Magical Mystery: Cartier Masse Mystérieuse

By The Time Place Magazine

Cartier presents a limited edition watch that will captivate watch enthusiasts the world over

When it comes to telling time, nothing is more important than clarity and accuracy. A legible dial that allows the wearer to see the time at a glance is one of the foremost things watch connoisseurs look for, as well as an accurate movement that ensures precision every step of the way. However, what sets a timepiece apart is the unique way with which it conveys the time; this is where aesthetics and technology come in.

For 2022, Cartier takes a page out of its long and rich history in watchmaking, and succeeds in capturing these very aspects – legibility, accuracy, incomparable aesthetics and technical mastery – with its latest offering: the Cartier Masse Mystérieuse.

Unlocking the Illusion

Renowned throughout history as the jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers, Cartier has always placed an emphasis on exceptionally sound and beautiful design. With its unparalleled prowess in high jewellery creation, the brand applied its knowhow in jewellery making to the manufacturing of watches, ensuring that the watches leaving its manufacture would reflect its tradition of excellence. Its first wristwatch, made by Louis Cartier especially for his aviator friend, Alberto Santos-Dumont, paved the way for Cartier to achieve new heights in watchmaking. From 1904 onwards, the Maison has championed the creation of fine timepieces and has not looked back since then. This year, Cartier pays tribute to its rich watchmaking heritage and delivers a timepiece that showcases the mysterious element of time.

The early 20th century was a period of upheaval and reform. People were slowly leaving their Victorian values behind and becoming more open to new styles and new ways of living. Modernity was gradually gaining ground and people were welcome to making changes to their lives. With this mindset pervading every level of society, infinite possibilities were present to everyone. It was during this tumultuous time that Cartier presented the world with mystery clocks.

First introduced by the Maison in 1912, mystery clocks were called as such because their hands appeared to float over the transparent body of the clock, with no connection to the movement. A testament to Cartier’s aesthetic vision, mystery clocks were a collaboration between the brand and a young, talented watchmaker, Maurice Couet, who was not even 25-years-old at the time. Despite his youth, Couet was already highly experienced and became an exclusive supplier to Cartier in 1911. Couet was instrumental in the creation of mystery clocks. He derived inspiration for the seemingly floating hands of Cartier’s mystery clocks from the clocks of the famous illusionist and father of modern magic, Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin. Borrowing from this figure of history, Couet adapted and developed a novel concept, wherein the hands are not connected to the movement, but are attached to two crystal discs fitted with serrated metal edges. These discs are activated by the movement and turn the hands – one for the minutes hand and the other for the hours hand. The illusion is perfected by the concealment of the disc edges by the hour circle. And thus, with the help of a revolutionary watchmaker and its own distinct know-how in watchmaking, Cartier was able to deliver magic and mystery to its distinguished clientele.

A Modern Marvel

This year, Cartier takes the ingenious concept of its historical mystery clocks one step higher with the Masse Mystérieuse. Applying the most advanced techniques, the Maison goes on a creative exploration of the mystery of time and plays with the construction of its latest timepiece.

From first glance, the watch dial is divided into two semi-circles, one transparent, and the other showcasing the movement that provides it power. Here, Cartier brings together two of its watchmaking signatures: the mysterious movement and the skeleton dial. Taking the essence of the brand’s historical mystery clocks, the new watch boasts a miniaturised movement, with a newly reimagined oscillating weight; not only does the oscillating weight serve as the beating heart of the timepiece, it also makes for a delightful adornment.

Powering the Masse Mystérieuse is the new calibre 9801 MC, designed, developed and assembled in-house at the Cartier Manufacture. Over eight long years of hard work was put into the creation of the calibre, which ensures that the effects of gravity do not affect the chronometer. Because of the painstaking effort taken to see it to fruition – five different constructions before a prototype could be launched, with two further prototypes needed to develop the final version of the calibre – the brand has filed a patent for the movement to guarantee that it will stay an exclusive property of Cartier. Equipped with a power reserve of 42 hours, the calibre 9801 MC has a total dimension of 39.6 mm, a thickness of 7.3 mm and 43 jewels. Furthermore, it has a frequency of 28,800 vibrations per hour.

Considered the most complex and technical piece ever developed and created by the Manufacture’s talented and professional watchmakers, the beauty of the Masse Mystérieuse lies in its simple and minimalist design. But what its purity belies is the fact that there is true magic behind its construction. On the austere dial, the hands float in the space of the case, with no apparent connection to any gears. This is because the different components that receive energy from the movement, transmission and regulation are integrated in the rotor. To enhance the pure aesthetic of the timepiece, the rotor itself is beautifully skeletonised to make this moving spectacle visible; the wearer can then observe the ballet of the watch’s components without having to turn the watch over. In the centre of this mechanism, an ultra-sophisticated differential system – which surprisingly was taken and borrowed from yet another industry that of the automotive industry – has been integrated into the movement to prevent the time display from being caught in the mass. Coming to life with the slightest movement or touch from the wearer, the technical feat impeccably displays the time to the rhythm of the hands in the void. This mysterious rotor, which adds incomparable flair to the timepiece, makes use of an innovative principle that ensures the balance wheel always remains in the same vertical position. For this to happen, the rotor rotates in both directions at an irregular speed.

With such a delightful technical wonder beating as its heart, the Masse Mystérieuse is a true sight to behold. Measuring 43.5 mm, the magical timepiece has an impressive thickness of just 12.64 mm. Rendered in 95/100 platinum, the watch has a crown set with a stunning ruby cabochon, a charming detail that adds heightened elegance to the model. A dark grey semi-matt alligator leather strap accompanies the piece, with an additional black alligator leather strap for a second option.

Limited to only 30 pieces, the Cartier Masse Mystérieuse is a wonderful offering from one of the most established watch manufactures in the world of haute horlogerie. With its simple elegance yet highly technical spirit, the timepiece is a true masterpiece of high quality watchmaking. For those who want the best of both worlds – a combination of Cartier’s haute jewellery and haute horlogerie savoir-faire – the Cartier Masse Mystérieuse is also available in a platinum iteration, set with baguette-cut diamonds, as well as a version set with baguette-cut diamonds and a platinum bracelet set with baguette-cut diamonds.

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