A Cartier Watch, Ready for Its Closeup

A publicity still from the 1933 film “Perfect Understanding,” in which the actor Gloria Swanson wears her beloved Cartier rock crystal and diamond bracelets.Credit…Courtesy of Heritage Auctions
Cartier’s 18-karat rose gold Libre Morphosis watch with diamonds, sapphires, spinels, chrysoprase and coral. Price on request, (800) 227-8437.Credit…Still Life by Matthew Avignone. Post production by picturehouse + thesmalldarkroom

In 1912, Cartier introduced its first mystery clock. The hands seemed to float magically around the dial as if without anchor but were, in fact, attached to two disks of transparent rock crystal. The object’s popularity coincided with the return to fashion of the translucent crystal, a fixture of the house’s haute joaillerie innovations of the time. Two decades later, Gloria Swanson — one of the biggest movie stars of the 1920s — purchased a pair of Cartier rock crystal and diamond bracelets. Crafted with an expandable row of carved hemispherical half-disks, the bangles had no clasp, and their monochromatic, oversize bombé shape stood out on the black-and-white screen when she wore them alongside Laurence Olivier in her 1933 film, “Perfect Understanding.” An extravagant woman (she had a 24-room Beverly Hills estate), Swanson adopted the Cartier bracelets as one of her trademarks both on- and offscreen, wearing them in publicity stills and at awards ceremonies. Later, she incorporated them into her wardrobe when she made her comeback in 1950 as Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard.”

Cartier’s Libre Morphosis watch takes its inspiration from Swanson’s original 1930s rock crystal bangles, in three looks influenced by the brand’s Art Deco archive. One version of the spectacular bracelet-like watch, which features a triangular trompe l’oeil motif, is made of rose gold and set with 81 red garnets and black spinels, 54 gray moonstones and 418 brilliant diamonds. With a stretchable strap, it’s entirely reversible — a watch on one side and a bracelet on the other. (The piece is also available in sapphire, red coral, chrysoprase and diamonds; there’s a monochrome version in rhodium-finished white gold, diamonds and black spinels, as well.) It’s a statement-making twist so big that even Desmond herself would approve.

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