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Why The Cartier Baignoire Will Be The Next Wave In Men’s Watch Collecting
Culturecheck

Why The Cartier Baignoire Will Be The Next Wave In Men’s Watch Collecting

By Randy Lai
7 Jun 2024
8 min read

Already an energetic presence in the realm of women’s watches, here are four reasons why the Baignoire is set to infiltrate male tastes this year… 

It’s everywhere you look over the past year-and-a-bit. From traditional print glossies to the digital pages of Highsnobiety, the chatter surrounding the Baignoire (notably in the fashion editor space) has been, to be blunt, effusive.

Led by commentators like Dimepiece’s Brynn Wallner, the key takeaway appears to be that, for a certain kind of taste maven, Cartier’s tub-shaped 20th century design, hasn’t just arrived – it’s moved into the house and put its stuff in the metaphorical garage.

George Harrison (a.k.a. ‘ The Quiet Beatle’) loved his Cartier Baignoire

Naturally, the reasons for the Baignoire’s surge in popularity (as is the case with any ‘it’ object) are as complex as they are manifold. Chalk that up to hybrid appeal: the Baignoire is a design that exists comfortably in the scrum between style, jewelry and watchmaking, and thus signifies various different things to various different collectors. 

In spite of the fact that our better halves beat us to this realization a while ago – what’s new? – it’s worth reiterating why, among men with cosmopolitan sensibilities, the Baignoire is a wave that’s far from done cresting. 

A Special Kinda Club

As in life, the old adage about being “the company you keep” rings similarly true for watches. And where many of the industry’s most influential designs are prized for their association with athleticism or technical achievement, one of the many ways that the Baignoire sets itself apart is through its highly particular clientele. 

Even before Cartier officially designated its most famous bathtub-shaped timepiece the ‘Baignoire’ in 1973, it had developed something of a cult following among artists of the Swinging Sixties.

Actor Raphael Quenard wore Baignoire to the 77th Cannes Film Festival

The French actress Catherine Deneuve, along with George Harrison (a.k.a. ‘ The Quiet Beatle’) were early real-life enthusiasts of the design; and even today, their legacies have remained instrumental in defining the character of the Baignoire’s archetypal wearer.

On paper, there mightn’t appear to be huge parallels between, say, Harrison and Tyler, the Creator; but the latter takes the torch forward for male artists in a similarly inventive, chameleonic, can’t-touch-this way. The best bit? Tyler is an arguably even bigger fan of historic Cartier watches (as demonstrated in his now-seminal interview with Robb Report America back in 2022). 

The Odd Future rapper’s endorsement of the Baignoire speaks directly to its appeal among a selective class of male collectors. The sort of men for whom good taste – without wanting to be unctuously complimentary – seems a matter of elegance, individuality, and refusal to conform to the strictures of conventional male-coded design. 

Why The Cartier Baignoire Will Be The Next Wave In Men’s Watch Collecting
Hong Kong-based collector Kai Huang (@time_to_kai) has a strong penchant for vintage Cartier and Baignoire in particular

“To me, [it] is one of the boldest, most effortlessly stylish unisex watches you can buy,” says Kai Huang, a Hong Kong-based collector with a strong penchant for vintage Cartier. “The first version I bought was the large vintage model on-strap, and that’s a design that pairs really well with everything from casual shirts to suits.” 

“To me, [it] is one of the boldest, most effortlessly stylish unisex watches you can buy,” Kai Huang, Hong Kong-based collector

Favored By Fashion Lovers

The Baignoire’s historical appeal to go-your-own-way collectors has also been supported, in more recent times, by its resurgence among fashion elites. For yours truly, spying actress Emma Mackey (Sex Education) in the bangle-fied version, on the cover of POP Magazine AW23, felt like confirmation of the Baignoire’s legitimacy among insiders. 

Why The Cartier Baignoire Will Be The Next Wave In Men’s Watch Collecting
Baignoire's vintage incarnation had made a cameo in the Spring/Summer campaign of American fashion label Aimé Leon Dore

Indeed, just months prior, the style’s vintage incarnation had made a very well-received cameo in the Spring/Summer campaign of Aimé Leon Dore – supplied to the award-winning menswear label by Gai Gohari, NYC-based Cartier dealer extraordinaire. 

Whilst in New York last year, my fellow Wristchecker Nick Kenyon made it a point to ask Gohari why he opted to dress ALD’s sportorially inclined models in designs like the Baignoire. His response was oddly old-fashioned, but succinctly captures why this creation – and many designs in the Cartier-verse generally – look equally flattering worn with denim, a big gorpy fishtail parka, or just good-old fashioned tailoring:

Opportunities For Deep-Cut Collecting

There’s general consensus among Cartier enthusiasts that, notwithstanding a few pièces uniques, the Baignoire began to appear in significant commercial quantities in 1958.

For the next 66 years, the basic ovoid design language would be stretched, shrunk, bejeweled, and otherwise riffed upon – offering a raft of collecting opportunities to those who prize inventive shape watch design.

To be clear: this story is by no means meant as an exhaustive ‘Collector’s Guide’ to the Baignoire, yet it remains essential to rattle off a few of the variations that make this style such a compelling collectible. 

Why The Cartier Baignoire Will Be The Next Wave In Men’s Watch Collecting
Baignoire "Mini" Bangle

The most ‘common’ of these (and I use that word with great sarcasm) is the Ref. 78094. Made throughout the 1980s, this reference embodies the quintessential Baignoire DNA: complete with a stepped case, ivory lacquer dial, and invisible lugs.

As a subtle design made up of seemingly small details, the most desirable 78094s tend to feature the ‘Paris’ dial signature; indicating, at 6 o’clock, their origin in Cartier’s legendary Place Vendôme flagship. 

For a marginally quirkier Baignoire design, the mini Ref. 8057910 also presents a compelling point of difference. Despite the reference’s 23mm x 31mm case, Fred Cao (a Sydney-based vintage specialist, who’s behind the platform Classic Time Club) says that the diminutive size is a big part of the appeal.

“It’s the case for most vintage pieces, but particularly Cartier,” says Cao, “that the ‘wow’ factor is all about style, shape, and proportion. That combination is intriguing, in my view, no matter whether you’re a wearer or a third party looking at the Baignoire.”

In tandem with that discussion, jewelry lovers have also been gravitating towards the Mini’s charms – readily apparent in the Casque d’Or bracelet. 

Intricately constructed metal wristlets are a well-known specialty at Cartier, yet even by the Maison’s own standards, the Casque d’Or (“gold helmet”) stands apart. The design’s sinuous gadroons reflect the form language of the Baignoire case; while, the use of yellow gold mid-links is an ingenious way to wink (however discreetly) at the iconic ‘Double C’ logo. 

Size & Wearability

The spinning off of the Baignoire into designs like the Allongée and Maxi Oval – whole other sublines that we’ve only mentioned in passing – hints at what has arguably been the watch’s greatest strength all along – its wearability. 

The elliptic proportions of the original Baignoire (i.e. 31mm x 22mm), combined with its concave caseback, mean that even today, it’s a comfortable and immediately elevating presence on all but the largest wrists. Conversely, it’s also worth noting how well the core aesthetic elements translate if the design is shrunk: as was demonstrated last year, with the release of the bangle-fied Mini. 

Why The Cartier Baignoire Will Be The Next Wave In Men’s Watch Collecting
Baignoire has become a low-key hit with men whose journey in watchland is informed by inspirations outside the hobby

Huang affectionately refers to these Mini bangles, made to pull double duty as a watch and fashion accessory, as “jelly beans”. “This version [of the Baignoire] is more versatile,” he explains, “gelling well with wearers who favor a casual personal style”. 

For the average male enthusiast – who typically comes into the hobby off the back of an interest in steel sports watches – there may well be an instinct to overlook the Baignoire – for its size, entirely too-discrete form factor, and lack of shall we say, embedded machismo. 

Why The Cartier Baignoire Will Be The Next Wave In Men’s Watch Collecting
Creative Director and Photographer Pat Sutithon proves that Baignoire is a timepiece of choice for those whose hobbies lie outside collecting / Photo: Pat Sutithon (@patsutithon)

Those precise qualities have turned it into a low-key hit with men whose journey in watchland is informed by inspirations outside the hobby: such as Pat Sutithon of fashion label BOYY; and Cameron Ross Steiner, the host of Collectors Gene Radio

Cao raises a similar point when I ask him about the alleged mental hurdles to wearing a Baignoire on a regular basis. “In a lot of ways, the barrier to entry with these types of watches is no longer necessarily even about money”, observes Cao. 

“It’s more about having enough curiosity to reflect on where the Baignoire fits in with one’s wider taste. Does it match the clothing you’re wearing? Does it resonate with your personal style?”

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