Tokujin Yoshioka Turns Cartier Watches Into Op Art

A stunning exhibition at German museum turns the inner workings of the tiny design marvels into short, vivid films.


Watches are a feat of modern engineering–a machine that’s precise to the second, and so small you can wear it on your wrist!–yet they’re so tiny, most people who wear one probably don’t have the faintest idea how it works. In Cartier Time Art, Japanese designer Tokujin Yoshioka uses time and space to explore and explain the craft of watchmaking in a gorgeous installation currently on view at the Bellerive Museum, Ein Haus des Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, in Switzerland.


In collaboration with the French watchmaker, Yoshioka was able to create animations which showcase the tiny faces and innerworkings of the watches. These are projected above the watches using 3-D movie technology, appearing to float on the glass cases. Filming little vignettes that either track a watch’s movement or an aspect of fine watchmaking, Yoshioka is able to project the watches at a much larger and more detailed size, allowing the viewer to almost peer inside a watch’s tiny technology. It’s absolutely mesmerizing to watch the precise ticking of the little cogs, or the minuscule pieces required to assemble a watch.

Among the exhibition’s goods are 158 Cartier watches, ranging from a 1874 chatelaine watch in yellow gold, pink foil, enamel, and pearls, to Cartier’s newest ID One concept watch, made from super-resilient niobium-titanium and carbon crystal. This newest watch is magnified for public ogling using a rather interesting method: a giant dynamic lens–the same type of glass that covers a watch face, yet a piece that’s the size of a human head. It also manages to make a sweet funhouse-type mirror for attendees.

Two years ago, Yoshioka created the installation “Story of…”–Memories of Cartier for the Tokyo National Museum, which gave background to several famous Cartier pieces using a similar projection technique. In a way, this piece is a continuation of that narrative, but it also nods to Cartier’s high-tech future. In Yoshioka’s own words:


A long history and avant-garde ideas for the future.
Cartier’s unique beauty comes from the merging of these two extremes.
The space, with 3D films depicting the mechanism of the watch, will wrap around the hearts of visitors.
I hope their experience here will implant Cartier’s new timebeat in each life.

Wrapping around the hearts of visitors might be a stretch, but at the very least, people will gaze upon the timekeeper gracing their wrists with newfound admiration. The show is up through November 6.

About the author

Alissa is a design writer for publications like Fast Company, GOOD and Dwell who can most often be found in Los Angeles. She likes to walk, ride the bus, and eat gelato