We are very pleased to have Eric Ku here at Troisanneaux, Eric is one of the more interesting collectors and best experts on Cartier and other brands today and his vision on the brand is exceptional.
Despite the fact that Eric got well known with Rolex, he is very interested in Independent watchmakers as well, as also the more mainstream watches like the sensational Bvlgari Octo Finissimo. Eric has given quite some interviews during the last years, mainly focussed on Rolex. But we would like to talk to him more thoroughly about Cartier since he is not only a man with great knowledge about the brand, but I discovered that ‘La Maison’ is absolutely his passion!
GC: When I got to know you as the well known Rolex expert, I was pleasantly surprised discovered to learn about your love for some Cartier pieces. What was the reason, or which piece was it, that made you really interested in Cartier?
EK: I remember very early on my father had a vermeil Must d’ Cartier Tank. It was a gift from an aunt of mine sometime in the mid-late 1980s. My father has a bigger sized wrist, and he never wore it much. I’d play with that watch along with others in his dresser drawer.
As an adult, I’ve always had an eye for design, and I remember being blown away by the Crash from the moment I first saw one. It was around 1998, and it was in an Antiquorum catalog. I knew absolutely nothing about the brand aside from some of the origin stories in Cartier brochures, but I knew what good design was as soon as I saw it.
GC: Compared to Rolex and Patek Philippe, vintage Cartier watches never fetched very high prices at auctions. What is your view on the current situation, compared to, for instance, 10 years ago, and how do you think it will develop into the future?
EK: To the contrary, Cartier prices in the late 1980s to mid-late 1990’s were incredible.
At that time, the Crash was already selling for close to six figures, some Cartier Tank Cintrée models were well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then it suddenly stopped.
I wasn’t a collector then, so I don’t know the reason, but I think it had to do with the rise of PP and Rolex. At that time, the smaller size of Cartier, the fact that they were all not waterproof, and just a charge in tastes relegated Cartier to the sidelines of the latter boom in watches at auction. Fast fwd to “Watch Collecting 2.0, aka the age of Instagram”, Cartier has once again seen a great rise in not only interest but in values as well. Early Cartier watches were always produced in relatively small numbers and nice ones are hard to find. Prominent Cartier enthusiasts such as yourself, John Goldberger, Roni Madhvani, and to some extent myself have contributed to the renewed interest in the brand. I am a firm believer in the 30-year nostalgia cycle, and Cartier is the poster boy of the 1980s design and luxury.
Cartier as a brand is much more nuanced than Patek Philippe or Rolex. There is somewhat limited knowledge on the internet, and with the 3 branches producing all different watches pre-1990, its a bit of a minefield. Values are subject to interpretation as most people don’t understand why two seemingly similar Tank Normales could be worth significantly different amounts- ie a London on vs a Paris example. Because of the limited amount of information out there, collectors are eager to learn more and discover more. This will lead to a steady rise in values for these pieces as more collectors get interested and expand the collecting pool.
GC: Between 2008 and 2018, Cartier was really focussing on the development of highly complicated movements. Was this development a direction of high interest to you, or are historical models like we saw in the Collection Privé, Cartier Paris collection for you what Cartier really should be.
EK: In the old days, most vintage Cartier complicated watches featured movements made by other manufactures. Many great repeaters and perpetual calendars, for example, were made by Audemars Piguet. I can imagine the complicated Cartier watches of 2008-2018 were made as an homage to the early watches, but frankly, the designs and executions left a lot to be desired. If I were to be critical, they often lacked any sort of Cartier DNA- they might as well had other brands printed on the dial. They bore no resemblance to any of the golden age pieces. Production volume was high, and people expected to be able to buy these watches with large discounts. It just wasn’t a good direction for the brand. I can only suspect that at some point the Maison had a “Come to God moment” and decided to pare the production of such watches and stick to what they are good at- timeless design.
Collection Prive was a different beast. Already somewhat vintage, we can see that many of the watches in that category have become coveted collector’s items. Tank Cintrees, Asymmetriques, Crash(es), etc all are popular amongst collectors. The vintage-inspired details, extra care given to aesthetic elements like the dials and buckles etc. are all components that have contributed to the success of these watches. And as you point out, this is what Cartier is really about.
GC: You are the only person I know that has the full range of Crash models, from the vintage London one to the latest London version. But you also have the Crash Skeleton in platinum. What is your opinion about the Skeleton version, compared to the four other, more traditional, Crash models?
EK: When Rupert Emmerson designed the original Crash, he really hit one out of the park. The sensual curves and shape of the watch is something never seen before, and even now, 50+ years later, its something that has never been replicated. Successive iterations have seen some modifications- the 1990’s reissue is smaller and has softer edges- perfect for a woman, and the platinum Skeleton saw a return to a larger men’s size, but again the angles were a bit too soft for my taste. With the “Bond St.” edition launching last year, they returned more or less to the original size and shape, which makes it that much more special. The platinum skeleton is very different than the others, featuring that skeleton dial and leaving the movement exposed. While it doesn’t exude the same look and feel like the others, it is unique in itself and is much more appropriate as an evening tuxedo watch.
GC: Instead of continuing Collection Privé, Cartier Paris, Cartier decided in 2018 to start a similar series, Cartier Privé, also based on historic models, but now with a more modern look, but also in very limited editions.
EK: Of this series, I have purchased a set of the Cintrees, and I have a set of the 2020 Tank Asymmetrics on order.
The Tonneau is not really my taste so I passed. Although the watch is beautiful, it just doest sit right on my wrist. I think the pricing is pretty reasonable and from what I know, they have all sold quite well. It’s a winning line for Cartier and I hope they continue to iterate on this theme.
GC: Really great to learn that you only buy what you would really like to wear, instead of buying a piece just for the collection. What is, in your opinion, the ‘Must have’ watch that any Cartier collector should have in his collection?
EK: I think any collector of Cartier should look to have at least one great tank from the pre-Richemont era. Whether its a 50’s Paris Tank Louis, a 1970’s London Tank Normale you just can’t go wrong.
Already somewhat difficult to find these original watches, they will be even harder to find in the future, so you should look to add one to the collection before the prices rise even further! I’ve said many times in the past, but the enduring design of Cartier watches is what makes them special. The Tank has been an icon for over 100 years now, and its a great feeling to have one of the “Originals” on the wrist.
GC: Cartier has a huge collection of different shaped watches and many models from the very early years, what do you see as the most underestimated Cartier watch?
EK: The Tank is no doubt the most iconic of the Cartiers, but there are actually some very nice round watches in their history. I actually quite like the Pasha. I would die if I could find an original one from the 1930s, but some of the early modern ones are pretty great- like a 1980s one in white metal with some age on the tritium. Can’t beat that.
GC: As the last question, what is from all brands, in your opinion the ultimate gentleman’s watch and why?
EK: Is there any doubt?! Cartier of course! A 1920’s Jumbo Cintree in Platinum with a matching mesh band for instance.
GC: We would like to thank Eric tremendously for his time to share his vision on the Cartier Collection with us.
Follow Eric Ku on Instagram: @fumanku