Pre-SIHH 2015: Cartier Crash Skeleton

Pre-SIHH 2015: Cartier Crash Skeleton

by Ken Kessler
Cartier, Over $30,000, SIHH

Embargoes are meant to be respected – if, that is, you don’t want to find yourself ostracised by the brand you betrayed. I am reliably informed, however, that among the items I was shown at Cartier a few weeks ago, the one watch in the entire collection that I fell most in love with can be written about now without restraint.

As one whose personal interest in watches concerns military and sport pieces, with only passing attention paid to dress watches or complications and none whatsoever for bling, my choice among all the new Cartier Fine Watchmaking offerings, due for unveiling next month at SIHH, is atypical. Precious metals, skeletonising – these are not details that float my boat. But, damn, I’ve fallen hard for the Cartier Crash Skeleton.

Cartier Crash Skeleton

Cartier Crash Skeleton

A little history: the Cartier Crash Watch is described on Cartier’s site with this succinct paragraph: “Created in 1967 in the heart of Swinging London, the Crash watch captures the incredible energy of the city at that time. With its asymmetrical dial, it revolutionised the aesthetic codes of watchmaking history. Always released in very limited series, this legendary piece carries the prestige of rarity.

That may not be enough whet your whistle, so it’s worth recounting an oft-told tale, much of which is deemed apocryphal, but which has entered watch lore. It’s a story you couldn’t make up.

When the first Crash watches were released by Cartier of London, the territories were independent, London operating autonomously from Cartier Paris and Cartier New York. While one would love to believe that the watch was inspired by Salvador Dalí’s sublime 1931 masterpiece, The Persistence of Memory, it is more likely that the watch is more truly a product of its time and location … and a tragic event.

1960s London was the centre of the popular culture universe, thanks in no small part to the Beatles and the other “British Invasion” rock bands, including the Kinks, the Who, the Rolling Stones and countless others. Interwoven with the British conquest of rock music were peripheral and integral elements such as Carnaby Street for its fashions, the work of photographer David Bailey, who immortalised the scene, films like Blow Up and cars such as the E-Type Jaguar. And let’s not forget James Bond.

Cartier Crash Skeleton - Caseback

Cartier Crash Skeleton – Caseback

According to the mythology, one of Cartier London’s executives was involved in a fatal car crash. His watch, a Cartier Bagnoire Alongée, was consumed by the flames, melting into the abstract shape so reminiscent of Dalí’s work. It was this remnant from the ruins that inspired Cartier to reproduce a new watch in its post-inferno form as a tribute to their late employee, named because it was the result of the impact.

Now insanely collectible, the original 18k gold manual-wind Crash measures 39x19mm. Attesting to its origins, the word “London” appears on the dial and caseback. Inside was an oval, 17-jewel movement produced for Cartier by Jaeger-LeCoultre. Its dial was white with Roman numerals, the time indicted by blued steel hands, with the company’s signature cabochon in the winding crown. It looked exactly like what would happen to a Cartier watch if it survived a blaze.

Re-released periodically in limited editions, the Crash has appeared in various metals, with bracelets or straps, clad in diamonds – there’s even a platinum version with a burgundy dial from 2002. But the new one, by virtue of its full skeleton status and an all-new movement in the same shape as the case, stopped me dead in my tracks, enough to make me want to revise my attitude toward watches that aren’t, well, round and made of steel.

At SIHH, Cartier will formally unveil the Cartier Crash Skeleton Watch, containing the shaped Calibre 9618 MC manual wind movement. Its skeletonised bridges cleverly form the Roman numerals, their shapes also deformed to match the Crash’s melting look. The case – secure against water to 30m – is made of 950/1000 platinum, its dimensions a unisex-friendly 28.15×45.32mm with a thickness of 9.62mm, and – as befits a full skeleton – a sapphire case back.

Cartier Crash Skeleton - Calibre 9618 MC Movement

Cartier Crash Skeleton – Calibre 9618 MC Movement

Naturally, the crown, also in 950/1000 platinum, is set with a blue cabochon sapphire, matching the company’s other signature feature: blued-steel, sword-shaped hands. Cartier completes the look with a grey alligator skin strap, that attaches with a double adjustable folding clasp in 18k white gold.

When I tried it on, I fell in love with the Cartier Crash Skeleton. The only thing that could keep me from wearing it is the caution that every watch brand offers to customers about full “see-through” skeletons: they look dreadful on hairy wrists…

    Author Bio

    Articles by Ken Kessler


    Ken Kessler has been involved with watches for over 35 years, initially as a collector, then as a dealer in vintage pieces. He has been writing about watches since the mid-1990s, his articles having appeared in Wall Street Journal, GQ, Men’s Health, Top Gear, Esquire, Financial Times, FT How To Spend It, The Telegraph, The Times, QP, International Wristwatch (USA), Status (USA), Hour Glass (Australia), Playboy, Brummell, City AM, Your London, Spear’s, Motorsport, Mail On Sunday and many other titles. Also a renowned expert in high-end audio, Ken is the author and co-author of four hi-fi histories. His weaknesses include chronographs, military watches and diving watches, while other pursuits include music, literature and wine.