The Collector's Guide to Cartier Crash

The Collector's Guide to Cartier Crash

Many myths surround the origins of Cartier's Crash watch, only enhancing the appeal of this surreal and striking design. Read on to find out why this has become one of the most coveted watches globally.
Many myths surround the origins of Cartier's Crash watch, only enhancing the appeal of this surreal and striking design. Read on to find out why this has become one of the most coveted watches globally.

Introduction to the Cartier Crash

T he Cartier Crash watch is one of the most unusual and striking designs in watchmaking, renowned for its unique and surreal aesthetics. Known for its distinctive, "melted" case shape, the Cartier Crash offers a blend of artistic innovation and luxury craftsmanship.

This special watch has seen a surge of popularity in recent years, reflected in significant price appreciation. This demand has partly been inspired by a number of famous wearers, including rapper and entrepreneur (and notable watch collector) Jay Z, american football star Tom Brady and actor of the moment Timothée Chalamet.

The watch’s allure is also partly explained by its range of material and design options, including diamond-set and skeletonized models. Sotheby's Cartier specialists are expert in evaluating and bringing to market Cartier Crash watches, evidenced by the wide range we've sold in the last decade and beyond. A small selection of these are featured below.

History of the Cartier Crash

The idea of the Cartier Crash was first conceived in Cartier’s London boutique on Bond Street, a premises that to this day remains their flagship location in the United Kingdom. This location, more than any other in Cartier’s portfolio, would see the creation of the most stand out and innovative designs in their collection. This was due to the innovation of Jean-Jacque Cartier and the autonomy which his team of craftsman were gifted.

Cartier’s unique designs concentrate on the basics of form, playing within simple shapes such as the circle or the square and then bending, elongating, or compressing them in a way that is highly refined. The asymmetry of the Crash, for example, appears almost as if Cartier had taken an oval and completely crashed it.

Despite having a strong resemblance to distorted watch in Salvador Dali's The Persistence of Memory, the design of the Cartier Crash has no connection to the surreal work. Legend has it that the idea for the Crash came when a client of Cartier brought in his damaged Baignoire from an automobile accident to the London maison in 1967.

According to the story, this distorted Baignoire gave the jeweller Jean-Jacques Cartier inspiration to the first ever made (as he believes) asymmetric case of the watch which symbolizes non-conformism and creative freedom. It is understandable why the Crash was to some considered avant-garde upon its release, and it is this sense of defiance that almost certainly contributed the most to its success.

Although the design first appeared in 1960s its form significantly differed from all other watch designs of the decade. It doesn’t particularly embody any of the typical stylistic features of the decade and, in fact, one may go further to say that it doesn’t entirely embody the stylistic features of any decade. Perhaps this is where its appeal lies; its abstract nature is in a sense transcendent. It simultaneously fits and does not fit into aesthetic spheres and in so doing acquires a trait that the vast majority of designs never even veer close to: timelessness.

Design and Features of the Cartier Crash

The Cartier Crash watch is celebrated for its bold and unconventional design. Key features include:

  • Melted Case Shape: The signature case shape, reminiscent of a melting clock, sets the Crash apart from any other watch design.
  • Roman Numerals: Classic Roman numeral hour markers contribute to the watch’s timeless appeal
  • Sword-Shaped Hands: Blued steel or luminescent sword-shaped hands are a hallmark of Cartier's design.
  • Diamond-Set Options: Many models are available with diamond-set bezels, adding a touch of opulence to the already striking design.
  • High-Quality Straps: The watch comes with high-quality leather straps, available in various colors, enhancing its luxurious feel.
  • Manual Winding Movement: The Cartier Crash is typically powered by a manual winding mechanical movement, showcasing Cartier’s commitment to traditional watchmaking craftsmanship.

Variations of the Cartier Crash

Over its history, Cartier has introduced several variations of the Crash watch, each offering unique design elements and materials. Below are some of the key models:

Classic Cartier Crash 

Commissioned in 2007 through Cartier’s Swiss watchmaking factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds, this Cartier Crash watch possesses a yellow gold case and the iconic asymmetrical silhouette. A secret signature sits alongside the VII roman numeral, differing it from the 2018 reissue. It was curated for Sotheby’s Winter 2023 Important Watches auction and sold for $184,150.

The original design features a slim, "melted" case and elegant simplicity, often in yellow gold or platinum, with or without diamond accents.

Diamond-Set Cartier Crash

A standout piece, this Cartier Crash model features several highly-sought after and exceptionally rare elements. Its pink diamond-set bezel and crown alone are nearly unheard of, but paired with the gold roman numeral time markers and sword-shaped hands, this piece is truly one of a kind. Originally the property of an important Asian collector, it sold for HKD1,079,500 in Sotheby’s Fall 2023 Important Watches auction in Hong Kong.

For those seeking added luxury, diamond-set versions are available, featuring bezels adorned with brilliant-cut diamonds.

Limited Edition Cartier Crash

One of only 400 units, this circa 1991 Cartier Crash model is part of a limited edition collection featuring an 18k yellow gold, slightly smaller case. Both the dial and case back are inscribed with “Paris”, and the buckle is distorted by the asymmetrical crash motif. Curated for Sotheby’s Fall 2023 Fine Watches London auction and sold for 152,400 GBP.

Cartier has released several limited edition runs of the Crash, featuring unique materials, dial designs, and case embellishments. These exclusive models are highly sought after by collectors and often feature special engravings and rare finishes, making them exceptional pieces in any collection.

Cartier Crash Women's Watches

The Cartier Crash collection includes models designed specifically for women. These watches often feature a range of case sizes, intricate details, and additional feminine touches such as mother-of-pearl dials and diamond accents. The blue sapphire cabochon crown and the distinctive design make them a timeless accessory that complements both casual and formal attire.

The 18k white gold and diamond-set case of this Cartier Crash piece makes it a wonderful option for wearers searching for a more feminine touch. Included is a pink Cartier alligator strap and the asymmetrical crash motif buckle.

Materials and Finishes

The Cartier Crash collection offers a range of materials to suit different preferences and occasions:

  • Yellow Gold: Provides a classic and luxurious appearance, perfect for formal occasions.
  • Platinum: Offers a contemporary and versatile look, suitable for everyday wear.
  • Rose Gold: Adds a modern and sophisticated touch with a warm hue.
  • Enamel Finishes: Some limited editions and special models feature intricate enamel work, adding an artistic and colorful dimension to the watch’s design.
  • Diamond-Set: For those seeking a more luxurious option, models are available with diamond-set bezels or dials.
An incredibly rare consignment, the Crash Tigree exists at a pinnacle of luxury and design. Inspired by imagery of African Wildlife, Cartier uses a combination of turquoise, green, and midnight blue in diamond-setting and enameling to evoke the face of a tigress. Furthermore, the leather strap features an iridescent coloring, making this a dynamic piece. Curated for auction in Sothebys Fall 2023 Important Watches I HK auction, this piece sold for HKD1,651,000.

Leather Straps 

Leather straps are a key feature in many Cartier Crash models. These high-quality straps offer a combination of elegance, comfort, and versatility:

  • Classic Look: Leather straps provide a traditional and timeless look, perfect for formal occasions.
  • Comfort: Leather straps are generally more comfortable than metal bracelets, especially for extended wear.
  • Variety: Available in different colors and finishes, leather straps can further personalize the look of your Crash watch.
Number 372 of 400 from the limited 1991 release, the above Cartier Crash model boasts a slightly smaller case at 38mm. Its black leather strap is complimented by the rare black (not blue) cabochon at its crown. Sold for $226,800 in Sotheby’s Winter 2022 Important Watches auction.

Metal Bracelets

Metal bracelets are another prominent feature in many Cartier Crash models, providing a different aesthetic and functional appeal. These bracelets offer a blend of durability, luxury, and modern style:

  • Durability: Metal bracelets, crafted from high-quality materials such as stainless steel, yellow gold, or platinum, offer robust durability and longevity.
  • Luxurious Appeal: Metal bracelets add a touch of luxury and sophistication, making them ideal for both formal occasions and everyday wear.
  • Integrated Design: The metal bracelets are designed to seamlessly integrate with the unique case shape of the Crash, ensuring a cohesive and elegant look.
  • Variety: Metal bracelets come in various finishes and designs, including polished, brushed, and diamond-set options.
Featuring a rare combination of an 18k pink gold case and a diamond-set bezel, this Cartier Crash exudes opulence. The distorted oval shape of the case is complemented by the pink gold tear-drop links comprising the metal bracelet, tied together with the diamond-set crown. Sold in Sotheby’s Fall 2023 Important Watches in Hong Kong for HKD1,079,500.

Why Choose a Cartier Crash Watch?

The Cartier Crash has become one of the most collectible watches globally in recent years, with its unique design making it a standout watch amongst both Cartier offerings and indeed the whole of watchmaking - there's really nothing else like it.

Whether you choose the classic Cartier Crash, the visually stunning Cartier Crash Skeleton, or a luxurious diamond-set model, you are investing in a piece of horological history. The Cartier Crash collection offers beautiful options for both men and women, ensuring that everyone can find their perfect match.

Buying and Selling Cartier Watches at Sotheby's

Sotheby's is on hand to support with your next Cartier watch purchase or sale of an existing watch. We have an extensive offering of carefully curated Cartier watches, covering everything from excellent value Cartier watches to extraordinary Cartier Crash pieces with advanced construction and design.

Trust our worldwide network of leading Cartier specialists from a globally renowned auction house with a 280 year history.

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