The Rise of Cartier

The Rise of Cartier

Vive Cartier, Vive La Renaissance

I’m going to come off as an evangelist, but it’s funny to me because for those of us who can see it, it is as clear as day. Within collector’s inner circles, the opinion has been consolidating for some time. And what is perhaps most unique is that this opinion applies to all eras that this watch brand has been operating in. It applies to the vintage watches made throughout the early 20th century.

It applies to the remarkable period of creativity in the ’60s and ’70s. To me, it also applies to the relatively undiscovered period of the ’80s. It definitely applies to the ’90s and early 2000s when this brand refocused on the creation of its core icons. And perhaps most importantly, it applies to the watches it makes today, in particular the special-edition timepieces made in the last four years that coincide with the leadership of Cyrille Vigneron, the brand’s most dynamic CEO since the halcyon era of Alain Dominique Perrin.

Cyrille Vigneron, CEO of Cartier since 2016
Cyrille Vigneron, CEO of Cartier since 2016

That brand is, of course, Cartier, and it is poised to become an absolute juggernaut in the watch world. Further, many of its timepieces, in particular the special-edition revivals of its most iconic masterworks of elegance, such as the Tank Cintrée that was stealth-launched this month in a 150-piece series in yellow gold, with cream dial and apple-shaped hands, last year’s Tank Asymétrique, Santos de Cartier and Santos-Dumont, and most of all, the mythical Crash, are on their way to become highly coveted future collectables.

Why is it that I’m so damnably bullish about Cartier? There are several factors. The first is that of all of the luxury watch brands, they are by far the most in tune with what collectors and consumers in general want them to make, which are watches that exude a wonderful sense of shape, that express a seductive creativity in form, and that inspire with their ineffable style. Cartier gets this, and perhaps better than any other brand in the world — definitely better than anyone else in the realm of stylish dress watches — it is making the perfect modern interpretations of its icons and in so doing, totally winning over even the most discerning connoisseurs. I am not alone in this opinion.

A 150 piece limited edition Tank Cintrée, in yellow gold and in the large size, powered with a hand wound mechanical movement; the watch was launched complete under the radar and directly to customers earlier in January 2021 and is already, completely, sold out
A 150 piece limited edition Tank Cintrée, in yellow gold and in the large size, powered with a hand wound mechanical movement; the watch was launched complete under the radar and directly to customers earlier in January 2021 and is already, completely, sold out

Leading with Style & Elegance

Says Eric Ku, one of the world’s most revered watch experts and collectors, “When it comes [to] modern brands, the one I find consistently making me spend the most money on them is Cartier because the watches are just so good. In the past year, I have bought the Tank Asymétrique in the platinum version with the solid dial as well as the version with the skeletonised movement. The second watch is an amazing demonstration of how even when pursuing something technical, you can see Cartier’s focus is always on style and elegance. Here, the base actually incorporates all the beautiful indicators with the six o’clock index retaining the balance wheel — this is absolute genius.”

Says Nick Foulkes, the luxury world’s greatest journalist, “For years, I was telling Cartier to revive the Collection Privée Cartier Paris or CPCP which revived their most treasured icons in modern interpretations. What is impressive is that Cyrille Vigneron basically made the entire brand a kind of CPCP by focusing on all the key icons and in so doing, bring back all the excitement and style that Cartier has always meant to me.”

Says Michael Tay of Singapore’s The Hour Glass, “I definitely attribute Cartier’s reinvigorated success to Cyrille Vigneron. What impresses me most about Cyrille is that he is a listener and is highly observant. He is constantly seeking varied viewpoints and can quickly stitch together abstract concepts into easily understandable product frameworks. When he first took on the mantle of leadership, Cyrille travelled the world seeking to understand what more could be achieved at Cartier. And you can say that he quickly reconnected the brand to what all us enthusiasts wished it to return to, a brand that epitomized style and elegance. He understood that watches can be technical but when they are, they do so at the service of aesthetics. Not vice versa. Perhaps most importantly, he brought a sense of irrepressible joy and fun back to Cartier which was also critical in connecting it to the next generation.”

I’ve started to notice that in the last four years, everyone I knew and whose taste in watches I respected has become acutely interested in Cartier. Artist Mo Coppoletta, who created a stunning pièce unique Cartier Tank Cintrée in platinum with burgundy numerals, says, “I have long admired Cartier’s style, but previously, I was more interested in the vintage watches or the discontinued CPCP watches. But when suddenly in 2018 they revived the Tank Cintrée, I knew this was the watch to have. When the possibility to create a pièce unique came up, I didn’t hesitate for a moment, and this is one of the watches that when I wear it, regardless of who the collectors are, they never fail to be impressed by its beauty.”

Says author Auro Montanari, one of the watch world’s greatest authorities and a huge Cartier collector, “I definitely think the success of the modern Cartiers has also helped to boost the very rapid rise in the price of vintage watches.” What Montanari refers to is the fact that Cartiers have now become the darlings of the watch auction scene. With vintage watches from the ’20 to ’40s achieving remarkable results, with Cartier London watches from the ’60s and ’70s becoming some of the most hotly contested timepieces in the world, and with CPCP watches rising quickly in value, it is clear that vintage Cartier watches are staging a huge and dynamic shift upwards.

Auro Montanari pictured at home, wearing a special order Tank Cintrée with a platinum case and bracelet on his wrist (Image © Revolution)
Auro Montanari pictured at home, wearing a special order Tank Cintrée with a platinum case and bracelet on his wrist (Image © Revolution)
A present day, all steel, Santos de Cartier, featuring screws on both its bezel and its bracelet, measuring width: 39.8 mm, thickness: 9.08 mm; this instance was launched in 2018
A present day, all steel, Santos de Cartier, featuring screws on both its bezel and its bracelet, measuring width: 39.8 mm, thickness: 9.08 mm; this instance was launched in 2018
Introduced in 2020, the new Santos-Dumont Limited Editions come with each of Alberto Santos- Dumont’s aircrafts etched at the back: Le Brésil, Le 14 Bis, La Baladeuse and La Demoiselle.
Introduced in 2020, the new Santos-Dumont Limited Editions come with each of Alberto Santos- Dumont’s aircrafts etched at the back: Le Brésil, Le 14 Bis, La Baladeuse and La Demoiselle.
The Pasha de Cartier 41mm in yellow gold, and 35mm in pink gold. (©Revolution)
The Pasha de Cartier 41mm in yellow gold, and 35mm in pink gold. (©Revolution)

Says Ross Povey, vintage expert and Revolution UK’s editor, “At one point, people were primarily interested in vintage Rolex, Tudor, Patek and Audemars Piguet. And now, all of a sudden, the Cartier lots are drawing just as much attention.”

Eric Ku sheds light on the reason for that, “To me, it’s because if you look at the history of wristwatches in the last 100 years, the contribution Cartier has made to this culture is absolutely massive. Cartier was not interested in climbing mountains or diving to the bottom of the sea. Cartier was focused on one very pure exercise, which was to create the most stylish watches in the world. And that’s exactly what they did. So collectors are now fully aware that these watches should be treasured in their own way for this contribution, in the way Patek is for essentially inventing the complicated wristwatch or Rolex is for creating the ultimate tool watch. Best of all, because the current watches are so good, in some ways, they serve to unite the entire history of Cartier because they are so perfectly connected to its incredible mythology of elegance.”

A 1992 Cartier Tank Crash: a highly limited version produced in the early 1990s and cased in platinum - the rarest case metal and most exclusive version of the 1990s Crash, sold through the maison's prestigious Paris boutique; this particular example sold with Phillips at their November 2020 Geneva auction, for CHF258,300 (image: phillips.com)
A 1992 Cartier Tank Crash: a highly limited version produced in the early 1990s and cased in platinum - the rarest case metal and most exclusive version of the 1990s Crash, sold through the maison's prestigious Paris boutique; this particular example sold with Phillips at their November 2020 Geneva auction, for CHF258,300 (image: phillips.com)

Watch Customisation Programme

So what is the one Cartier that is the single most desirable watch and without a doubt one of the best investments you can make in contemporary horology? Says Eric Ku, “Without a doubt, it is the Crash.” But you will never find a Crash sitting in a Cartier window or display case, such is the demand for this unusual and evocative timepiece. So how does one go about acquiring a Crash? Says Ku, “You can contact the Cartier London boutique and get on the waiting list for the watch from there. But only one piece a month is delivered there, so you may have to wait for a while. Or if you have a relationship with Cartier, you can request to enter its special orders programme.”

In this Special Orders programme, you can order and even personalise (within limits) your watch, and Cartier will even have watches on display to showcase what you can achieve. Eric Ku recently displayed a stunning yellow-gold Crash with a blue sunray-pattern dial and gold Roman numerals. He says, “You have the capacity to individualise a watch from one of the most iconic and genuinely desirable brands in the world. That’s huge. Yes, you have other brands that offer a similar service but none of them rank of the same level of desirability as Cartier. To me, this is the equivalent of Patek allowing you to personalise a Nautilus or Audemars Piguet allowing you to customise a Royal Oak. The amazing thing is that, historically, this is how Cartier used to work, and some of the most famous watches, such as the Fred Astaire luminous Tank Cintrée and others, came out of this programme. The fact that they’ve kept it going and are even growing it shows how smart they are as it enables [them] to retain this great authenticity and also acts as an incredible communication platform for their savoir-faire. It is the icing on the cake which is a huge and very successful commercial business that consists of great, well-priced, perfectly designed iconic regular production watches.”

The Vintage Revival Takes Root

Collection Privée Cartier Paris (CPCP): Tortue Minute Repeater (©Revolution)
Collection Privée Cartier Paris (CPCP): Tortue Minute Repeater (©Revolution)

Cartier also offers another service that also acts as an incredible communication platform for the brand. This is Cartier Vintage where the brand curates collections of vintage watches that have been refurbished at the manufacture and that come with a full warranty as a new watch would. The whole world has taken notice of the fact that older Cartier watches are massively on the rise in their values. But, of course, the vintage market is rife with watches that are compromised. There is even the famous story of an independent watchmaking legend — his early watches rose considerably in value last year — who together with a bunch of friends set about making replicas of vintage Cartiers to fund his career. But the best way to be assured of the authenticity and function of any vintage Cartier is to purchase it directly from Cartier themselves.

Says Nick Foulkes, “Cartier Vintage is genius. It accomplishes several things brilliantly. First, it highlights the fact that Cartier has an incredible archival service and cares immensely about its older watches. Second, it also underscores that vintage Cartier watches actually rise in value and so when you are purchasing a limited-edition Santos-Dumont in platinum, for example, you may well be buying a highly appreciable asset. Third, it shows the immortality of Cartier’s designs that watches made 60 years ago can be as relevant today as they were when created. This is an immensely powerful message.”

At the moment, Cartier Vintage is offered in London, Paris and as of 2021, Singapore, which is a clear comment on the potential that Cartier sees in this market. Says Tom Chng the founder of Singapore Watch Club and a collector of Cartier timepieces, “In some ways Singapore is the perfect third location for Cartier Vintage. We have what I consider to be the deepest watch culture in the world and we are a community equally interested in modern and vintage watches. We also have a more mature taste for vintage timepieces compared to other markets, and no aversion to preowned objects or any negative cultural stigma. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Cartier Vintage being based in Singapore is also a communication platform for the rest of Asia to understand the desirability of vintage Cartier and also the enduring value of their watches.” When asked how he became a Cartier enthusiast Chng replies, “Cartier is a testament that strong design adds as much value to a quality timepiece as complications or finishing. I love how simple yet unique the Cartier design language is, unchanged since over a century ago.”

Read more: Cartier Vintage Comes to Singapore

Says Nick Foulkes, “Look, the real success of Cartier can be measured in the following way. None of what they are doing would work, not Cartier Privée, not Cartier Vintage — none of it — if it wasn’t for the fact that the brand itself and the normal production watches they offer were already perfect and incredibly commercial.” This is underscored by the brand’s financial results which shows it to be one of the few brands that actually grew despite the global pandemic we experienced last year and are still in the throes of expansion.

Says Michael Tay, “Whenever there’s a crisis, people revert to brands that they feel are the most established and stable and this time round, customers clearly felt that Cartier falls naturally into that basket. But that wouldn’t be possible if the Maison was not creating beautiful products. Look at the Tanks and the Pashas, these manifestations are exactly the expressions of what Cartier should be.”

Geo Cramer, the Cartier expert behind the website Troisanneaux, sums up: “As someone who has loved and followed Cartier now over the better part of his life, I can say without a doubt that the brand is once again at the very height of its commercial power and creative ability.”

More information: cartier.sg

Vintage Cartier Watches on Offer in Singapore

Collection Louis Cartier: Square Incurvée
Collection Louis Cartier: Square Incurvée

Collection Louis Cartier: Square Incurvée

Square curved watch, large model, hand-wound mechanical movement, yellow gold, leather (1976)
Movement: ETA 078
Characteristic: Manual winding
Dimensions: 17.5mm by 2.9mm
Power reserve: 38 hours
Frequency: 21,600 alt./hour
Number of jewels: 17
Atelier de Paris MCHP (Manufacture Cartier Horlogerie Paris): Tonneau
Atelier de Paris MCHP (Manufacture Cartier Horlogerie Paris): Tonneau

Atelier de Paris MCHP (Manufacture Cartier Horlogerie Paris): Tonneau

Tonneau watch, small model, manufacture mechanical movement with manual winding, yellow gold, leather (1985)
Movement: ETA 078
Characteristic: Manual winding
Dimensions: 17.5mm by 2.9mm
Power reserve: 40 hours
Frequency: 21,600 alt./hour
Number of jewels: 17
Collection Privée Cartier Paris (CPCP): Tank à Vis Dual Time Zone
Collection Privée Cartier Paris (CPCP): Tank à Vis Dual Time Zone

Collection Privée Cartier Paris (CPCP): Tank à Vis Dual Time Zone

Tank à Vis watch, large model, hand-wound mechanical movement, yellow gold, leather (2002)
Movement: 9901 MC
Characteristic: Manual winding
Dimensions: 26mm by 20.3mm
Power reserve: 38 hours
Frequency: 21,600 alt./hour
Number of jewels: 18
Collection Privée Cartier Paris (CPCP): Tortue Minute Repeater
Collection Privée Cartier Paris (CPCP): Tortue Minute Repeater

Collection Privée Cartier Paris (CPCP): Tortue Minute Repeater

Tortue watch, large model, hand-wound mechanical movement, yellow gold, leather (2003)
Movement: 9401 MC
Characteristic: Manual winding
Power reserve: 42 hours
Frequency: 21,600 alt./hour
Number of jewels: 34
Collection Privée Cartier Paris (CPCP): Tonneau Dual Time Zone
Collection Privée Cartier Paris (CPCP): Tonneau Dual Time Zone

Collection Privée Cartier Paris (CPCP): Tonneau Dual Time Zone

Tonneau watch, extra-large model, hand-wound mechanical movement, pink gold, leather (2005)
Movement: 9770 MC
Characteristic: Manual winding
Dimensions: 15.33mm by 2.9mm
Power reserve: 38 hours
Frequency: 21,600 alt./hour
Number of jewels: 18
Pasha High Complication Collection: Pasha de Cartier Golf
Pasha High Complication Collection: Pasha de Cartier Golf

Pasha High Complication Collection: Pasha de Cartier Golf

Pasha de Cartier golf watch, 38 mm, manufacture mechanical movement with automatic winding, yellow gold, leather (1993)
Movement: 889 Jaeger
Characteristic: Automatic winding
Dimensions: 26mm by 4.1mm
Power reserve: 40 hours
Frequency: 19,800 alt./hour
Number of jewels: 34

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