Jewelry & Watches

A Closer Look At The Evolution of Modern Wristwatches

An exhibition curated by Norman Foster uses Cartier designs to explore the history of modern watchmaking.
IMAGE Screenshot from Youtube / Cartier

A new exhibition at London’s Design Museum delves into the history of Cartier watchmaking, setting the brand’s creativity and design expertise in the context of social changes taking place at the turn of the 20th century.

Curated by Norman Foster and co-curated by the Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic, the show looks at the invention of the modern wristwatch from a design perspective, presenting more than 170 exhibits, mostly drawn from the Cartier collection. Visitors are taken on a journey through time, from early-20th-century Paris, when Louis-François Cartier first took command of his master’s workshop on Rue Montorgueil, through a period of technological development that saw Paris named the “cradle of aeronautics,” to the advent of sophisticated modern travel during the interwar years, the launch of space technology in the 1960s and, finally, the present day.

Alberto Santos-Dumont aboard his airplane No. 15, in 1907.

For each period, the exhibition draws out the links between the design evolution of Cartier’s watches and the backdrop of social and cultural change. Opening with the story of how Cartier entered the modern era, it examines the change in style from ornamental classicism to simpler, less cluttered designs, then goes on to show how Louis-François Cartier’s passion for aeronautics--and particularly his acquaintance with the aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, for whom he made his first watch in 1904--inspired his urge to create cutting-edge, highly functional pieces. 

Blueprint for a limousine coupé on an Itala chassis commissioned by Louis Cartier, 1906.

The final section of the exhibition, themed around Cartier craftsmanship, celebrates the endurance of traditional artisan skills in an ever more technologically driven world. A look inside the house’s manufacturing center in La-Chaux-de-Fonds reveals the complex processes and human dedication required to create beautiful timepieces, and shows that the art of watchmaking is still flourishing today.


‘Cartier in Motion’ runs from 25 May to 28 July at Design Museum, 224–238 Kensington High Street, London W8.

This story originally appeared on
* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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