During the Belle Époque period, the house of Cartier began its production of the world’s finest clocks. A finely guilloche enameled travel-sized desk clock, gradually evolved into the house’s most prized timepiece, the Mystery clock. Its marriage of exceptional design, technology and craftsmanship constitute the Mystery and Prism clock as truly extraordinary.
The Pendule Mystérieuse, or Mystery Clock, were invented in 1912 by Louis Cartier and house clockmaker, Maurice Coüet. The clock’s dial, which appeared to float, was inspired by the French illusionist, magician and watchmaker, Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin (1805-1871). The innovative timepiece was further sensationalized by the secrecy surrounding its mechanics. Even Cartier’s own sales staff were uninformed on the functions of the design.
In 1937, master watchmaker Gaston Cusin, further expanded Cartier’s collection of exceptional timepieces with the invention of the Prism clock. These travel-sized desk clocks feature dials that seem to appear and disappear as the clock is viewed at different angles. The optical illusion was inspired by the underwater periscope which utilizes a set or mirrors, or prism, to allow the observer to view things that would otherwise be out of sight. The apparatus was later applied to a series of wristwatches during a resurgence in the 1980s.
By hiding the Mystery clock’s mechanisms within its frame, and placing the dial above a series of mirrors, which create a prism, Cartier is able to achieve the illusion of a floating dial. Similarly, the Prism’s dial is reflected through a series of mirrors, creating the illusion of a disappearing and reappearing dial. Some argue that this application of technology, paired with the house’s design and craftsmanship, establish Cartier’s place as a leading house for jeweled objects.