IN-DEPTH: The Cartier Clé de Cartier in steel
Cartier’s key collection of 2015 just became a whole lot more accessible.
Much fuss has been made over Cartier’s manly new Drive collection, and rightly so. But the Parisian powerhouse also released another excellent, and highly anticipated, men’s watch this year – the Clé de Cartier in steel. It’s no secret that we fell pretty hard for the Clé when we first met at SIHH 2015. The only potential spanner in the works? It was only available in pricey precious metals. Well, if you’re less about the shiny stuff and more about the stainless, you’re in luck.
Cartier doesn’t often mess with their trademark attributes, and that’s a good thing when it comes to dial and handset. So, expect the expected: Roman numerals, blued sword hands and guilloché centre detail. Familiar and reassuring. It’s a simple design, but not boring. There’s enough detail here, from the multiple dial finishes, through to the well-designed date and the secret signature to reward close examination. And of course it all looks gorgeous under that softly domed sapphire crystal.
If the dial is traditional Cartier, the case is where the brand has flexed their design prowess. The circle in an oval case design manages to look at once classic and contemporary, with a healthy dash of ‘70s retro thrown in. And then there’s the novel key shaped crown, set with a blue synthetic spinel. All told, this 40mm case makes quite an impression. It works because Cartier lived and breathed through all these eras. If a younger brand tried to pull of these look it would look overly self-conscious at best. But because Cartier is Cartier, it just works. The Clé looks good in steel too, with the same finishes as the white gold version. You’d be hard pressed to tell the difference without feeling the weight in your hands.
Like the original, the steel Clé uses the 1847 MC, a newly developed workhorse that’s nicely, if not extravagantly, finished. That it’s an in house movement, geared towards robustness and reliability is a point in Cartier’s favour, but the 42 hours of power reserve isn’t as impressive as it could be in an era where 72 hours seems to be the new normal.
The steel Clé is supplied on a matching bracelet, in the same style as the gold versions. It’s an interesting design, with brushed centre links and alternating wide and narrow outer links. Visually it looks distinctive, with plenty of surfaces and finishes for light to bounce around on. For me though it’s not the most comfortable design in steel (gold might wear better or softer – but I’ve not tried it). The finish was also not as fine as I would have hoped, nor did it feel substantial, compared to similar offerings from the likes of Rolex or Omega.
It’s clear Cartier is making a concerted assault on men’s wrists this year, and it’s a campaign with many fronts. The Drive occupies the centre, but there’s also the Santos 100 Carbon and this, newly accessible Clé. The real question is, now that the Drive is the brands flagship men’s model – where does the Clé fit in? Well, if you find the Santos too chunky and the Drive too dainty, the Clé, with its blend of substantial case and timeless, bordering on retro style, is a great middle ground.
Yes it’s lovely, but is it white gold or steel?
Who’s it for?
Love Cartier’s classy elegance, but not quite ready for a Tank or the Drive? Meet Clé.
What would we change?
The bracelet. I’d wear this watch on leather (croc or calf, both would look great) over the supplied steel everyday.
Clé de Cartier in steel Australian pricing
The Clé de Cartier in steel, on bracelet, $7700.
Images by Jason Reekie.