4 things that should happen at the Cartier-only auction this week

Crash into me

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This Saturday, Monaco Legends is hosting a themed Cartier auction, “88 Cartier.” It’s the first single-brand thematic auction we’ve seen in a minute. But hey, Cartier’s been hot for the last few years, so what the hell.1

Even with all the hype around Cartier, it’s sometimes difficult to make much sense of the Cartier market. It’s small compared to say, the market for sports Rolex. Cartier was making literally tens of wristwatches until the 1960s, so it’s not like there are a ton of vintage Cartiers floating around.

So it’ll be interesting to watch the pubic sale of 88 vintage and neo-vintage Cartier timepieces and see what lasting effects it has on the Cartier market, if any. According to Revolution, the watches come from the sale of Italian collector Marcello Fratini.

We don’t know what will happen, but I wanted to write about a few things that should happen. Because the Cartier market is so small, so concentrated, and so opaque, it feels like it’s ripe for irrational behavior, potential funny business, or just plain weirdness. Let’s try to make a little sense of it before this weekend’s auction.


Crashing into reality

First, something to get off my chest: If I have one dying wish, I hope that this is the last auction catalog that parrots the urban legend that the Cartier Crash was inspired by a car crash in London.

In the 2019 book The Cartiers, Francesca Cartier Brickell (a Rescapement Recommended Read™️) dispelled the common origin story of the Cartier Crash: it was never the result of a car crash melting a Cartier Baignoire Allongée, but instead the product of a collaboration between Jean-Jacques Cartier (who ran the Cartier London branch from the 1940s through the 1970s) and designer Rupert Emmerson. Sometimes, a great design is a great design — it doesn’t need some apocryphal story to raise its stature. Such is the case with the Cartier Crash.

Okay, now that that’s taken care of.

Monaco Legends has one Cartier Crash in the sale, a Crash Paris from the 1991 limited edition run of 400. This is the model I’ve been tracking as a proxy for Crash prices over the past year-plus.

Currently, the high-water mark for this Crash model sits at about $210k — Sotheby’s sold one for 1.638m HKD back in March. (A month later, it sold one for slightly less, about $150k.) Prices have been on a steady rise over the past few years (starting at about $30k back in 2018), and honestly, it’s time they hit a ceiling.

With so many other rare or straight-up unique Cartiers in this auction, no rational collector (an oxymoron in terms, I know), should flip through this catalog and think to themselves “self, this watch is legitimately worth $200k+, and I don’t care if I get in a bidding war, I must have it.”

That said, while the hype for the Crash may have started back in 2018, it’s only intensified this year, with guys like Tyler, the Creator and Jay-Z having been spotted wearing one. Tyler, for his part, rather indiscreetly flaunted a ‘91 model like this in a recent music vid.

Crash prices should continue to retreat from the high-water mark of $200k+ they reached in March of this year. Will they? I’m a little more doubtful of that.

These Tank Guichets should out-perform that Crash

I mentioned that with so many rare or straight-up unique models in this catalog, no one needs to be spending upwards of $200k on a Crash.

For this portion of today’s program: A few examples of these “rare or unique” models I’m talking about.

First up: a legitimate one-of-three Tank Guichet from 1996.

In 1996 for Antiquorum’s Magical Art of Cartier Sale, Cartier produced three sets of three limited edition Tank Guichets in platinum, pink gold, and yellow gold.

Monaco has example 3/3 from the yellow gold series, placing an estimate of €30-60k on it. Here’s the thing though: Even back in ‘96, this 3/3 example sold for CHF 57k. I find it hard to believe this watch is worth less now, 25 years later, but maybe so.

Listen, Cartier didn’t produce a ton of Guichets to begin with. There were these three sets of three from ‘96, a handful of vintage examples from the 1920-30s (Duke Ellington famously wore one of these), and a couple limited edition runs during the CPCP era of the 1990s-2000s. But that’s about it.

Speaking of those limited edition runs. Monaco is also offering a platinum Tank Guichet from 1997. This example is part of a limited run of 150 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Cartier (note the red cabochon, reserved for anniversary pieces like this). The estimate on this lot is €50-100k. Phillips sold one for CHF 70k back in May, so presumably the market hasn’t moved that much since, but doesn’t it feel like the fundamentals alone warrant a bigger number than the Cartier Crash (above)? I mean, it’s part of a limited run of 150 compared to the Crash’s 400. That platinum bracelet alone has me wanting to drop six figures.

I love the Guichet because it’s simultaneously Art Deco and futuristic, a cohesive expression of everything Cartier was and is. Of all the Tanks Cartier produced over the years, this thing’s the closest to resembling an actual tank on the wrist.

And so should (maybe) this Cloche

I said this like a year ago, but I thought the Cloche was due to have a moment. And that was before Cartier released a sexy slate of limited edition Cloches that seem to have sold out pretty much immediately.

Like the gold Guichet above, Cartier commissioned a small number of platinum Cloche pieces for the Magical Art of Cartier Sale in 1996. Among them was this unique example with Arabic numerals, now on offer at Monaco.

Back in April, Monaco Legends sold a very similar unique Cloche (with Roman numerals) for €85k.

This one’s got an estimate of €40-80k, but I don’t see why it can’t pass that. Unlike that example from April, it’s got Arabic numerals, which is already hard to find on Cartiers, and honestly, looks kind of beautiful with the Breguet hands.

And hey, if a similar example is good enough for Goldberger…

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A less significant Santos-Dumont

Full disclosure: the Santos-Dumont has always been my favorite Cartier model, and the CPCP iterations of it my favorite.

Lot 2 at 88 Cartiers is a Santos-Dumont from the Collection Privee Cartier Paris, a 90s-2000s effort from Cartier to bring back classic watchmaking and designs to the House.

This Santos-Dumont is a classic look: Cartier Paris on the dial, beautiful sunburst guilloche pattern, and even a slightly upsized 27mm x 36mm case.

Monaco’s estimate is just €8-16k, and I’d bet it’ll surpass that. Phillips sold one for about $25k this spring, so it should go for at least that much. You’ll see a fair amount of this Ultra-thin reference floating around in the yellow gold variation nowadays, but platinum is still hard to come by. Even more so when it’s got the Cartier Paris signature emblematic of the CPCP era. You’ll sometimes find dials in this model signed Cartier only, often referred to as “pre-CPCP”. (ACM has one of these listed for £23k right now. Loupe This sold one for $18,500 not too long ago.) To me, the Paris on the dial gives it just a bit more zhuzh and deserves a slight premium.

Whenever I bring up this watch, I love to mention this 2012 article from now head of Watches at Phillips, Paul Boutros. Boutros had a conversation with Cartier’s director of watchmaking at the time, Eduoard Mignon:

“Edouard explained how difficult this watch was for Cartier to manufacture due to the extreme thinness and the challenges of working with platinum. The caseback is fitted with a platinum frame to secure the movement, and each arm of the frame was hand soldered. For every one case completed, one was discarded due to damage. As a result, according to Eouard, Cartier lost money on every one of these watches they sold.”

I love the feeling that by owning this watch, you’ve pulled a fast one on Cartier. They lost money, you gained a great watch.

Top lots, top dollar?

Honestly, I don’t know what to make of the top lots. There are three lots that share high estimates of €150-300k, so let’s take a quick look at all of them.

Like, what are we supposed to make of this Cartier / Blancpain prototype? I guess it looks cool, and Monaco provides a letter from Cartier to Sotheby’s from 1998 (when the lot was sold there), which purports to show that Harry Lee Danzinger, a former owner of Cartier shops in Monte Carlo, Cannes, Switzerland, and Paris, had this prototype commissioned by the manufacturer.

Even still, it’s a weird watch — Blancpain dial and movement, English case hallmarks, a creation for Cartier Paris, not to mention the actual shape of the watch — so the result here could be weird too.

To me, this humongous Baignoire Allongée with a (probably unique) grey dial from Cartier London is more interesting and beautiful, but again, TBD what the market will be for a unique piece like this.

The last big estimate from Monaco is for this unique platinum Pasha de Cartier from 1988. It’s published in Patrizzi’s famous book Cartier Biano, so that’s something. But again, objectively speaking, the Pasha is kind of an ugly watch — or put more mildly, an acquired taste.

Of these three watches that have estimates of 150-300k, I’ll be interested to see which performs the best. For my money, the Baignoire Allongee feels the most significant. Maybe it’s because I romanticize any watch like this one that comes from Cartier London. But hey, more than any other brand, Cartier is all about the romance, right?

Tune into Monaco Legends’ 88 Cartiers on Saturday, or keep it locked here or on our IG for updates on the sale.2

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Through the Wire

Meanwhile, Edmond Saran has his picks for Monaco’s Important Timepieces auction, to be held the day after 88 Cartier. I’ve got to agree with him, the Rolex “Baby Bao Dai” looks insane.

In other news: I’m banning the use of the word “rare” in my own writing. If I slip up and use it, feel free to come to my house and polish my watches until I swear not to do it again.


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1

Apropos of nothing, I find the history of brands getting involved with auctions utterly fascinating. Here’s a WSJ article from 2007 exploring the phenomenon.

2

Charlie pointed out to me that the “88 Cartier” may be a subtle homage to the first Cartier-only auction, back in 1988. 🤯 That’s why you are books_on_time, Charlie!