestier have also pursued innovations in materials and basic watch design which yielded, in 2009, the remarkable concept watch known as ID One. ID One was designed to be the first mechanical watch in the world to need no adjustment for accuracy–either at initial assembly or during actual operation–by a watchmaker. To achieve this, it employed new materials, including a form of synthetic diamond dubbed Carbon Crystal, and a hairspring made of an exotic glass/ceramic composite called Zerodur, which was originally developed for use in enormous astronomical telescopes.

A watch that dispensed with conventional oils and lubricants, ID One is also highly shock resistant thanks to a groundbreaking alloy of niobium and titanium used for the case, and is unaffected by temperature changes or magnetism (the two external forces which, in addition to the deterioration of watch oils, have always limited the accuracy of mechanical watches).

It’s an eerily beautiful watch to boot, but there’s just one catch: it is not for sale, to anyone, at any price, as it was made purely as a proof-of-concept technology platform—a concept watch, in other words.  (Cartier has turned down attempts to buy it by determined collectors, including one who reportedly made a seven figure offer that Cartier respectfully declined.)

Frustrated connoisseurs wishing to partake of both the cool, brave-new-world beauty of ID One’s materials, as well as its benefits, rejoice: Cartier has just announced its latest and greatest new watch in the Fine Watchmaking Collection. That watch is the Astrotourbillon Carbon Crystal. The first watch to take advantage of some of ID One’s innovations, the Astrotourbillon Carbon Crystal begins with the already revolutionary Forestier-designed Astrotourbillon, in which the tourbillon carriage, which rotates once per minute, has its axis of rotation at the center of the watch, and is visible as the seconds hand of the watch.

The Astrotourbillon Carbon Crystal is the next step in the evolution of this complication. In it, the normal materials for the tourbillon carriage are replaced by carbon crystal, first developed for the ID One concept watch. Not only the tourbillon carriage, but also the escapement parts are made of this material, and the conventional balance spring used in the Astrotourbillon is replaced, in the Astrotourbillon Carbon Crystal, with the Zerodur balance spring developed for ID One as well.  Finally, the Astrotourbillon Carbon Crystal is the first production watch from Cartier to use the titanium niobium alloy developed for ID One.

The result is that the Astrotourbillon Carbon Crystal shares much of ID One’s superb mechanical advantages: it is unaffected by magnetism or temperature, never requires adjustment, and is extremely resistant to shock. And, like ID One, the use of transparent crystal carbon gives it a spectral allure all its own–and makes it a timepiece that redefines the language of luxury watchmaking.

The Cartier Astrotourbillon Carbon Crystal is available in a titanium-niobium case, in a strictly limited edition of only 50 pieces worldwide.  Pricing will not be announced until the watch debuts officially at the world luxury watch show known as the SIHH (Salon International Haute Horlogerie) in January of 2013, but expect it to break the six figure ceiling.

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