Robert Cart: A Watchmaker’s Watchmaker by Tick Talk, March 2011
Prior to reading this article, I recommend that you review The History of Vacheron Constantin’s Alternative Time Displays: Part 1, by Alex Ghotbi: click here to see the post.
I'd like to introduce a new member of my collection and my first non-V&C pocket watch - sort of . First, please indulge in a little background history, then you can be the judge as to whether this piece deserves a place in the cabinet!
Robert Cart’s eponymous watch manufacture was founded at Le Locle in 1920. Born in 1871, he was 49 years of age when he undertook this risky venture. Cart apparently put his time to good use because within a few years he received a Swiss patent for a very thin and unique wandering jump-hours complication where the hour indicator moved around the dial to also indicate minutes. This he christened Heures Sautantes or Jumping Hours. He followed with a second version of the Heures Sautantes. With his Type II, the jump-hours indicator remained at 12 o’clock while the minute pointer mysteriously moved around the dial, visible only through a narrow slot.
1935 Robert Cart Type II Heures Sautantes table clock
1920s Robert Cart Quantieme Perpetuel with jump day/date/month and moon phases
Cart’s impeccable Art Deco styling and popular Heures Sautantes complications attracted orders from powerhouse Swiss manufactures, most notably Breguet and Vacheron & Constantin. Breguet favored the Type I wandering hours, which they offered from 1927 to 1945 in both pocket and wrist watch versions.
left: 1930s Type I Cart Breguet, right: 1931 Cart Breguet wrist watch
1945 Cart Breguet, case by Verger Freres
V&C commissioned examples of the Type II pocket and wrist watch which attained iconic status with the brand. The earliest pocket watches are noted in Vacheron Constantin archives under reference photo 3060 dated 1929, while auction records indicate availability at least until 1932. A rectangular-cased wrist watch was revealed in 1930 as reference photo 3189. Cart also provided other alternative time display complications to Vacheron & Constantin, including an outstanding 1930 pocket watch with its rotary minute dial visible through an aperture beneath a central jump-hour window (see Antiquorum’s Quarter Millennium of Vacheron Constantin sale, lot 99).
1929 Cart V&C Heures Sautantes in VC Collection
1932 Cart V&C wrist watch
1930 Cart V&C
V&C Heures Sautantes archive reference photos
Other customers for the Heures Sautantes were the haute joaillerie retailers which specialized in providing custom pieces for the very wealthy. Gübelin and Sandoz were among those who offered Cart’s marvels under private label. Interestingly, Verger Freres also supplied cases to Breguet, V&C and Charlton for Cart’s Heures Sautantes.
1930s Cart for Charlton, case by Verger Freres
1925 Cart for Gübelin
1929 Cart for Pleissner of Dresden
Once free of patent restrictions, other high horology makers evolved their own wrist watch versions following Cart’s concepts. In the 1990’s, Gübelin produced two extraordinary Heures Sautantes wrist watches in platinum using NOS Breguet movements of Type I design.
Vacheron Constantin introduced the so-called Chronoscope wrist watch in 1994. While its styling was a clear hommage to Cart’s Heures Sautantes, the inner workings were thoroughly updated with the caliber 1120 automatic movement powering VC’s own jump-hour mechanism. Incidentally, although often used by retailers and auction houses, VC never applied the term Chronoscope, which more properly refers to chronographs and stopwatches.
Robert Cart continued to make alternative display complications and more conventional watches of highest quality until his death in 1964. Robert Jr. soldiered on, producing interesting wrist watch complications until he died in 1978. Within a year the company name was acquired by the Swiss conglomerate DIXI Machines SA who, having recently sold Zenith sought to re-invest in horology with Cart, Zodiac and Moser. Unfortunately, the name Robert Cart was assigned to rather poor quality wristwatches until disappearing forever.
The Heures Sautantes featured today was made for the famous Paris jeweler Sandoz. Founder Gustave Sandoz first appeared in the registers in 1867 as a jeweler and watchmaker. In 1882 he won a Deuxième Prix at the Geneva Observatory for a chronometer and, a year later, a gold medal at the Amsterdam Exhibition. He was appointed an Officier de la Légion d'Honneur and watchmaker to the Royal French Navy while quartered at the Palais Royal alongside Boucheron and Lalique and considered himself a student of Abraham-Louis Breguet. Gustave died in 1891 and the business relocated to Rue Royale under his son, Gustave-Roger Sandoz. The enterprise later carried on as Gustave Roger Sandoz Fils & Successeur and the name Sandoz still appeared on watches as late as the 1970’s.
Gustave Sandoz contributed significantly to the patrimony of Vacheron & Constantin when he commissioned what may be the first ever purpose-built wrist watch for the Paris Exposition of 1889; a ladies gold bangle with bezel winding which measured 25mm across (see Antiquorum’s The Art of Vacheron Constantin sale, lot 17).
1889 V&C for Sandoz, prize winner at Paris Exposition
With records non-existent, it may be surmised from the movement number that this Type II was manufactured circa 1930. Still housed in its original box, the three-piece “variée” beveled and reeded 18k white gold case measures 46mm across and features initials “JMB” on the back. The rhodium plated and decorated 16-ligne, 18 jewel movement features Cart’s signature gracefully arched bridges. It utilizes a straight-line lever escapement with cut bimetallic balance wheel and Breguet-type balance spring. The silvered skeletonized dial has an engraved sunburst pattern with an hour aperture at 12 o’clock and a red pointer which tracks along the outer Arabic minute ring. Amazingly, it still keeps accurate time!
Cart’s original Type I and II pocket and wrist watch complications were not provided as ebauches but as fully finished and decorated movements assembled by the proprietor himself. In this regard, Robert Cart Sr. may rightfully be granted the accolade of being a watchmaker’s watchmaker!
Note: this review is based on public records and is subject to revision as new information becomes available. Cited corrections and additions are always welcome. I wish to acknowledge the following sources: The Hour Lounge, Antiquorum, Patrizzi, Christie’s, Stephen Bogoff, The World of Vacheron Constantin by Lambelet and Coen, and Secrets of Vacheron Constantin by Cologni.