How renewed interest in iconic Cartier designs is pushing vintage prices to records high
With Christmas around the corner, and since you are reading these lines at Troisanneaux, you may be thinking of purchasing (yet) another little red box for your significant other to celebrate the occasion. The Maison has an ample choice in its new collection, with notably amongst the watches, the Pasha and Santos lines having been relaunched this- and last year, and for the purists, the ‘Cartier Privé‘ collection to which a brand new run of Tank Asymétrique models have been added in 2020.
Now, if you are a true connoisseur, you may want to go for something special, something rare, something timeless. Boasting more than 150 years of history, and having been producing wristwatches for more than a century now, Cartier for sure offers a lot of options to choose from its rich past, should you decide to go vintage. Be it one of the various Tank designs, or the iconic Santos, or the rarer Tonneau or Tortue, you’ll be sure to find one watch to suit your taste and aspirations.
That is, of course, if you can actually source one. And if you can, whether you are willing to pay the prices which are starting to climb at stratospherical levels.
2020 will of course be remembered as the year COVID took over the world, but it will most likely be remembered amongst Cartier aficionados as the year when Cartier watches rose to prominence. Of course, it’s not only Cartier that has seen an increase in prices on the secondary market. Just having a look at Patek Philippe and Rolex results at auction (and the impact on the retail price of new models…) show that the trend has been there for some time.
But until recently, Cartier had been left out of the rising tide. I remember auctions in the 2010s when you could buy a yellow gold Paris Crash from the 1990s for less than US$ 10k. The same ones are now routinely selling over US$ 100k at auction, and one in platinum just reached over US$ 280k a few weeks ago!
What’s more, it’s significantly more expensive than the new limited London edition of the Crash which was introduced at 28,900 £ and will most likely only see 67 pieces ever produced versus the 400 pieces produced for the Cartier version. Similarly, the new ‘Cartier Privé’ Tank Asymétrique in Platinum aforementioned was launched at a retail price of US$ 30,100, while the 1996 version sees dealers asking close to US$ 50,000 for them.
So, what’s happening?
I have been collecting Cartier watches for about 15 years now, with a special focus on the ‘Collection Privée, Cartier Paris’ (CPCP). The CPCP ran from 1998 to 2008 and produced during this decade some of the most stunning models ever made by the Maison. The whole idea behind the collection was to dig into the rich history of the brand and revive some of its iconic designs, with modern high-end movements and larger cases. However by today’s standards, some of the watches released may be seen as small, even tiny; the Ronde for example is clocking at a tiny 33mm for its case, which makes it one of the smallest dress watches around. The movements, while high end, were mostly outsourced, albeit to some of the best names in the industry, like for example Frédérique Piguet, or a consortium made of J.P. Journe, Flageolet, and Vianney Halter for the modern version of the mono-poussoir movement. It’s also during the CPCP area that Cartier launched its first fully in-house movement, (REFERENCE 99802MC), making the Maison a Manufacture able to compete on equal footing with the most famous names in the industry when it comes to production.
CPCP models did not sell all that quickly, and it was still possible to find them in the Boutiques years after their release, with the Boutiques willing to let them go at a discount. Some watches made their way to the ‘gray market’ or ended up on auction sites or at second-hand dealers at a fraction of their retail price.
This situation stayed pretty much the same for the whole 2010s, being discussed or appreciated only amongst a few hardcore fans. But then, interest picked up, and I can think a few reasons are behind this revival. First, the Maison which had erred a bit during the years post CPCP with its Haute Horlogerie collection decided to reset its high-end watches collection and go back to its roots with the launch of the Cartier Privé Collection in 2018. It released as well as some limited editions of its iconic models, notably the Crash London in 2019. That put back in the spotlight some of the iconic designs the Maison was famous for and may have helped garner interest for past models. On a second point, beyond the brand and its PR, a few collectors, as well as influential people, put Cartier back on the map. To this extent, Kanye West wearing a Cartier Paris Crash probably did more for the promotion of the brand and this particular model than all the in house promotion ever made. Francesca Cartier Brickell excellent (recent) first book “the Cartiers” documenting the saga of the London branch of the Cartier family, probably helped as well, as did the numerous Instagram accounts showing “in the metal” some of the finest models ever produced by the brand.
This ‘alignment of stars’ is leading to some models having seen their value inflate up to 4 times within a year. A Tortue Mono-poussoir in white gold recently sold for an amount close to the asking price of US$ 45,000 while it was trading around US$ 10,000 to US$ 15,000 about a year ago.
Quirky or “shaped” cases seem to be in high demand, namely, the Crash, the Cloche, and some of the Tanks like the Cintrée, the Asymétrique, the Chinoise, and the Basculante. Similarly, the limited editions of some of the iconic designs are reaching new heights as well, like the Santos Dumont 90th anniversary, one of which recently sold within a few minutes of its listing on a famous website, just to be re-listed the day after by the dealer who had bought it with a 5,000 euro premium…
Luxury is of course rarity, and it seems that the market has finally come to the realization that Cartier has been producing high-quality pieces, unique in the watch world, with a rich pedigree and limited numbers. Does it not look like the magic recipe to drive prices to even further heights?
Time will tell, and I for one will be sure to check it with a CPCP at my wrist: what about you?
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