While the wider world may celebrate Cartier for its jewelry, the watch community and high society know it just as well for its long history and continued status as a preeminent house of horology. From the 1911 Santos de Cartier (the first men’s wristwatch, and first pilot watch), to the Tank, to the more recently introduced Ballon de Bleu, Cartier has maintained its footing as a premier watchmaker. Among the brand’s watches, this Cartier Crash WGCH0006 reissue from 2019 (and its predecessors) willfully defies the usual design language in many ways, but is still one of the most recognizable pieces Cartier has ever produced.
The Cartier Crash is the result of serendipity. Cartier long had flagships in Paris, New York, and London, and in the mid-1960’s a damaged watch (specifically a Baignoire Allongée–literally, “Elongated Bathtub”), was brought into the London branch (no one is quite sure whether it was a client or an employee who brought it in). The watch had been on the wrist in a serious car crash and, exposed to significant heat, had melted out of form. Jean-Jacques Cartier, the manager of the London flagship and grandson of the brand’s founder, saw the watch and saw an opportunity: in 1967 the Cartier Crash was born. The original production saw only about 20 examples offered, with dials signed “Cartier/London.” Additional iterations were made until 1991, when production was moved to Paris, where a limited run of 400 pieces in a smaller case was released. Most recently we have the example shown today, the Cartier Crash WGCH0006 reissue offered exclusively via the London Cartier boutique. Details are scarce, but when offered in 2019, it was said that the boutique would have a single example available per month. It is unclear whether or not production has ceased, but at most that would mean that 31 examples exist at time of publishing.
As mentioned, the Cartier Crash was based on a melted Baignoire Allongée, and that’s exactly what it looks like: a deformed, elongated bathtub. The 18k gold case comes to points at 12 o’clock and 4 o’clock, with an intentional dent at 10 o’clock. Fully polished with a rounded bezel, the 2019 edition has been taken down to 38.5mm long from the original 43mm (as was done with the 1991 variant). At its widest, the watch measures a mere 22.5mm, and at only 8.4mm thick, this an extremely wearable watch on most wrists. Cartier’s recognizable sapphire cabochon crown sits at 3’oclock, it’s position and alignment at odds with the unconventional case. Rolling the watch over, the brushed caseback is secured with four screws and has “Cartier/Paris” at the top. Otherwise, it’s business as usual with the relevant gold markings, serial number, and edition numbering. An alligator strap is secured to Vendôme-style lugs (a single lug with a bar through the strap), with a superb 18k gold deployant clasp with a buckle that echoes the warping of the case.
The dial of the Cartier Crash WGCH0006 is classic Cartier. Distorted roman numerals continue the watch’s theme, while the brands trademark blued sword hands match the blue of the crown. An almond shape black border delineates the dials center and approximates the silhouette of the watch. Within its boundary, “Cartier” is printed in an arc at the top, with “Swiss Made” printed at the bottom (on the original models, this was marked “London”, and the 1991 reissues read “Paris”).
The Cartier Crash WGCH0006 is powered by the Cartier 8971MC movement, which is an oval version of the Jaeger LeCoultre caliber 846. The manual-wind movement is rhodium plated with 18 jewels, running at 21,600 vibrations per hour. The caliber has a power reserve of roughly 38 hours, which is nothing spectacular, however when you get into these compact movement sizes you can’t really expect a whole lot more.
Versus the Competition
The fact of the matter is that The Cartier Crash is rare (perhaps only exceeded by the original London-made Crash) and acquiring one is no small feat. But there are plenty of excellent timepieces that feature atypical cases. Looking within the Cartier family, the Tank Asymétrique has a parallelogram case and slightly rotated dial layout; the Tortue is another option and features similar soft edges to the Crash without the avante-garde shape. Looking at other brands, Vacheron Constantin offers the beautiful Malte collection with an angular tonneau case, as well as an asymmetrical case found on the 1972 Prestige. Patek Philippe offers a Jump Hour in a case that’s similar to the Malte, or the more obscure Gondolo offers art deco flair in a lyre-shaped case.
What you need to know is that Kanye West has a Cartier Crash. In fact, he’s partly responsible for the renewed interest in and market boom of the model. But more to the point, Kanye West is precisely the kind of person that the Cartier Crash is best suited for: eccentric and stylish. It’s the fop with flair that will find the Crash most at home on his or her wrist. Having a love of the 1960s and the surrealist movement wouldn’t hurt, either.
The Cartier Crash WGCH0006 revived the surreal design long treasured by collectors and fans of the brand. While the originals are certainly the most sought after, and finding any Crash is a challenge, owning one is owning one of the most novel cases in the watch world, from one of the finest watchmaking houses in the world.