The Cartier Crash Watch
by Richard Paige
I’m a design nut. I’m always inspired by a well designed watch, and when the design borders on art, I seem to be drawn to it as a sailor to a Siren’s song. I’ve always appreciated Cartier for their Timeless designs, and their introductions of new watch concepts. The company was founded in 1847 by Louis-Francois Cartier, but entered into it’s golden age of watches with his grandson Louis Cartier, who entered the Cartier firm around 1900.
Cartieris credited with introducing the first wristwatch to the world in 1904, with the release of the Santos design watch. This was designed for Cartier’s friend Alberto Santos-Dumont, who was complaining to Cartier that a pocket watch was impractical to be used as a watch in flight. Thus the first wristwatch was really the first pilot’s watch.
The Cartier Crash was first introduced in late 1967, and then released as a limited edition in 1991.
This first series of Crash watches was released by Cartier of London, at that time, Cartier Paris, Cartier London, and Cartier New York were operated separately, the family having sold them to different owners. The watch is attributed to be an inspiration from Salvador Dali, the famous surrealistic painter who reached his pinnacle in the 1930’s and 1940’s. But the real story about this watch takes place in “Swinging London” in the mid sixties, home to the English Invasion Music Scene of the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, and The Dave Clark 5.
The story goes that a Vice president from the Cartier offices in London, was involved in a fatal car crash. A fire ensued and the occupant along with his watch was caught up in the flames, furthering along the fatality and “melting” the watch on his wrist, a Cartier Bagnoire Alongee, which is shaped like an elongated oval. The watch being melted and mangled took on the shape of a surrealistic watch from a Dali painting. The powers that be at Cartier, found this “watch design” actually inspiring, and decided to introduce is as a new design, and as a tribute to their fallen colleague. Thus the “Crash” watch was born.( in Great Britain the slang for a car accident is “crash”)
This original version measured 39mm x 19mm. It has the word “London” signed on the dial and on the back of the case, the dial has a “rougher” texture than the more contemporary version and the Roman numerals are “fatter”. It was produced in 18kt yellow gold with 18Kt pink gold Cartier deployant clasp. The oval movement was produced and signed by Jaeger LeCoultre, 17 jewels, lever escapement, monometallic balance, self-compensating flat balance-spring. White dial with Roman Numerals, and blued steel hands, with a sapphire set winding crown.
This early version is worth in todays market between $15,000 and $25,00
The modern version was released in 1991, in a limited edition of 300 pieces worldwide. The watch was an instant hit with Cartier collectors. It measures 39mm x 25mm, and contains a simple 17 jewel movement (ETA?). The dial is matte white in color. All the modern versions are signed “Paris” on the dial, and on the back of the case.The crown is of a genuine cabachon blue sapphire. It originally sold for $12,000, and it appears that it was sold out within 1 year to the public. Today this watch fetches between $15,000 and $17,000 in the auction market. A special “Crash” deployant buckle was produced for the series in 18kt yellow gold, and also looked like it had been in a “crash”. The original buckle is a must for the watch to hold it’s value, and it would be worth significantly less without the buckle.
In 1993, Cartier produced a special edition of the Crash watch in platinum for the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva.
The Cartier Crash watch is an example of a Limited Edition watch which not only kept it’s original value but is now far exceeding the original price. The first series, produced in the 1960’s, is even more desirable and has appreciated significantly from the original 1967 price. I believe that over time both editions will continue to rise in value, as the international watch market has a strong audience for anything Cartier, especially a limited edition series.
However, one thing that may affect future value of this watch is that Cartier has re-released the watch as a production ladies diamond dress watch. It’s the same case, but the bezel is encrusted with pave set diamonds, and comes in either 18kt Yellow, White, or Rose Gold. The Rose Gold version being the most special, in that it’s set with very rare matched rose colored diamonds, and it lists for $73,000. They call this series a “limited Execution”. Personally I feel that if a company as prestigious as Cartier releases a watch as a limited edition with a non-special movement, they should forever cease from using the same case again, and if history reveals anything it tells that Cartier has felt compelled to re-market their past designs as production watches.
Hope you enjoyed this article.