This test bench deals with a pink gold Rotonde GMT watch powered by a self-winding movement. It was probably one of the most interesting Cartier watches we could hope to have had submitted to us, since it perfectly embodies the brand positioning and identity.
Subjectivity is of course a factor when it comes to aesthetics, but in the author’s view, this Rotonde GMT is one of the most beautiful Cartier watches. The seemingly classic appearance of this Rotonde turns out to be audacious in terms of certain details and that is precisely where one of Cartier’s greatest strengths lies, both in jewelry and watchmaking. While the 42mm-diameter case does not feature any particular surprises, its flowing lines and well calculated proportions nonetheless make it an outstanding aesthetic success. The iconic crown with its gadroon and its sapphire cabochon is slightly larger than usual due to the presence of a dual-time pusher. The silver-toned guilloché dial single-handedly embodies the elegance and originality of the model. The information is spread out in a pleasing and balanced way. A thickness of less than 12mm ensures an ergonomic feel. The strap features Cartier’s typical leather/folding clasp system enabling accurate and balanced length adjustment, with no section of the strap visible on the outside. The design of the buckle would nonetheless have deserved an update.
In recent years, Cartier has become a full-fledged Manufacture and has a number of in-house talents developing movements meeting the brand’s specific needs. Caliber 1904-FU MC stems from this approach. Several years were required to develop it and its base will serve for a number of different references. Destined to be produced in large volumes at a controlled and attractive price, it clearly belongs to the family of high-quality movements stemming from industrialized production rather than to the world of haute horlogerie in the strictest sense of the term. Its austere design and decoration confirm this observation, backed by an excellent quality/price ratio. The compact built-in module drives a large date, a retrograde dual-time hand coupled with a day/night indicator, along with a small seconds display offset at 6 o’clock.
Given the smart positioning of this watch and its relatively attractive price, the test results were more vital than ever before in forging a considered opinion. So as to finish on a well-deserved positive note, we will first deal with the issues that have involved a certain amount of compromise. This is particularly true of the GMT indicator. The centrings and the layout of the large date disks would seem to imply that the choice of a retrograde indicator was disctated by a question of space. A worthwhile choice, especially since the coupled day/night indicator avoids any risk of confusion. Nonetheless, its small size and minimalist graduation make it none too easy and indeed rather difficult to read. Opting for a retrograde display doubtless influenced the time-setting, which can thus be done exclusively in a clockwise direction. So was this a good choice in functional terms? The answer will doubtless be revealed at next year’s SIHH.
Meanwhile, chronometry performance is definitely up to scratch and proved to be the pleasant surprise of these tests. The 4 Hz frequency serves to achieve rates measured at between +2 seconds/day to +6 seconds/day at 0 hours and in 5 positions! A high-quality result such as is rarely achieved in the watches tested for this column, with a mean amplitude measured at 295°. After 24 hours of operation, the mean amplitude was still more than 280° and the rates measured showed a five-second variation between +2 seconds/day and +7 seconds/day. The GMT function could be said to be on the “stiff” side, but adjustments are nonetheless easily done as such and the firmness will avoid any advertent and unwanted corrections.
This Rotonde GMT perfectly illustrates the smart positioning strategy adopted by Cartier, which reserves models that are more ambitious in terms of complications for its Haute Horlogerie category. But with this price point (less than CHF 9,000 for the steel version and CHF 25,000 for pink gold), Cartier is virtually inventing a new segment and a new niche that brings a useful function, much sought-after among Fine Watchmaking connoisseurs, within reach inside a delightfully elegant watch. Most brands wagering on haute horlogerie finishes (not always matched by chronometer-worthy precision timing) thereby relinquish any claim to a playing field perfectly suited to Cartier. The latter wins the day by cleverly combining the shrewdness of this approach with the qualities of this Rotonde GMT that one can willingly forgive for having made certain concessions.