The Cartier Crash: A Radical Icon In Demand

The Cartier Crash is without a doubt one of the most famous designs from the French maison, and carries a singular origin story; this doesn’t stop collectors from chasing the finest examples of the Crash.

The Cartier Crash is without a doubt one of the most famous designs from the French maison, and carries a singular origin story; this doesn’t stop collectors from chasing the finest examples of the Crash.

- By Kevin Cureau

The story and success of Cartier can be traced back to the distinctive work and creativity of the maison’s three international branches in Paris, New York and London. It is incredible to think that each branch of the company was operating on its own and had the capacity to design, produce, assemble and sell a watch in one city.

Scholars and collectors would agree that the London branch of Cartier on New Bond Street was by far the most daring of the three, and that it is in the 1960s and 1970s that the boutique created the most emblematic designs which enthusiasts are now actively looking for.

Among iconic designs from Cartier London, the most famous remains the Cartier Crash from 1967, created under the tutelage of Jean-Jacques Cartier, the great-grandson of the company's founder. Interestingly it is also the most intriguing and mysterious due to its origin story. Several theories float around regarding what could have inspired one of the most radical designs the watch industry has ever seen.

Some say that the design of the Crash was inspired by Salvador Dali’s surrealist painting, The Persistence of Memory, featuring a melting clock; others more commonly refer to the story that the Crash’s design originated from a Cartier Baignoire Allongée which melted from the fire of a car crash and had its shape deformed. While the tale of a watch which deformed and took a unique shape on its own is quite attractive, the recent release of Francesca Cartier Brickell’s book, The Cartiers, seem to indicate that this long standing theory is false and that the iconic design of the Cartier Crash resulted from the collaborative work of Jean-Jacques Cartier and artisan Rupert Emmerson, who played with Cartier's visual identity, stretching and bending it with much more audacity than his predecessors.

Recent auction results clearly show the strong interest for the finest examples of a Cartier Crash. It is believed that only a handful of Crash pieces were produced during the 1960s due to the complexity of the case shape as they had to be created by hand. Even up until present day, the Cartier Crash has only been released in limited series in the 1980s and 1990s, when the production of the Crash was moved to Paris, which adds to the collectibility of the model.

An early Cartier Crash London, sold in New York during the Winning Icons auction for US$175,000

As expected, the earlier examples are the ones commanding the highest prices as shown by results achieved in Phillips’ sales such as this 1987 yellow gold Crash (sold for US$175,000), this 1990 yellow gold Crash London (sold for CHF106,250) or this incredibly rare platinum Crash from 1992 (sold for CHF258,300).

A rare, platinum Cartier Crash, sold during The Geneva Watch Auction: XII

Since modern Cartier Crash models are also produced in limited series, they also perform well when they appear at auctions as this 2019 Cartier Crash ref. 4127, launched in commemoration of Cartier London’s Bond Street boutique reopening, demonstrates (sold for HK$750,000).

As collectors set their eyes on the upcoming Hong Kong Watch Auction: XII, we would like to highlight the two Cartier Crash examples below as they provide the choice to either bid a vintage Crash example or a modern one depending on one’s collecting preference:

Lot 874 – Cartier Crash, Paris Edition

In 1991, Cartier Paris launched a limited edition series of the Crash encased in yellow gold as a limited edition of 400 pieces. Beautifully preserved, the present example numbered 35 belongs to one of the earliest examples. Complete with its original certificate and its presentation box, the present Paris Crash will certainly gather much interest from collectors as it is not often that these spectacular timepieces surface on the market, especially when it is preserved in pristine condition.

Lot 967 – Cartier Crash Skeleton

Reissued in a very limited batch of 67 pieces, the Crash Skeleton is an artisan marvel with a sculpted movement 9618MC unique to its contour. The openworked 18K pink gold version is seamlessly integrated with skeletonized bridges crafted with Roman numerals and striking blue sword-shaped hands. With a 3 days power reserve beating at 4Hz and measuring in a 45.3mm length, slightly larger than the original, the watch can not only be adorned by ladies, but also adapts easily on men’s wrist.

No matter how you slice it, the Cartier Crash is one of the icons of the watchmaking industry due to its illustrious story and its daring aesthetics; and whenever one example appears on the market, collectors recognize that it is certainly a rare opportunity to acquire a fine timepiece worthy to enter even the greatest watch collections.