Last week, I had a chance to talk again to Cartier Collector Pascal Gerbert-Gaillard. Pascal, a 34 year old Frenchman, lives with his family in Asia and has always been active at the various Cartier forums.
GEO: Your passion for the brand is obvious, at what occasion (and in which year) did you start following Cartier?
PASCAL: Comparing with a Cartier aficionado such as yourself, I still feel I’m a bit behind on the learning curve as it’s been about a decade now since I started following Cartier. What started it all for me was when I first spotted what was a two-tone Santos on the wrist of a female friend of mine. What an odd sight, I thought at first. Such a bulky, edgy watch on a lady’s wrist ? That sparked my interest to discover more about the watch and its maker and soon I realised I had opened Pandora box ! At that time, I was still a student in Paris, and on my way from home to university, I would walk by the Cartier boutique in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. From time to time, I stopped by the Boutique and slowly but surely grew more and more attracted to the brand. There were quite some awesome watches on display ! So I started researching about the brand during my free time, but it’s only a few years later that I went into the Boutique to discuss a real purchase. Then it’s in 2007 that I acquired my very first Cartier, a Tank Obus in yellow gold from the CPCP collection. I believe I started getting active on the various forums around that time as well.
GEO: This is of course very personal, but what is it exactly that attracts you in Cartier, that other brands do not seem to have?
PASCAL: In my opinion what is setting Cartier apart from the other brands is the fact that it is the most French of all Swiss manufacturers. By this, I mean that Cartier has been able to demonstrate in jewellery and watchmaking over its more than a century and a half of existence, what makes the best of the luxury “à la Française” : subdued yet refined designs, beautiful craftsmanship inherited from the jeweller background, innovation (think of the Pendules Mystérieuses), panache…Overall, a very strong French flair, while at the same time incorporating elements from civilisations all over the world (India, China, Egypt, etc), creating a universal design but with very deep and strong roots. Hence, I guess that the brand history and DNA appeals to my own personal roots and experience, but beyond that, if I were to put it simply, I would say that Cartier and notably its vintage and CPCP models, embody what I am looking for in a watch : subtle elegance, quiet refinement, simple but creative. Classic, but with a twist. Suppliers to kings and queens, but yet, still able to take a risk. This you would rarely if not find with the other leading brands. This ability to produce avant garde yet timeless designs can be easily understood when one looks at vintage models: a Tortue from 1926 or a Santos Dumont pre WWI would not be out of place on a gentleman’s wrist today.
GEO: What should Cartier release to make you jump in the air ?
PASCAL: I must say that recent developments after the end of CPCP line had me jump in the air more often than not, but for all the wrong reasons ! I hope that Cartier will revert to more reasonable sizes for its watches, which fortunately seems to be the trend as of late. I talked about subdued and refined previously; in my book, it’s hard to say so when you are in front of a 50mm wide, 20mm thick watch.
GEO: You are often wearing a Cartier Crash, a very unusual piece that many of the collectors would like to have in their collection. What does this timepiece mean to you, in relation to other Cartier watches.
PASCAL: The Crash is certainly a very unique, special watch. With its Dali-esque aesthetics, you either like it or hate it, but it cannot leave you unaffected. So, obviously, the Crash is indeed quite unsual because of the shape, but also because you do not get to see many around, as it has been a rarity in the catalogue ever since its creation in 1967. Nowadays to my knowledge, it is only released as a bejewelled, ladies watch version, unless you are willing to order it as a made to order Pièce Unique. The size just got a bit larger with the 2013 version, so right now the current female bejewelled version is larger than the men’s original model. What an oddity, even though being frank, the watch does wear fairly small, notably because of its strap which cannot be too large because of the way it connects to the case. An anecdote : a few years ago, I went to a well known leather goods maker in Paris to get a strap custom made for the watch, when the salesperson congratulated me on this fine ladies watch I was bringing ! She was quite embarrassed when I then asked her to measure my wrist…so, male buyers beware, your spouse may want to steal the watch away from your wrist more often than not – even though technically speaking it would be complicated, as the folding clasp is not adjustable, at least on the 1996 version. But back to your question: when comparing it to the other models in the Cartier catalogue, I would say this watch has a place of its own. It’s a soloist, a prima donna. First of all, its origins are different: the Crash was originally created by Cartier London, while most of the original designs were released by Cartier Paris. Somehow this is quite fitting, it’s “Swinging London” inviting itself in the catalogue of “Cartier Paris”…it’s “Sprezzatura” before it became the goût du jour, with this apparently “natural” post accident design in which most certainly a great deal of thought went. Then, the watch is a rarity. It has only been sold in limited editions (apart from the original release, but it was anyway very few pieces); also it was not part of the CPCP, even though pretty much all of Cartier historical cases were reissued during that time. Until last year, the design had not been updated and stayed true to the very first issue of the watch more than 50 years ago; I see no other famous case in the Cartier catalogue which has run unchanged since its creation. For me, that’s proof of a true timeless design. Finally, some food for thought : I wonder also if what sets this watch apart from the rest is not simply the fact that it is bears a meaning. It is in a sense reminding the wearer that he is all but passing by on this earth; that death may come to him at any instant, and like the public clocks of the past which would be decorated with mottos such as ultima forsan (“perhaps the last” [hour]) or vulnerant omnes, ultima necat (“they all wound, and the last kills”), the Crash in its own way reminds you of your own mortality. I find it quite fitting and increasingly relevant in our modern world governed by ever increasing speed : the faster you go, the bigger the potential crash.
GEO: and what should Cartier launch that could make a technical top and not outrageous priced World Wide best seller?
PASCAL: if we’re talking about volumes, while considering technical questions, then maybe we’re looking at a sports watch, like a Rolex Submariner, or possibly with a complication, like an Omega Speedmaster. This has historically been a weak point in Cartier’s offering and clearly recent moves in the mainstream collection have been trying to solve this. First with the Ballon bleu on one hand, being the all-purpose round dress case, and with the Calibre on the other hand for the sports segment. The latest variation of the Calibre, in its Diver version, is clearly an attempt to take market share away from the competition, my guess being with Rolex as primary target. Therefore I think that we’ll see more and more versions of the Ballon Bleu and Calibre down the road. I have no doubt it will sell well, but for me it’s not a luxury product, per se. It’s a good, high end product, but designed to please too many people. You may have a nice product, but it has no edge, and I get this feeling especially with the Calibre. It’s like comparing a Lexus and a Ferrari. Certainly, overall the Lexus is a better car. It beats the Ferrari, on average, in all categories. However, because of its flaws, because it does not compromise, the Ferrari is unique. That in my view is the very difference between a high end product and a luxury product. A luxury product does not need to be perfect; it needs to be unique. Hence I feel the research for this best seller at Cartier under current developments is somehow flawed, at least not in straight line with the history of the brand.
GEO: These days Cartier concentrates more on the male consumer and created the Tank MC especially for men. How do you see the Tank MC as a daily entry watch?
PASCAL: Cartier has been producing wristwatches for men since pretty much the beginning of the XXth century, with the Santos Dumont at first, and then the Tank. Of course, volumes haven’t been that large, notably in the first half of the century, and even after, if you compare with Rolex or some other brands now in the Richemont group, they were limited, until the Les Must collection. Les Must did a lot for Cartier renaissance as a watchmaker, but it was all lower priced, entry-level models, in vermeil or silver, though with notably the Iconic Tank design. It’s just layman perception that Cartier, with roots as a jeweller, has been more of a watchmaker dedicated to make ladies’ watches than mens’. Reality has been quite different – and by this I am not downgrading watches Cartier is making for the female customer – usually, gorgeous works of art. So, in any case, the Tank as a daily entry watch is something which we have already seen in the past, notably with non gold cases. Now, coming to the Tank MC. I believe it is an improvement in the current offering, notably when you compare with models which came on the market after CPCP was discontinued. I had the opportunity to try the Tank MC in Singapore last year (the gold version) before its official launch, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised to see Cartier release a more subdued model. It’s still of a generous size, but wearable under a cuff. I’m sure that as a dress watch, with a modern touch, this can be a good choice for quite a few people indeed, notably in its steel version which is rather reasonably priced. This being said, while I consider the model to be an improvement, as a collector, I’m still not very much attracted by it. First of all, it’s mass produced, so out of my target. Then, notwithstanding production numbers : it’s still way too large and thick for my taste, I’ve always disliked the 3 o’clock date on a dress watch, the second sub dial feels too large, it’s an automatic model while I prefer my Tanks to be with hand wound movements, the movement even though “in house” has not been designed to fit in a square case (unlike the beautiful yet underrated Tank à Vis in the CPCP collection) and to my standards is finished to a subpar level, the logo is way too obvious, and I would have loved to see ‘Paris’ under Cartier and not ‘automatic’…So basically, it still lacks in my view some of the DNA I am looking for into a Cartier watch. But I’m sure it’ll fare pretty well though.
GEO: Years ago already, you moved from Europe to Asia. A market that has become very important for the luxury industry. Could you explain the difference in taste & preference, between the Asian Cartier man and a European Cartier man?
PASCAL: That’s a tricky question, first of all because I do not believe that there is such a thing as an Asian customer. You have in Asia many different countries with different degrees of maturity when it comes to luxury products, and a self made nouveau-riche from China will not have the same taste as a seasoned Japanese businessman for example. Climate plays a role too: in Singapore and tropical climates, you may want to favor metal bracelets over leather bracelets. This leads to different sensibilities when it comes down to watch owners, and the Cartier man is not immune to that. This being said, I think I may have seen more Cartiers on the wrists of Japanese people than in France for example, notably when it comes down to the CPCP line and some limited editions ! Maybe one of the major differences which struck me is that seasoned customers in East Asia may favor more white metals than yellow gold for their watches. It tends indeed to flatter their carnation more. Of course, I have seen as well quite a few people with diamond incrusted yellow gold Rolexes, but I guess we’re not talking about the same customer profile here. Then, possibly another difference may be that most people in Asia tend to have a wrist a bit smaller than in Europe, hence the Cartier man here may prefer smaller designs on average. I have seen quite a few Tank Française in Japan for example, or LM size (middle size, in Cartier) models, like the Tortue for example, while they were also available as extra large models. In the end, only Cartier sales figures would give us a more complete view !
GEO: What do you think will be the effect (on the long run) of ‘The Fine Watch Making Collection’, on Cartier as a Watch brand.
PASCAL: I believe the Fine Watchmaking collection as it stands now may turn out to be a temporary endeavour, at least from a marketing standpoint. The Fine Watchmaking collection is positioned at the top end in terms of price point, but movements and model keep on showing and disappearing so fast you’d believe it is fast fashion ! Compare this with a brand like Patek Philippe, you have a completely different strategy while in the same price range. While from a pure technical standpoint, the achievements are sure of interest, and generated quite a lot of publicity in the press, I believe most of what has been done with the Fine Watch Making Collection is not completely true to the brands DNA, and my impression, talking with other collectors, has that the Collection has left most of the historic afficionados of the brand with cold feet. I am sure it attracted another segment of clientele, but will they become long term supporters of the brand? Frankly speaking, I don’t know, I just feel that Cartier position as a luxury watchmaker, has been stretched and blurred. Also, Cartier can now claim to be a full scale, fully integrated “manufacture” and it seems the leadership of the Maison has been putting a lot of effort on achieving this. I’m convinced it makes a lot of sense, as the industry is fairly concentrated and you want to secure you industrial capabilities, but I don’t think that from a Cartier traditional customer standpoint, it is making a big difference. Sure, I’m glad my Cartier, notably CPCP models have a nice movement, nicely finished and well decorated, but I do not really care whether they come from Cartier, Piguet, Piaget, or THA. This of course, as long as the House can ensure that the movements can be serviced on a long term basis ; hence in that case having the in house capabilities provides for additional supply safety. Finally, some of the innovations developed by the watchmaking team may trickle down to the mainstream collection, so in a sense, there’s potential upside, but currently I don’t think we’ve seen it very much.
Overall, the Fine watchmaking team has made great technical achievements (astroregulateur, ID two concept with no service required, etc) which should raise Cartier’s profile as a watchmaker, but I feel until now the end result as a watch has been a bit “soulless”, so I wish in the long run the House will manage to better integrate its newly built technical expertise and resources with its heritage.
GEO: In previous years Cartier did, besides the 150th. Anniversary pieces and CPCP, some Limited Editions in the mainstream collection, like the Santos Galbée with grey dial. In case La Maison would launch another LE of for instance 500 pieces, what should it be, to favour collectors like yourself ?
PASCAL : my interest lies in historical models or modern, updated versions of these historical designs. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” as Da Vinci was putting elegantly putting it. Hence, I would favour a shape taken from the archives and modernised, as was the case during CPCP times. Another option could be a completely new case, which would have the potential to become an icon as well, so this means no simple round nor square designs, something more, something beyond, maybe something like the Crash in its time. It would host a simple, time only movement, or it not, then at most, one mainstream complication which has a distinctive Cartier flavour, my preferred choice being then the chronograph mono poussoir which is so sleek and unique. Case would be in yellow gold, with maybe some limited numbers in platinum.
If I were to make some more concrete suggestion, as a Frenchman in China, and since we’re celebrating this year 50 years of the establishment of political relations between China and France, don’t you think it would be nice to see something like an updated Tank Chinoise for the occasion ?
GEO: Thank you very much for your time Pascal, hope to seeing you again, next time when you’re in Paris.