About the Cartier Ronde Squelette - The horological world is full of wonders. Cartier in particular is a cornucopia of unusual to avantgarde designs all throughout its illustrious history. You rarely ever saw a fully round case shape - typically it is accompanied by a little twist, something that will catch your eye and make you wonder. A testimony to unique design truly is the most unusual Helm, among the finest of Cartier's creations. Let me show you why.

October 18, 2022

Design Highlights - The Cartier "Helm"

  


Marcus Siems     Marcus Siems @siemswatches
    Collector, Author, Data Analyst


 

Avantgarde I love to look at watches, in-person and online. It gives me peace of mind to take every detail in, trying to classify what era this piece might fit into best and what other models from that brand looked like during that time. All the more interesting when you see something that doesn't seem to fit anywhere. Something so outstanding that it seems to define its own category. And Cartier in itself is probably the brand of its own category... And the most unusual Helm is among its finest. Let me show you why.

 

The horological world is full of wonders. Cartier in particular is a cornucopia of unusual to avantgarde designs all throughout its illustrious history. You rarely ever saw a fully round case shape - typically it is accompanied by a little twist, something that will catch your eye and make you wonder.

The Cartier Ronde Squelette - or better known as "Helm", "Timone" or "Gouvernail" - is one such example. The "Ship-Wheel" is definitely one design to remember, yet you may never have heard of such a piece, never have read in other articles about it. So let's finally pay the tribute it deserves!

 

Four Example Cartier Helm from Cartier Heritage DepartmentAn extract from the Cartier Heritage Department - four early Helm executions in yellow gold all featuring T-bar lugs. From left to right: (1) Duoplan Helm with full twelve "pillar" structure and sword hands on a strap. (2) Duoplan Helm with "solar petal" structure and sword hands on a yellow golden bracelet. (3) Duoplan Helm with full spherical structure and sword hands on a strap. (4) Manually wound Helm with the eight-faceted crown at 3o'clock, stepped bezel, four-sphere structure, inner hour markings and Breguet-style hands on a yellow golden brick-style bracelet. You can easily see where the nickname's are coming from. Definitely a "Ship-wheel". The nickname "Helm/Timone" (or helmet) though might be a slightly more abstract take on the design, as the outer ring in a sense protects the watch face. Photo Courtesy of the Cartier Heritage Department & John Goldberger.

 

Extremely unique yet at the same time exceedingly rare the Helm is a design masterpiece (imho). But we need to understand this rare bird better and I personally believe that the more we know the better we can appreciate. So let's have a loser look at what we can learn from the pieces offered throughout the last couple of years*.

These extraordinary "Timone" timepieces feature a round watch face with the classical Cartier layout, either with Roman numerals or no markers, sword or Breguet-style hands. Around the central dial you'll see a halo connected with the inner circle through either four or twelve pillars. This sophisticated structure gives the piece the appearance of a ships wheel, hence the nicknames. The lugs are classically T-bars attached to the outer ring.

 

1) Timeline

As an absolute odd-ball of a watch Cartier Paris introduced these pieces about right after World War II (1945) when the company has been more and more experimenting with classic-non-classic round watches in precious metals[1-2].

 

Distribution of Cartier Helm watches in time (left) and by case diameter (right)Figure 1. Distribution of Cartier Helm watches by production decade (left) and case diameter (right).

 

What we can clearly see is that most of the Helm watches that were offered throughout the last of couple of years have been produced between the 1940s and 1960s (31 out of 33)*, with a vast majority been dated to the 1950s (22 out of 33). So far I can't say whether pieces appearing after the 60s are an oddity or wrongly dated, but it definitely will be hard to find one of these late examples.

 

John Goldberger's personal Cartier Helm in yellow goldOne of John Goldberger's personal Cartier Helm examples. Here, a twelve "pillar" execution in yellow gold with baton hands and service crown[6]. Photo Courtesy of "Le Temps de Cartier" & John Goldberger.

 

2) Movement

In the late 1920s Cartier Paris started a collaboration with Edmund Jaeger, a very sophisticated and experienced watchmaker from Paris - and yes that is the same "Jaeger" that would join forces with "LeCoultre" in 1937. But before that Cartier and Jaeger formed together the "European Watch & Clock Company", a company that would provide several movements to the Parisian jewelry empire[3]. However, you'll be able to find rare London Helm watches as well[4].

Most Helm pieces you'd come across feature one of two movement styles from Jaeger. The first being the Duoplan movement. Jaeger established the Duoplan movement in 1925[5] as a miniaturized rectangular movement. The gear train and all parts were arranged in two levels (or "duo plan") and to save further space the crown was set to the back leaving no visible winding mechanism.

 

Backside of a Duoplan Cartier HelmWith a Duoplan movement you'll find the crown hidden underneath the watch. An asset for the true symmetry lovers. Photo Courtesy of MLG 2022.

 

The second option was a more traditional manually wound caliber with the crown at 3o'clock also provided by the Cartier-Jaeger collaboration (EWCco). Interestingly, it appears that several crowns at 3o'clock are 8-faceted. Overall, we see that both movement types are approximately equally likely to be found on the market; 15 backwinding Duoplan compared to 19 3o'clock winding pieces.

 

1950s Cartier Helm movement signed European Watch and Clock CoA 1950s Cartier Helm with manually wound caliber - crown at 3o'clock - signed "European Watch And Clock Co.". Photo Courtesy of Phillips 2021.

 

3) Size

Generally, we find a large variety of sizes for all Helm watches. Most prominently we find pieces at 25mm (8) and 28mm (9) as well 32mm (4) and 35mm (6 out of 31) but the range goes up to about 42mm. Additionally, this only accounts for wristwatches, yet you might also see Helm-style pocket watches appear from time to time.

 

vintage 1950s Cartier Ronde Squelette in white gold with EnamelA highly attractive Cartier Helm in white gold with Enamel decorations. An absolute gem that - possibly due to it's Duoplan movement and 28mm size - sold for "only" 10,400Eur in 2019. Photo Courtesy of MLG 2019.

 

Fitting to the caliber styles we see the Duoplan movements particularly often encased in smaller Helm examples. Most of the identified Duoplan Helm pieces were cased below 30mm with one sole exception[4].

 

4) Materials

As I introduced these pieces I mentioned one main characteristic was that they're made from gold. And indeed most of them are 18k gold (31 out of 34), yellow gold in particular with 27 examples and 3 specimen in white gold. On top of that we found 3 examples in platinum. One being in the collection of John Goldberger[1,6], one auctioned off at Christie's Geneva in 2008[2] (see also recently Davide Parmegiani[7]) and one from Antiquorum 2007[8]. All of which come from the 1950s, feature baguette diamonds on all twelve "pillars" and a platinum bracelet.

 

vintage 1950s Cartier Helm watch in platinum from AntiquorumAn absolutely stunning piece. A 1950s Cartier Helm/Ronde Squelette in platinum with baguette diamond "pillars" connecting the inner and outer ring and blued Breguet-style hands. Photo Courtesy of Antiquorum 2007.

 

5) Auction Results

But how appreciated are these pieces on the market? At the moment vintage avant-garde-shaped Cartier pieces definitely are performing very well as evident with recent sales of the Cartier Sheikh, London Pebble and various Crash and Baignoire Allongée examples. And we've read countless stories by now. However, the Helm did not receive similar praise by the mainstream (watch) media over the last few auction cycles.

 

Distribution of Auction Results for the Cartier HelmFigure 2. Distribution of Auction Results for the Cartier Helm between 1995 - 2022*. Each watch is shaped by the movement type (Asteriks for Duoplan, Circle for 3o'clock manually wound) and colored according to the case material (yellow for yellow gold, grey for white gold, blue for platinum).

 

Interestingly, we also see that more and more Cartier Gouvernail are coming to auction these days. One London example being offered at the Monaco Legend Group Auction just this coming weekend[4].

Looking closer at the results we can see several interesting trends. First, the rather smaller Duoplan Helm pieces sell for less compared to their classically wound siblings; with median sales prices differing by about 5x. However, bear in mind that it's potentially not only the movement that dictates the price but also the size (another reason the upcoming MLG lot is interesting[4]).

 

1947 vintage Cartier New York adExcerpt from a 1947 New York Cartier catalogue showing the Ronde Squelette (22). Described simply as "18k gold watch, 19 jewel Swiss movement" it is one of the most expensive pieces in this excerpt, eclipsing even the Cartier Tonneau (23) and Tank Obus (19, not shown). Interestingly, even though this is an ad from a New York catalogue the dial clearly reads "Cartier France". Photo Courtesy of "Cartier in Motion" by Norman Foster et al., & Charlie Dunne @StrictlyVintageWatches.

 

Further, not very surprisingly, platinum pieces sell for a huge premium of about 3-4x of their 18k golden counterparts. Yet, the similarly rare white golden specimen seem to sell right around the same as the yellow golden pieces.

 

6) Conclusion

Overall, in the Helm I see an outstanding design with the potential to become a collector's favorite. What potentially has kept this design from becoming the attention it deserves might be the production period. At the moment the "hot" Cartier pieces are mainly late 60s to 70s watches. As the Helm is an earlier brain child of the Parisian Cartier branch it might simply still fly under the radar.

 

1950s Cartier Helm to be offered at MLG auction 2022The upcoming Ronde Squelette from Monaco Legend Group might set the record straight. Where do we stand with this phenomenal pieces? A rare and oversized "London Helm" with Roman numerals and Duoplan movement is a unique combination I haven't seen elsewhere during my research. Photo Courtesy of MLG 2022.

 

But if we look closely to the numbers over the last year or two there definitely seems to be an upward trend evident. I'm not only speaking about the prices. The availability to the market definitely means that serious Cartier collectors are taking notice of this uber-rare post-war design behemoth.

I definitely think it's time to point the broader audience to the gems still hidden in the auction catalogues. The near future will tell what's in stock for the Helm/Timone/Gouvernail/Ronde Squelette - particularly if and when the next platinum example shows up on the big stage.

 

 

* I could identify 34 Helm watches in total, not all of them having all types of information available.

 

 

References

[1] Personal Correspondence with John Goldberger;

[2] Cartier. A very fine, rare and attractive platinum and diamond-set wristwatch with bracelet, Lot 245; Christie's Important Pocketwatches and Wristwatches May 2008, Geneva;

https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-5065416

[3] 100 Years of the Cartier Tank Cintree; A Collected Man;

https://www.acollectedman.com/blogs/journal/100-years-cartier-tank-cintree

[4] Cartier. Very Rare and Precious, Gouvernail, Oversize Wristwatch in Yellow Gold, With Silver Roman Numbers Dial, Made in London, Lot 136; Monaco Legend Group Exclusive Timepieces October 2022, Monaco;

https://www.monacolegendauctions.com/auction/exclusive-timepieces-30/lot-136

[5] Chapter Two: From Duoplan to Atmos to Reverso; WatchTime;

https://www.watchtime.com/brand-showcase/jaeger-lecoultre-180-years-horological-history/chapter-two-from-duoplan-to-atmos-to-reverso/

[6] Call Collect: John Goldberger a.k.a Auro Matanari; Wei Koh, Revolution;

https://revolutionwatch.com/call-collect-john-goldberger-a-k-a-auro-montanari/

[7] Cartier Timone; Davide Parmegiani;

https://davideparmegiani.ch/watch/cartier-11/

[8] Platinum & Diamond "Gouvernail" Cartier, Paris, "Ronde Squelette", No. 36235, Lot 501; Antiquorum Important Collectors Watches, Pocketwatches and Wristwatches October 2007, Geneva;

https://catalog.antiquorum.swiss/en/lots/cartier-lot-171-501

 

All rights on text and graphics reserved to the Author. 

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