I’ve never felt nervous interviewing anyone until I met Carole Forestier-Kasapi. I must profess, I am a big fan of her work – in a field that’s been dominated by men since its birth, her position as head of Cartier’s department of movement creation and international standing separates her from the rest of the herd. Her impressive curriculum vitae reads off like a who’s who of the watchmaking world. She won the top prize at a movement design competition sponsored by Breguet when she was fresh out of watchmaking school. Then she joined the famous Renaud & Papi movement design firm before her term at Richemont. Even her LinkedIn profile shows off 16 different patents in watchmaking that she has filed.

Despite being into her 18th year at Cartier and her 12th year as director of movement creation, Forestier-Kasapi has yet to slow down. This year’s pieces were typical of her and the maison’s work. “The design language of Cartier doesn’t change. When we want to create something new, it has to represent the same elegance that all Cartier pieces showcase. It tends to be a challenge when we want to create a watch so the departments (movements versus cases) bicker a little,” she answers when asked what the biggest hurdles are in creating new showstoppers for Cartier.

For example, take the Rotonde de Cartier Skeleton Mysterious Hour Watch (pictured above). It seamlessly combines two of Cartier’s design elements – the skeletonised movement and the mysterious time. It’s quite the challenge considering that the Mysterious Hour is meant to hide and mystify while the Skeletonised aspect is meant to show. Why two opposing philosophies though? “We figured it would be an interesting challenge to meld the two. It hadn’t been done by us before and we were looking at new ways to interpret both design elements,” Forestier-Kasapi replies.

In the new novelty, Cartier even went so far as to show off the gear train (a first for them in the Mysterious range) but had to shift things around to maintain the hidden connection to the sapphire discs on which the hands are placed. It’s like having a magician tease you by revealing a step in his trick but hiding the crucial element. Forestier-Kasapi laughs when we allude to this. “You still cannot reveal the secret, of course. It’s the most important part of the Mysterious Hours,” she exclaims.

While sight (or lack thereof) was the highlight of the Rotonde de Cartier Skeleton Mysterious Hour Watch, Cartier’s other novelty tackled the challenge of sound. The Rotonde de Cartier Minute Repeater Mysterious Double Tourbillon (above) saw the maison display its proficiency in movement creation, finishing and the intricacies of perfecting the repeater complication.

In any minute repeater, the volume, timbre, resonance and how long the sound lingers in the air are all of equal and utmost importance. In an openworked timepiece like Cartier’s, these variables have to be adjusted bit by bit.
“It’s different for each watch as well. Some of the pieces could be tuned in two hours while some would take the entire day,” Forestier-Kasapi explains. On top of that, perfecting the consistency of the sound across all pieces meant constant readjustments, adding several more man-hours to the process. Thankfully, modern day software helps to record and ensure that there is minimal human error.

How different then is this repeater from Cartier’s first in-house minute repeater from five years back? For one, the secret alloy used in the gongs are the exact same. But as Forestier-Kasapi mentions, they can’t reveal its composition as it’s an un-patentable material. She laughs and comments, “Yes, everyone would be able to get a hold of it.” Having heard the chime earlier in the day, we asked if the unusual crispness of the sound was due to the titanium case and if the movement had to be built heavier in order to maintain a balance and allow the sound to reverberate better. “No. What is important is the ratio between the weight of the watch and the weight of the gongs. By using a lighter case, you favour this ratio,” she explains.

What’s next then for Cartier? Forestier-Kasapi tilts her head back and lets out one final laugh. “It takes a long time to produce a movement, you know. We’re already creating ahead for the next two or three years. You’ll just have to wait and see,” she teases. Ah, well. At least we tried.

This article was first published in the April ’17 issue of AUGUSTMAN Singapore. 

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