Cartier, always a collector’s darling, has mastered the recipe for reinventing its classics while infusing them with just enough edge to maintain relevance within the vide du jour—but that’s still not enough to explain the massive surge in demand for its watches. The past couple of years have proved that the house is competing for wrist real estate with industry heavyweights such as Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and Rolex. According to last year’s annual watch report by Morgan Stanley, Cartier is now the second-largest watch brand globally, based on revenue, behind Rolex. Meanwhile, at auction, prices soared into the seven figures for the Crash and the Cheich (the Tank in a Touareg headscarf), while celebrities from Tyler, the Creator, to Henry Golding to Jeff Goldblum are regularly photographed wearing unusual models.
These kinds of headlines certainly amplify the hyper and mirror the excitement around new releases that are, in fact, rereleases. “The ‘resurgence’ has definitely been led by the spotlight which has recently been shining on the 1960s London watch production, especially the Crash—surely one of the 20th century’s most iconic watches,” says London-based vintage-Cartier dealer Harry Fane. “This spotlight has illuminated just how innovative Cartier always has been as a watchmaker, and this coupled with Cartier reissuing its classic models, has led to renewed interest in the historic watches.” Case in point: the new Tank Normale released earlier this year, which at first appears to be a fairly faithful ode to the 1917 original—except for the versions in platinum (pictured) and 18-karat yellow gold that, for the first time in the Cartier Prive collection, come on matching bracelets. There are also three skeletonized iterations featuring a 24-hour complication, in platinum, 18-karat yellow gold, and platinum and diamonds. All are limited—in editions of 100, 50, or 20, depending on the style—and range in price from $30,150 to $107,000.
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Needless to say, if you aren’t already on Cartier’s extra-VIP list, you won’t get one. Even non-limited-production pieces such as the Cartier Baignoire bracelets (an update to the iconic bathtub-shaped models that now come on a bangle instead of a strap) were rumored to have waiting lists ahead of their official drop in June. Looking for an affordable, bargain Normale on the secondary market? You’ve probably also missed the boat.
“Normales out of the 1970s and in good condition are trading anywhere between $18,000 to $20,000,” says Cameron Barr, a Los Angeles-based dealer and founder of Craft & Tailored. “Three or four years ago they were probably $3,000 to $4,000.”
Vintage Cartier is one of the hottest collectible categories in the watch world—and beyond. Here, five sellers share their tips for scoring a soon-to-be grail and reveal the buzziest pieces they’ve come across recently.
“Collectors still have opportunities to buy very good and rare Cartier watches from the 1920s and 1930s at not-huge prices. I would suggest the 1930s Tank JCs and Tank Normales, which are still buyable at $25,000 to $30,000. This will, however, change. The sleeping princess has definitely been kissed and is now wide-awake.”
1941 Cartier Paris Tank Cintrée in 18-karat yellow gold. “It’s particularly interesting as it was made in Paris at the height of the Second World War, when the city was under occupation. The workshops had neither heat nor light, and working conditions were very challenging.”
New York City
“The Tank Louis, Santos— particularly the Carrée— and the Baignoire are the most popular models we’re selling and being asked for. With regards to the Tank Louis, the ones to look for are any that have better caliber movements away from the ETA 2512. When looking at the two main vintage models of the Santos—the Carrée and the Galbée—in my opinion, the Carrée has the best lines and is the purest adaptation from the iconic Dumont.”
Late-1960s white-gold dress watch made by Baume & Mercier for Cartier. “A very elegant and clean watch that draws a lot from the early Cartier pocket watches.”
“Early examples of the Cartier Tank Normale from the 1920s through the 1950s are near impossible to source. The platinum version is considered to be the grail. The production number of the early ones is very low. They had early Cartier or EWC movements with beautiful Breguet-style hands. Pricing on the Tank Normale has gone up 40 to 50 percent in the past five years with more room to grow, especially for mint examples.”
Cartier Maxi Oval. “We have several extremely rare vintage Cartiers at the moment: our Cartier Maxi Oval from the 1970s that was made for the New York market in collaboration with Audemars Piguet.”
New York City
“Right now, the Cartier Cintrée, which is a slimmer, more elongated version of the Tank, is the most collectible. It’s a nice size and is a more impressive piece than the understated Tank. They also have the modern version and the custom pieces, which a lot of collectors bought, which certainly helps the vintage market. I think it’s the premier Cartier to have for a collector.”
Cartier Cloche. “I have a pair of Cartier Cloche watches, the bell-shaped ones—one in white gold and one in yellow gold. Those are very unique and rare. And I have a Tank Cintree from 1970.”
“Santos-Dumonts are really hot and heavy—the smaller ones from the ’70s and ’80s. Cartier made a few models, also during that era, which are called the Extra Plate, that are ultra-ultra-thin. I have a massive waiting list for them.”
1970s Cartier Coussin in 18-karat yellow gold. “The Coussin, which they call the Cartier Bamboo, is interesting. It’s a watch I personally love. It’s very rare because it’s kind of just weird. Cartier didn’t make a lot of them. There are other models like the Ceinture—these are really interesting watches that come in a variety of sizes. Those sell really, really quickly.”
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