While highly complicated and limited-edition watches are indeed valuable, what is equally priceless are pieces nearly lost to the past. The recently launched Cartier Vintage collection revives some of the brand’s most treasured creations – in all their original glory. Yanni Tan receives a quick history lesson from a preview at Cartier ION Orchard’s private salon.
It had only been days since Cartier launched its Vintage collection in Singapore, and all eight available pieces were already snapped up at private client presentations – even before the public got to see them. The new owners of the watches cannot be more lucky, for our city is the third and last market in the world selected for the honour of retailing this exclusive collection so far.
Cartier Vintage is such a small collection that only a total of over 20 watches have been offered since it launched in London in 2019, and in Paris last December. Conceived by a small group of experts from the maison’s Image, Style and Patrimony department, and led by none other than its influential director Pierre Rainero, it is a permanent programme that showcases the brand’s watchmaking heritage through the rigorous sourcing, authentication and restoration of its most important and symbolic old timepieces.
It is similar to the Cartier Tradition programme, which also involves the purchase of iconic jewels and timepieces back from customers for restoration and resale to new clients, but Cartier Vintage currently focuses only on mechanical watches made from the early 1970s to early 2010s.
Never a better time
For horology connoisseurs and fans of the brand, this is indeed a most timely and welcome move – for the esteem of Cartier watches have soared so dramatically in the past decade that they are now commanding top dollar in the auction and vintage sectors.
Case in point: In December 2019, a 1990/91 yellow gold Cartier Crash offered at Christie’s New York shattered the estimates of US$70,000 to US$90,000 to set a new auction record of US$225,000 (S$303,358). Experts even said that a similar model from the ’70s and ’80s with the original version of the dial could easily garner double that amount.
While the investment value of Cartier watches have skyrocketed over the years, proving that they have withstood the test of time and market sentiment, it is certainly reassuring to collectors that the maison is standing by its creations with this programme. Also, how else could one be truly satisfied with a vintage watch purchase if it didn’t bear the maker’s own stamp of approval? Each piece comes presented in the signature Cartier red box with an eight- year warranty through Cartier Care and a new authenticity certification. And isn’t it heartening knowing that every one of them passed through the very hands of the stewards of Cartier’s heritage?
Working with trusted partners from watch fairs to specialised retailers and internal teams, these experts select the worthy pieces and authenticate them by examining them right down to the individual components. Upon successful validation, the watches are fully refurbished by the maison’s finest talents in the Manufacture department based on a strict restoration and quality control policy that ensures their integrity, functionality and originality.
“We are pleased to have the opportunity to present these emblematic, mythical and rare Cartier timepieces in Singapore. As one of the few markets to provide this gesture, we believe that the permanent Cartier Vintage offering will be a new and wonderful experience for our watchmaking connoisseurs,” says Anne Yitzhakov, managing director of Cartier Singapore and Malaysia.
Watch this space
At the Cartier flagship boutique at ION Orchard, I had the opportunity to view the first batch of six Cartier Vintage watches offered in Singapore. Just a glance at the various shapes and dials brings to mind the manufacture’s eminence in the world of horology over the past century. The Tank, Tortue, Tonneau, and the round Pasha’s assertive graphic signature – who else can it be?
While these shapes may be common today, it was Cartier that revolutionised watchmaking by introducing them at the turn of the century, when pocket watches were de rigueur and dials were round. In 1904, Louis Cartier designed the first modern men’s wristwatch, the square pilot’s watch Santos-Dumont, for his Brazilian aviator friend Alberto Santos-Dumont. Two years later, in 1906, he created the first barrel-shaped and slightly curved watch called the Tonneau, which was made to fit a wrist comfortably. Inspired by a tortoise, he invented the charming Tortue in 1912. In 1917, he created the Tank, which was evocative of the Renault tank developed for World War I. The bold and rounded Pasha de Cartier came much later, in 1985, paying tribute to the maison’s loyal patron, watch lover and Ottoman military leader, Pasha El Glaoui of Marrakesh.
I also learnt that the four decades between the 1970s and 2010s were some of the most seminal years in Cartier fine watchmaking. All the maison’s watches were sold in-house until the early ’70s, when they were made available to multi- brand retailers, while new lines such as the Santos and Les Must de Cartier were invented to meet increased demand.
Between 1981 and the mid-1990s, all its solid gold watches were grouped together under the Collection Louis Cartier, which featured a combination of classic Cartier designs from Tank to Tonneau, and original Cartier creations from Cloche to Square Incurvée. Also in the early 1980s, part of the watchmaking production was moved from Switzerland to Paris. The Manufacture Cartier Horlogerie Paris was created and existed until the beginning of the 21st century. During this time, many Cartier watches were made in France and carried distinctive features including precious materials and “Cartier Paris” on a white dial.
From the late 1990s, Cartier entered a period of unprecedented creativity and technical achievement with the Collection Privée Cartier Paris (CPCP). Targeted at the most discerning watch connoisseurs, it was initially launched in Switzerland and Italy in 1998 before opening up to the world in 1999. Some of the characteristic codes included the precious case metal from yellow gold to platinum, alligator leather strap with a folding buckle, “Cartier Paris” on a guilloché dial, and mechanical movements. In the early 2010s, Cartier began to successfully experiment with timepieces that combined its iconic shapes with mechanical and complicated movements.
Studying the watches up-close reveals the very reason why they were chosen by the heritage team for restoration. Each of them is a like a timestamp of Cartier’s watchmaking milestones, with unique traits defined by its year and place of manufacture, and historical associations. As fascinating as the sold pieces were, we can only hope more Cartier Vintage watches will come our way again soon.
(Images: Jean-Marie Del Moral; Cartier Archives Paris; Cartier Archives New York; Cartier)
This story was published in the April 2021 issue of Prestige Singapore.