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.
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…
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.
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.
For the best auction coverage and analysis, smash the subscribe button to get Rescapement in your inbox every weekend:
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.
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!
You know how much I love this article, and thank you so much for more Cartier insight and coverage…had some “deep thoughts by @jonwatches”….
As you point out, the Cartier market is, in truth, very thin. There’s like 15 people globally who are thinking about this catalogue right now. Seriously. And seven hadn’t heard of Cartier ‘till last year. A lot of these pieces will have two bidders. But they will be crazy-eyed Cartier die-hards, and the sale should go very well. What makes this catalogue so fun is that it moves away from modern and CPCP into rare, shaped pieces from farther back in the catalogue, and thus all the more interesting. Davide Parmegiani has brought amazing Cartier pieces to market in the past few years, as he’s taken charge of the Monaco Legend auction
Lot 21, the Tank in leather band. A connoisseur piece that I’d beg someone to buy. It will be the best bargain at the sale. It’s fxcking cool, it’s got swag, and you might never see another one anywhere, ever again. I have been able to find only four examples, in total, either at auction or photographed in the literature. Literally Golberger level, as he owns one of the four. Or you could buy a Hulk (sound of me blowing my brains out). Why do I even share this info?🤦🏻. I can’t help myself, I love Cartier too much
Lot 59, the Helm. At 39mm, it’s one of the largest examples I’ve seen. It’s a spectacular watch. There are maybe five or ten helm pieces this distinctive that have come up for auction in the last 20 years. (there are lovely versions in white metals and with diamond plots etc., but the size of this piece is what makes it special - I can’t remember seeing one larger than 36mm)
Lot 38, the Reverso dual-time; single-face reversos can be found. Dual-time reversos are very rare and awesome and it’s a killer piece
Lot 64, the Obus Savonette. Same. This is the sort of piece where you’d have to work really hard to prove that Cartier made more than one or two. So special. Just an amazing piece for a serious collector
Lot 72, keep an eye out in case bidding is soft. If it goes within this range, it’s a great catch. People ask in the same range for platinum “Paris” dial versions on a strap. To get the bracelet, which would have been a custom order, would be amazing. Super rare. Just on its own, a Paris-dial platinum Tonneau is an A+ Cartier
Lot 88, the Grey Maxi Oval. And I’m calling it a maxi-oval ‘cause its 52 mm long, which is the maximum size for a Bagnoire, hence Maxi. Oval. (I think of Baignoire Allongee as being a 47mm watch, but who the hell knows if my view is correct). Unique in grey dial? I don’t think this piece has been on the market since 1996. Who the heck knows if there will be a buyer on Saturday, but it’s epic, frothing at the mouth and writhing on the floor good. All y’all can go jump in a lake if you don’t agree
On the pieces you cite above:
1) The Paris LE Crash - agreed, don’t understand $200k; albeit it’s arguably the most iconic post-war Cartier and a Crash is reasonably rare, even for Cartier. But 400 pieces is a big edition for Cartier, and these are smaller than the originals. I’d rather sit for three years on the London waiting list and buy one of the currently produced 12/year Crash, which are identical to the original versions for 1/5 the price. Easy for me to say as a guy who doesn’t own a Crash, but part of the fun of Cartier is that, generally, they aren’t that expensive until you get into deep vintage craziness
2) Lot 12, the top-winding Tank a Guichets - that is a very, very special piece. Done for the 1996 Cartier-themed Antiquorum auction, Cartier did three each in platinum, rose gold and gold. Nine, in all metals. Take that, Omega. I don’t have my notes with me but I bet only one has come up for auction in the past 15 years, if that
3) Lot 73, Tank a Guichets in platinum with platinum bracelet? Bid until it hurts and then bid more. It would break new ground for a Guichets, but if one is going to go for more than $100k, it might as well be this one (and/or lot 12). How many platinum Tank a Guichets have been made in the last 100 years? 200 pieces? maybe? (And that includes the 150 made in 1996). I can’t imagine more than 3 - 5 have original platinum bracelets. In 100 years. Once one goes down the Cartier rabbit hole, every other definition of “rare watch” makes one laugh
4) Lot 33, the piece unique Cloche in platinum, is just so good. How many platinum cloche has Cartier made in its entire history? 300 pieces? Maybe? Cartier sold out the 2020 Cloche in platinum before the press release even came out, with more than 4x order requests. And this piece with a unique dial. I like the radial Arabic numerals more than the radial Roman numerals. Looking forward to seeing what this piece brings
Agreed that # 2 - 4 all have a chance of breaking $100k, though that’s a lot of money for any modern Cartier - they will do well in all circumstances and are wonderful, special pieces
Thanks again for such a fun article!
Well done, Tony!