If Cartier’s Tank and Panthère watches are the maison’s headliners when it comes to timepieces, the Baignoire is the rebellious supporting act. Not quite classic enough to reach the wrists of royals—Princess Diana wore the boxy military-inspired Tank while Kate, the new Princess of Wales, lives in the sportier Ballon Bleu—the quirky Baignoire, affectionately named after its bathtub shape, is a firm French favorite. Among its fans? Gallic doyennes Catherine Deneuve, Romy Schneider and Jeanne Moreau.
As fashion shifts its onus towards forever pieces, the Baignoire is enjoying a new wave of support from individuals who want the caché of a Cartier, sans the predictability of say, a Panthère. Step up Tyler, the Creator—a famous auction bidder for rare Cartier chronometers, such as the psychedelic Crash and old-school Petit Cylindre—and now, his friend Kendall Jenner, who was spotted with a Baignoire peeping out from the sleeve of her Bates Rave Flag Cafe racer jacket at the weekend. Positioned against her other luxe wardrobe staples—including The Row boots, an Olsen-made bag and Khaite’s Danielle jeans—the slimline watch looked jaunty, intriguing and expensive in line with the history of the piece.
Born in 1912, when it was somewhat revolutionary to shake up watchmaking traditions, Louis Cartier, the grandson of Louis-François Cartier, conceived a striking oval-faced timepiece with a horizontally rotating dial, which he gifted to a top Russian client, the Grand Duchess Pavlovna. It was not until 1957 that the Baignoire—French for those decadent tub shapes of the time—was put into circulation as a novel Cartier signature in a multitude of metals and sizes—some with 70 diamonds dotted around the band.
Fast forward to the ’70s and the jeweler stretched the design even further for the novel Baignoire Allongée in line with the swinging style of the decade. Its long and winding journey then culminated in the rumor that, according to Vogue’s Rachel Garrahan, “the Cartier Crash, the surrealist masterpiece and perhaps most sought after of all Cartier watch designs (Jay-Z wears one and a 1967 model went for a record-breaking $1.5m at Sotheby’s last year) was, in fact, originally inspired by a client’s Baignoire Allongée that got mangled in a car crash.” We’ll leave the horologophiles to debate on that one.
Curious as the witty accessory might be, the chic piece shows how Cartier can adapt and pick up new supporters, such as Kendall, who is trying to forge her own path in a crowd of It-girls cycling through trends like there’s no tomorrow. The Baignoire, with its playful history (watch fanatics are currently obsessed with the ’60s and ’70s), is an instant conversation starter – something worth its weight in gold in an industry that capitalizes on herd instinct for buying hero pieces. Jenner’s French-girl turn shows it’s time to switch things up.