The Design Museum
Cartier in motion

London, United Kingdom


The Cartier in Motion exhibition focuses on Louis Cartier’s unique approach to watchmaking and jewelry, placing it in the context of his time, distinguished as it was by a great sense of energy coupled with a determined break with tradition – an outlook that informed in all man’s works, whether in the fields of industry, architecture or art. Emblematic of the spirit of the age was the widespread passion for new means of transport and the urge to experience the thrill of speed provided by the fastdeveloping cars, boats and especially planes. Cartier and the restricted aristocratic milieu to which most of his customers belonged, were no exception. The growing influence engineering was enjoying in society at the beginning of the century was not limited to technical questions, but spread to include matters of taste, putting a premium on functionality and simplicity and heralding the advent of minimalism. The exhibition concentrates on the association of technology and artistic form and how it found a perfect match in Cartier’s love of the clean, unfussy lines that made his creations the incarnation of the principles that would inspire the Bauhaus artists. The exhibition also explores Cartier’s friendship with the pioneers of the period, including the aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, for whom he designed the first wristwatch, and the civil engineer Gustave Eiffel.

Exhibit Design: Foster + Partners - London, in collaboration with Deyan Sudjic, Design Museum Director

The exhibition design

Planned as the inaugural exhibition of London’s new Design Museum, Cartier in Motion, which is due to travel to other venues, was deliberately designed to fit into a functional, technical space in the museum that would be full of visual distractions, rather than a purpose-built exhibition area. This gave Norman Foster his cue to create a completely self-sufficient, autonomous installation consisting of a system of re-usable display cases and panels that would be completely independent of the building’s architecture. In order to ensure complete transparency, the display cases are made of a single pane of glass folded to create 3 sides, while the fourth side acts as a support for the artifacts. The panels include backlit labelling or projection screens. The display cases and panels are around 2 meters high and can be coupled together or used separately, like a kind of furniture that can be rearranged in any number of combinations, as the occasion requires.

The challenge

Goppion was expressly chosen by Foster to build the display equipment, consisting of 14 showcases (freestanding, big wall and small wall) and forty-six backlit panels. The display cases feature hinged doors fitted with anti-parallelogram hinges and are made using extra-clear, non-reflecting curved glass set into an aluminum frame. Heavy-duty ball bearings roll along special guides under the doors to ensure smooth opening. All the display cases are equipped with customized LED lighting controlled by software based on Bluetooth technology and specially developed by Goppion. Small LED striplights concealed under glass shelves illuminate the display area. All the spots are fitted with special profiles that can focus the beam on a single exhibit, according to its position and shape. Each showcase has an electronic lock operated by a personalized badge and a mechanical lock, as well as a system of latches to ensure an airtight seal. Special compartments house relative humidity control systems and 7 cases – designed to hold the most valuable and most fragile objects – are equipped with filtering units to ensure an ideal recirculation of the interior air. Some of the backlit panels are double sided (2070 x 2150 mm) and were finalized after a long test period designed to achieve uniform backlighting and the correct lighting conditions for the text and images. Each panel has a self-supporting aluminum frame. Designing the display cases for the Cartier in Motion exhibition was a considerable challenge, both in terms of the complexity and sophistication of the structures and in view of the short space of time it took to build them. The success of the operation attests to our company’s professionalism and efficiency. Enormous skill was demonstrated by our engineers, our highly specialized production network, which supplied components requiring extremely precise and sophisticated techniques, the co-maker who developed the exclusive glass folding process, and our own staff, who carried out the intricate assembling and mounting operation in our workshop and finally installed the display cases in the museum. The successful dovetailing of all these components was able to do full justice, on time and on budget, to Lord Foster’s wonderfully imaginative concept.