The 35-year Story of the Pasha de CartierBy Felix Scholz
The Pasha Origins
The origin of the Pasha de Cartier, so it goes, begins in 1931 or 32, when The Pasha of Marrakesh, Thami El Glaoui, ordered a one-of-a-kind watch from Louis Cartier. A gold watch, resilient enough to keep pace with the Pasha’s active lifestyle, and one that could boast a level of water-resistance that was uncommon for the time. The solution was a watch with a (comparatively) large diameter, a crown cover and metal grid to protect the dial. The only fly in this ointment is that there is no substantive proof that this watch was actually made for the Pasha of Marrakech. The closest we can get is a photograph from 1943 of a watch that bears all these features and does look quite a lot like the modern Pasha.
The official line from Cartier is that “its name pays tribute to the Pasha of Marrakesh, a lover of fine watchmaking and a lifelong customer of Louis Cartier.” Until we’re treated to some spectacular horological sleuthing, the story of the Pasha and his watch is just that – a story.
1985: The birth of the Pasha de Cartier
It would be hard to talk about Cartier without mentioning a legend in the watch industry named Alain-Dominique Perrin, Cartier’s CEO from 1975 to 1998. Understanding that he was at the helm of Cartier during a turbulent era beset by both the Quartz Crisis as well as the OPEC Oil Embargo and the global economic recession of 1973 to 1975, he knew he had to think out of the box. It was also a turbulent time for luxury watches; not just because of quartz, but also the emergence of the luxury steel sports watch. The Patek Philippe Nautilus and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak had been released in the previous decade and were making waves with their innovative designs.
Riding on the massive hit represented by the Le Must de Cartier watches — the brand’s lower-priced diffusion line — launched the year before in 1977, he introduced a revolutionary new wristwatch named the Santos in 1978 with the objective to connect the design language of Cartier to a whole new generation. In the 1980s, when Alain-Dominique Perrin was at the full height of his creativity, it was clear that there was a market for waterproof luxury watches, with timepieces such as the Ebel 1911 Classic Wave rising in popularity and the solid-gold Rolex Submariner taking a dominant stance.
And in 1985 it was time for something sporty and new. A large, masculine watch intended to make a statement, but still hold dear to Cartier’s inherent elegance. And to assist with the design, they enlisted the help of a designer with experience in the space, Gerald Genta.
The round watch stood out from Cartier’s crop of ovals and rectangles. The Pasha also featured a large (for the time) 38mm case, with a broad bezel, the very era-appropriate Vendôme lugs, and the screw-down crown cap, complete with cabochon and dainty retaining chain. Throughout its history, details have remained at the core of the Pasha silhouette. The dial also claimed its fair share of identifying marks. Namely, the square minutes chapter ring placed front and centre on the circular dial. And then there was the 12,3,6,9 dial layout, which along with the oversized crown-cap that, if you use your imagination a little bit, is reminiscent of some of the more iconic military watch designs out there.
The first generation of Pasha watches received more than just minor design additions, as Cartier released chronographs, GMT models, a moon phase and even a perpetual calendar. All these models demonstrate varying degrees of Pasha.
Now we come to one of the most iconic iterations of the Pasha de Cartier — the yellow gold Pasha, replete with protective grille and the distinctive ‘Figaro’ bracelet. “That Figaro bracelet is the best bracelet Cartier ever created for their larger watches,” George Cramer, noted Cartier expert and authority, explains, “and it was only available during the first few years, after the release of the Pasha line.” For Cramer, it is the combination of gold, grill and bracelet that makes this model such a hot property, at least until some limited editions arrive on the scene in the late 90s. The Figaro — presumably inspired by the titular character from Pierre Beaumarchais’ play — is a lovely bracelet, offering precisely the sort of heavy elegance you would hope for from a solid gold dress bracelet. The combination of the Pasha’s lugs and the five, smooth-shouldered links of the Figaro, along with its hidden clasp exudes the opulence of the era. Sadly, the life of Pasha’s Figaro was short-lived, as it disappeared from the catalogue shortly after it arrived, to be replaced by a much more conventional bracelet, meaning the original Figaro is a hot commodity amongst Cartier collectors.
1990: The Steel Pasha
As 1990 ushered in a new decade, Cartier’s Pasha ended five years of precious metal exclusivity and ushered a new case material — steel — into the collection. And while other details, such as the 38mm case size, screw-down crown cover and various bezel options remained the same, the stainless steel case reinvigorated the once-precious Pasha’s sporty promise. This model is, according to George Cramer,” a great Pasha to start with. It is a good looking watch that can be worn on any occasion and it has a no-nonsense and easy to service ETA caliber.”
1995: The Pasha C
The Pasha’s reign of steel continued in 1995, with the introduction of the Pasha C. Smaller at 35mm, and with a sporty ‘H’ link bracelet, the Pasha C represented a new entry-point into the world of Pasha. It also saw several new dial designs emerge, including a coppery, or salmon toned offering, overlaid with a delicate grid that offered yet another interpretation of the ever-evolving ‘square-in-a-circle’ motif.
As should be expected, the Pasha C was not limited to time-only releases, with offerings like a gentleman traveller GMT with a steel 24-hour bezel and a black dial that sees the straight grid-like dial distorted to evoke the meridians of the globe.
Not only does the Pasha C continue to appeal to a new, younger demographic, the smaller size is also a nod to the fact that more and more women are wearing the Pasha. This was something formalised a few years later, in 1998, with the release of a 32mm Pasha, offered in a range of gem-set options and with softer hues of strap.
1997: Celebrating 150 years in style
As the millennium drew to a close, Cartier was in fine form, celebrating its 150th anniversary across the globe. In London, for example, the Party was held in the Egyptian Room of the British Museum, with a guest list of the rich and the royal. It’s also the year that Cartier released what George Cramer thinks is the most underrated Pasha: “The steel Pasha with the grille and the ruby (spinel) in the crown that was launched for Cartier’s 150th anniversary is always available in the market, and for very reasonable prices. The movement was very nicely decorated, and it was limited to 1847 pieces.” Indeed, it was only one of the many celebratory creations Cartier released that year, offered in editions of either 3,150 or 1,847 pieces. Don’t mistake this limited edition (with the red spinel) with the regular production (with a blue spinel) released shortly afterwards.
1998 – 2008: The CPCP Era
Now, we enter one of the most hallowed eras for collectors of modern Cartier, the so-called CPCP releases. CPCP stands for Collection Privée, Cartier Paris and represents a collection of limited releases, typically of 100 pieces or less. The Pasha saw numerous editions released under the CPCP umbrella, typically complicated offerings such as a perpetual calendar. But for George Cramer, this long-running collection-within-a-collection produced two of the most desirable Pasha models ever made, the tourbillon and the day-and-night.
Cartier made four tourbillon models of the Pasha, each limited to 10 pieces each, and powered by a Girard-Perregaux three bridges movement, dubbed the caliber 490 MC with a semi-skeletonised tourbillon. The first of these, released in 1998 featured blued hands, an intricate hand-engraved dial and the iconic Cartier ‘double-C’ logo occupying most of the dial in pink gold. The 1999 release, while still being made to the highest standards, offered a more conventional dial design, applying a bridge shaped like the Pasha’s distinctive square minute track over the tourbillon movement. The editions released in 2000 and 2001 offered variations of this same design, the 2000 edition was particularly striking thanks to the intertwined logo being inset with blue enamel.
The Pasha de Cartier Day & Night is an equally refined, yet altogether different, offering. Presented in 1999 as a limited edition of 20 pieces, the Day & night model took the by now familiar form of the Pasha case (in yellow gold) and added to it a design is inspired by another iconic Cartier creation — the Mystery Clock. The Day & Night evokes the floating arcs of the Maison’s historic clocks by utilising a reworked Fréderique Piguet calibre, which showed time in 24-hour time, allowing for a single central hand, one end marked with a sun, and matching the 6 AM to 6 PM arc, while the other, moon-tipped hand was read against the track displaying the night time hours of 6 PM to 6 AM. There’s a running seconds at the bottom of the dial, and the dial design is kept visually engaging thanks to a beautifully executed clous de Paris pattern. The designer behind this striking, and contemporary concept was none over than the acclaimed Svend Anderson.
2005: 20 years of Pasha
The 2000s onwards makes the time of a significant shift for Cartier’s watchmaking, as the brand consolidated its watchmaking facilities’ in-house’ and the Maison developed its own ‘Fine Watchmaking’ collection, under the management of Carole Forestier-Kasapi, leading to an explosion in Cartier’s high-end complications. And of course, 2005 marked the 20th anniversary of the original Pasha, so a celebratory update was in order.
That watch was the Pasha 42, which, in addition to adding 4mm to the case diameter, in keeping with that decade’s taste in larger watch sizes. In addition to the upgrade in size, the Pasha 42 also received a movement upgrade, the Caliber 8000MC, made exclusively for Cartier by Richemont stablemate Jaeger-LeCoultre (who had, by then, been supplying Cartier with movements since 1900). Aside from these two changes, not too much had changed when it came to the visuals — there was a little guilloche on the dial, but that circle-around-a-square, intersected with Arabic numerals was still very much front and centre. The Pasha 42 again saw that, with incremental upgrades, the core of Genta’s design remained unchanged and as relevant as it ever was.
2006: The Pasha Seatimer
The mid-aughts preoccupation with masculine designs continued to be felt at Cartier, and the catalogue reflected this. Naturally, the sporty design of the Pasha was a fertile field for this sort of experimentation, so 2006 saw the release of the Pasha Seatimer. It’s a watch that took many of the dive watch attributes of the Pasha (the water-resistant crown cap, the rotating bezel etc.), and took it to the natural conclusion. A 40.5mm case, with black luminous dial (a white version was also available). The most striking feature, however, was the addition of a rubber strap, or rather a rubber bracelet with a steel core. Two years later, Cartier doubled down on the sporty style with a chronograph version.
2020: The Pasha of Today
The Pasha is now 35 years old, and with this generation of Pasha, Cartier has managed to, once again, balance the impetus of the original with the tastes of the now. There are two main sizes on offer; a 35mm case (in stainless steel or pink gold) with no date, or a larger 41mm model with date (in yellow gold). All the dial details of the original are still there but realised in a much more textural, subtle and sophisticated manner this time around. The movement is the Caliber 1847 MC. The lugs and bracelet appear the same as ever, though now wearers have the added benefit of Cartier’s excellent “QuickSwitch” system, to allow on-the-fly strap changes, and the “SmartLink” system to enable pain (and tool) free bracelet link adjustments. Also present is that most Pasha of details, the screw-down crown cap, which helps with the 100 metres of water resistance (unchanged from the 1985 original funnily enough). A nice touch is the fact that, hidden on the case profile, only visible when the cap is removed is just enough space for a small engraving. Very classy, very Cartier.
Three special models of the new Pasha de Cartier were also introduced: a skeleton tourbillon with diamond-set movement, case and buckle; a skeleton tourbillon model in pink gold, and finally a skeleton Pasha de Cartier that reminds us why Cartier is the true master at skeleton movements.
The skeleton Pasha de Cartier, bearing the 9624MC manually-wound caliber, integrates the minute track, hour markers and Arabic numerals into the bridges of the movement, under which the gear train sits invisibly.
The Pasha de Cartier Skeleton Tourbillons are the kings of this collection, powered with the 9466MC caliber with a tourbillon at 6 o’clock. The tourbillon bridge bears Cartier’s ‘C’ logo and bears a seconds track around it. On the gem-set model, brilliant-cut diamonds cover the bezel, minute track, seconds counter and the buckle and crown. The Skeleton Tourbillon model is a refresh of the Pasha Skeleton Tourbillon from the Fine Watchmaking Collection, though in a far more compact size now than before.
The Pasha of Marrakesh, Thami El Glaoui, may never have ordered or worn the prototypical waterproof Cartier. At the end of the day, that doesn’t matter. What does is that Gerald Genta’s iconic 1985 Pasha de Cartier is a sporty design that has given birth to its own distinguished dynasty.