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Cartier Crash watches

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Cartier Crash: The Misshapen Icon

The Cartier Crash is reminiscent of Salvador Dalí's most recognizable work of art. The timepiece's unusual shape, fascinating history, and scarcity has transformed it into a coveted collector's item.

The Surreal Cartier Watch

The Cartier Crash is one of the most original luxury watches ever made, thanks to its contorted oval case. And since the dial follows the unconventional shape, even Cartier's signature Roman numerals are stretched and distorted. The overall concept bears a strong resemblance to the watches in Salvador Dalí's surrealist masterpiece "The Persistence of Memory." You will thus also hear Cartier fans refer to the Crash as the "Cartier Dalí."

The Crash made its debut in 1967 and its conception is credited to Jean-Jacques Cartier, who headed Cartier's branch in London at the time, and designer Rupert Emmerson. According to legend, the inspiration came from an oval Cartier Baignoire that had been damaged in a car accident, but there's unfortunately no truth behind this tale. In reality, Cartier and Emmerson had simply set out to produce a watch that resonated with London's vibe in the Swinging Sixties.

Cartier London manufactured the watch, albeit in small numbers, into the early 1970s, and picked up production again in the mid to late 80s. These rare timepieces are also known as London Crash models and are a hot commodity for collectors. In 1990, Cartier Paris presented the Crash in platinum, and a year later released 400 copies in gold. Following in the footsteps of the previous model, these watches are nicknamed the Paris Crash.

Cartier releases new editions of the Crash from time to time. In 2013, for example, the Maison introduced a version on a gold bracelet with tear-drop shaped links. Several years later in 2015 and 2016, the watch world was treated to different skeletonized models. Lastly, Cartier launched the Crash Radieuse in 2017 as part of their Libre collection.

Reasons to Buy a Cartier Crash

  • Unique design
  • Coveted collector's items
  • Available in platinum or rose, yellow, or white gold
  • In-house movements
  • Premium models with skeletonized dials

Prices for the Cartier Crash

Reference number Price (approx.) Material, size, caliber
Paris Crash 079-91 283,000 USD Yellow gold, 38 × 22 mm, 160
Paris Crash 2774 211,000 USD White gold with diamonds, 38 mm x 22 mm, 160
Paris Crash 2463 201,000 USD Yellow gold with diamonds, 38 mm x 22 mm, 160
Crash (Swiss made) WL420047 PG 155,000 USD Rose gold with diamonds, 39 × 26 mm, 8970 MC

How much does a Cartier Crash cost?

Prices for the few copies of the Cartier Crash available on the Chrono24 marketplace run between 195,000 and 275,000 USD. These are mostly variants of the Paris Crash. With luck on your side, you might be able to find a Crash Skeleton in the same price bracket.

If you're interested in a London Crash, you will need to invest a lot more time, patience, and capital into your search. These models were produced in extremely low numbers, making them a rare sight on the secondary market. Copies do sometimes crop up at auctions, but usually sell for eye-watering amounts. In May 2022, for example, a Cartier Crash from 1967 fetched 1.65 million USD from the highest bidder, making it the most expensive Crash ever sold.

About the Cartier Crash

Although the Crash's history stretches back over 55 years, the timepiece has barely changed. That said, each version does have its own defining features, usually its size. While the original model, the Crash London, features a 43 × 25 mm case, the Paris Crash is much smaller at 38 × 25 mm. Modern versions of the watch, on the other hand, are available in sizes between 39 × 22 mm and 45 × 28 mm. These include the London Crash Re-Edition, which was designed exactly according to the dimensions of the 1967 Crash and can only be purchased at the Cartier boutique in London. Not only that, but Cartier produces a maximum of one copy per month.

You can also tell the different Crash versions apart by their dials. Although nearly all Crash models have a silver-white dial with black Roman numerals, watches made in London have the word "London" inscribed above 6 o'clock. In the same vein, watches from Cartier Paris have the French capital written at the bottom of the hour. More recent versions simply use "Swiss made" as a nod to their origin.

One model that strikes its own path visually is the Crash Radieuse from 2017. The numerals are overlaid with concentric rings that create a ripple effect. The pattern continues onto the bezel. Cartier only produced 50 copies of the Crash Radieuse, making it another extremely rare Cartier watch.

Calibers in the Cartier Crash

Cartier uses the 17-jewel manual caliber 841 from Jaeger-LeCoultre in the first generation of the Crash. Watches from the 1980s, 90s, and early 2000s are powered by the in-house caliber 160, which is a slightly modified version of the JLC movement.

More recent models are powered by the manual caliber 8970 MC or 8971 MC, which can also be found in certain Cartier Tank models. Again, the manufacturer used a JLC caliber as a basis, this time the 846. The skeletonized versions of the Crash are handled a little differently. Cartier developed the 9618 MC caliber for these timepieces, which was specially adapted to fit the kidney bean-like case.

Celebrities and the Cartier Crash

Given the limited numbers of Crash watches, it comes as no surprise that the watch is not as widely known as the Tank and Santos. Nonetheless, the Crash has recently gained a lot more public attention thanks to celebrities like Kanye West, Tyler The Creator, and Jay-Z. The rappers have been spotted several times flaunting the distinct watch on their wrists.