Today we have an article written by George Cramer, an authority and trusted resource on Cartier watches. If you want to know anything about Cartier, he’s the man. His knowledge is encyclopedic and he shares it as a moderator on Revo-Online.
I’ve discussed collecting before in an interview with Aurel Bacs, International Head of Christie’s Watches department and in a series about James Bond watches with expert Dell Deaton.
Now I’ve been lucky enough to have George discuss collecting Cartier here with us on Longitude. I turn you over to him.
By Geo Cramer
Collecting watches doesn’t start suddenly, like collecting stamps or coins. Most people think about collecting after meeting others with the same interest, as for instance seeing people at watch auctions or talking to collectors at ‘Get togethers’ organized by watch enthusiasts.
Not all collectors are alike and among them, not everyone has the same goal to collect. Some collect to get a series of watches complete: for instance, the Omega Speedmaster models from a certain period; Pre-Oyster watches by Rolex; or, early Patek Philippe ‘Calatrava’ models. Others collect watches just to wear, whether that is different brands or just one single brand.
Collectors, at least the ones I know, quite often stick to one brand and get really deep in its history, but that doesn’t necessarily need to be the brand they wear in daily life.
In the next lines, I will restrict just to Cartier, since that’s the brand I’ve been following for a long time.
Cartier is unique in many ways. It is for instance one of the very few brands that has a very rich collection of models in the twenties that are still in their current line up.
Cartier watches are timeless from a visual point of view and are constantly improved, slightly adjusted and re-released, again and again. New models that are presented now and then usually have a lot of DNA from vintage Cartier watches. They fit seamlessly into the current collection.
Cartier made most of their large range of iconic watches between 1906 and 1967. In this period, they created such famous models like the various Tank, Santos, Tortue and Tonneau models. In this time period, Cartier did not make their own movements. Therefore ’La Maison’ worked closely together with mainly Jaeger-LeCoultre, which formed the European Watch & Clock Co. for this purpose, to obtain their calibers.
Collectors and watch aficionados were not around in the early years. Watches were just bought to wear and to know the time. When there was a problem with the timepiece, it was often brought to a local watchmaker, who exchanged parts with non-original parts, or, in the worst case, replaced the whole movement with one by another maker.
For the owners this wasn’t really a problem, since the watch just had to do its job: telling the time!
We do think differently now, don’t we?
These vintage watches are, of course, still around and could cause the younger collector some difficulties because he or she may not be capable of identifying if the dial and movement are correct and original to timepiece.
Vintage Cartier watches from the twenties and thirties are very popular among serious collectors and many have a soft spot for these, often very small, mechanical pieces, but these are, especially for the newcomer, not always the best option to start with.
The safest and most interesting watches to collect come from the ‘Collection Privée, Cartier Paris’, in production from 1998-2008. They were made for people who love the historical cases and details of Cartier watches from the past. Many watches from this series are almost exact copies of their vintage counterparts with larger case dimensions and equipped with high-end mechanical movement by Piaget, Jeager-LeCoultre, Frederique Piguet and others.
Some models have see-thru backs, so the movement can be inspected on the spot and they were all individually numbered.
Prime examples of excellent remakes of the original models are the Santos Dumont 1913, LC Tank and the Tortue Mono Poussoir (first model in yellow gold).
The first Tortue MP in yellow gold is the one with the smaller case with case dimension 43 x 35mm. This is the model that has a dial that comes closest to the vintage Tortue Mono Poussoir from 1928, although this model had a much flatter case and a different movement by EWC. The Santos Dumont 1913 is exactly like the original, in detail and in dimensions, but it’s hard to find, since only 100 pieces were produced and so is the LC Tank.
Worth mentioning is the Tank Asymetrique, produced in a limited edition of just 150 pieces, and the unlimited Tank Chinoise. Almost every historic Cartier model was re-released in ‘Collection Privée, Cartier Paris’.
Early model often had the word Paris underneath the brand name, and a flower rosette in the center of the dial. Very nice details that were only seen on early pieces.
These two details are a handhold to recognize pieces from the now retired ‘Collection Privée’ series, since only a few pieces did not have the rosette or were not individually numbered.
A couple of models in Collection Privée, Cartier Paris, were limited to only 100 pieces and the models that were produced in an unlimited quantity were made in very small numbers, 200 to a few hundred, depending on the model. If one considers that Cartier has over 300 Boutiques worldwide, then it’s hard to believe that these editions were that small.
Good for us collectors; these watches are the icing on the cake!