Cartier Crash ‘First Light’

What is clear is that over the last two years, the entire watch industry has been on a meteoric rise. To use a rocket metaphor, all signs point to Swiss watchmaking about to blast through the atmosphere into the inexorable expanse of space. Never before have wristwatches permeated the public’s collective consciousness so much so that athletes, actors and social media celebrities of all kinds are conspicuously “flexing” their horological finery. But as the great philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” The precedent to this era of limitless opulence occurred between 2000 and 2008. Watches were on a similar seemingly infinite tear. Then, in 2009, the US subprime mortgage crisis detonated and created a global financial tsunami. Instantly, some brands found their businesses decimated.

Says Cyrille Vigneron, Cartier’s brilliant CEO and the maison’s greatest leader since the legendary Alain Dominique Perrin: “The only certainty for the future is uncertainty. What we will see with increasing frequency are the type of black swan events that can cause global change. As an industry, we need to safeguard against this. The best way to do this is to ensure the singularity and durability of your brand.” What Vigneron means is that, in times of crisis, the consumer will spend on objects that are safe havens, that are utterly unique, iconic and that have stood the test of time. This is precisely how Vigneron has positioned Cartier’s watch business, which is on the cusp of becoming the third largest watch brand in the world. By reconnecting it with Cartier’s unique history in design and elegance, he has made his maison one of the most singular and durable brands on the planet.

Cyrille Vigneron
Cyrille Vigneron became CEO of Cartier on January 1st, 2016 and has since built up the resilience of the brand by reviving its rich history of elegance for today's audiences. (image: Cartier)
Alain Dominique Perrin
Alain Dominique Perrin, the enigmatic firebrand, was head of Cartier from 1981 to 1998, before rising to helm the Richemont Group in early 1999. During his tenure, he spearheaded Cartier's development overseas from its established positions of its three houses, and defined the term "modern luxury" through the Must de Cartier line of objects. Cartier's current global brand recognition can be attributed to his strong leadership. (image: Revolution©)

Says GPHG jury member Ahmed “Shary” Rahman who wore his special order, platinum Tank Cintrée with Cartier London-style dial to the awards ceremony last year, “It’s simple. When there was the last crisis, people fled to Rolex and Patek. Why? Because Rolex is the king of sports watches and Patek is the king of complications. They are unrivaled in their fields. Now everyone has realized there is a third king. And that is Cartier, the king of elegance, which is a genre which Cartier created in 1904 with the Santos-Dumont, continued with the Tank in 1919, and the Tank Cintrée in 1921. Every one of these kings is crisis-proof, recession-proof, pandemic-proof because they are unrivaled in their categories.”

Santos-Dumont 1912 (image: Cartier)
The Santos-Dumont was created in 1904 for Louis Cartier's friend, aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont. However, it was only commercialised in 1911, following which it officially took on the name. This particular example dates from 1912. (image: Cartier)
Tank Normale 1920 (image: Cartier)
The original Tank was first designed by Louis Cartier in 1917, inspired by the top profile of the new Renault FT-17 tanks that fought in the World War I. It was introduced to the public in 1919 in a series of only six pieces. With its angular brancards, it is now known as the Tank Normale to differentiate it from the Tank Louis Cartier, which has rounded brancards. This example dates from 1920. (image: Cartier)
Tank Cintree 1924 (image: Cartier)
The Tank Cintrée was introduced in 1921, just two years after World War I and its elongated and curved profile was a completely radical design. It captured the spirit and optimism of the roaring '20s and was just in time for the increasing popularity of wristwatches amongst the public. This Cintrée is from 1924. (image: Cartier)
Tank Cintree 100th Anniversary (image: Cartier)
In celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Tank Cintrée in 2021, Cartier created a faithful reproduction of the original, right down to making it not water resistant, exactly like the original. (image: Cartier)

Says Nick Foulkes, president of the GPHG jury, “The brilliance of Vigneron’s leadership was to no longer try to be a sports watch brand or a complicated watch brand. Instead, he guided Cartier to reclaim its rightful throne as the ne plus ultra of style and the emperor of elegance.” This affirms Cartier’s singularity. But what about its durability, you ask? This is easily evinced by the creation of last year’s Tank Cintrée 100th Anniversary watch, made to the exacting specifications of the ultra thin original. The timepiece, which was stealth launched without fanfare, instantly sold out. The fortunate few who strapped it onto their wrist found that this 100-year-old icon felt as fresh and relevant today as the day it was born a century ago. Says Rahman, “There can be no greater example of durability than this.”

But in the pantheon of Cartier’s incredibly shaped watches, there is one model that has attained near mythical status. Its mere appearance is able to stop even the most jaded watch collector in his or her tracks and send their heart into palpitations. In many ways, it contrasts dramatically with the maison’s most recognizable designs. Unlike the Tank or the Baignoire which are harmonious in form, it is utterly asymmetrical. Amusingly, even the famous Tank Asymétrique is, in the end, a very symmetrical watch as it is a parallelogram in shape. This timepiece in question is most assuredly not. Also, while many of Cartier’s most famous creations were born in the early 20th century, this timepiece was created a full 50 years later. Finally, while the majority of Cartier’s legendary icons sprung from the extraordinarily imaginative mind of Louis Cartier — eldest son of Alfred and grandson to the maison’s founder Louis-François Cartier — this watch was created by his nephew Jean-Jacques.

Baignoire 1912 (image: Cartier)
Before coming up with his iconic rectangular watch designs, Louis Cartier experimented on the traditional round shape of a watch's case by stretching it into an oval, and the Cartier Baignoire or 'bathtub' was born. This original example dates from 1912. (image: Cartier)
Tank Asymetrique 1936 (image: Cartier)
The Tank Asymétrique from 1936 would be the last iteration of the rectangular Tank shape from the brilliant mind of Louis Cartier, who passed away in 1942. It was supposedly created to make telling time easier. (image: Cartier)

Finally, while almost all of Cartier’s mythical timepieces can be associated with the city of their creation, Paris, this timepiece was emblematic of the intense cultural upheaval and social transformation happening in London in the 1960s. It was the watch of the youth quake. It was the watch of rebellion. It was born to the refrain of rock and roll. The year it was created, The Beatles released “All You Need Is Love.” It is, of course, the Crash — one of the most revolutionary design achievements of all time and one of the most desirable timepieces on the planet.

Mod fashion (image: National Archives London)
'Mod' (short for modern) culture was representative of the evolving cultural and social values of 1960s London. The bold and colourful outfits of the stylish mod set stemmed from a desire to break away from the 1950s styles of dress of their parents' generation. A group of mods seen here on London's Carnaby Street in 1969. (image: National Archives London)
The Beatles (image: Getty Images)
The Beatles rehearsing their song 'All You Need Is Love' for 'Our World' - the first live satellite uplink performance broadcast to the world on June 25, 1967 in London. (image: Michael Ochs Archives/ Getty Images)
George Harrison wearing a Baignoire (image: Oracle of Time)
George Harrison of The Beatles relaxing with a Cartier Baignoire on his wrist. (image: Oracle of Time)

Cartier London — The Backstory

In order to understand the Crash, you have to understand a little bit about the Cartier family history. The fabled maison was created in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier, after he took over the workshop from his mentor, Adolphe Picard. Louis-François handed the business to his son, Alfred in 1874. Alfred, in turn, had three sons, and by 1899, eldest son Louis was involved in the business and they moved to 13 rue de la Paix, the flagship store in Paris’ exclusive shopping district that still stands today. The Cartiers had, by that point, already experienced incredible success in France, having received patronage from the French aristocracy for decades. In an inspired move to internationalize the brand and one that was reminiscent of a Grimm Brothers fable, Alfred sent his two younger sons to create new Cartier “temples” in foreign cities. Middle child Pierre went to New York. There, he established Cartier USA at 712 Fifth Avenue in 1909 and then shifted into the famous Cartier mansion at 653 Fifth Avenue in 1917. He famously bought this stunning edifice from its owner, railway tycoon Morton F. Plant, for a $100 in cash and a double string of pearls, valued at a million dollars at the time, that Plant’s wife Maisie fancied. His brother Jacques ventured to London, setting up his “temple” in 1902, the same year of King Edward VII’s coronation. He later moved in 1909, to 175-177 Bond Street where the current Cartier London flagship still stands. Louis, Alfred’s eldest son stayed in Paris at the Rue de la Paix flagship established by his father and, in 1904, created the world’s first wristwatch for his friend, the Franco-Brazilian aviator dandy Alberto Santos-Dumont, whose passion was to fly his dirigibles over the rooftops of Paris.

Cartier family patriarch, Louis-François Cartier. (image: Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie)
Alfred and his three sons 1922 (image: Cartier)
Alfred Cartier and his three sons in 1922. From left: Pierre, Louis, Alfred and Jacques. (image: Cartier)
Cartier Paris at 13 rue de la Paix, 1915 (image: Cartier)
Cartier Paris flagship at 13 rue de la Paix in 1915, 16 years after Alfred and eldest son Louis moved their store to the upscale shopping district in Paris. (image: Cartier)
Portrait of Louis Cartier (image: Cartier)
Louis Cartier, the eldest of Alfred's three sons, was quite a dandy himself and we can see why he and Alberto Santos-Dumont became fast friends. (image: Cartier)
Alberto Santos-Dumont sitting in airplane (image: Cartier)
Alberto Santos-Dumont was one of the pioneers during the early years of aviation in the 1900s. He famously released to the public, the blueprints of his monoplane, La Demoiselle, so that anyone would be able to build one for themselves. (image: Cartier)
Painting of Maisie Plant (image: Cartier)
A painting of Mae "Maisie" Plant, wife of railway tycoon Morton F. Plant, seen here with her pearls and dressed in her finery. (image: Cartier)
Maisie Plant’s pearl necklace (image: Cartier)
The pearl necklace that Maisie Plant had become so enamoured with, that her husband Morton F. Plant was willing to trade his mansion at 653 Fifth Ave for it, during a dinner both of them were having with Pierre Cartier one evening. The necklace was valued at $1,000,000 at the time while the mansion a much lower $925,000. (image: Cartier)
Portrait of Pierre Cartier (image: Cartier)
A young Pierre Cartier in New York. (image: Cartier)
Cartier New York at 653 Fifth Ave, 1918 (image: Cartier)
Cartier New York flagship at 653 Fifth Ave in 1918, one year after Pierre Cartier managed to broker one of the most fabled deals of all time. (image: Cartier)
Portrait of Jacques Cartier (image: Cartier)
The youngest son of Alfred Cartier, Jacques would also prove to be highly successful in London. He would make trips to India and the Middle East in search of the most beautiful gems for Cartier London's jewelry creations. (image: Cartier)
Cartier London at 175-177 Bond Street
Cartier London flagship at 175-176 Bond Street in the early 1900s before it acquired No. 177 on its left. (image: Cartier)
Royal warrant (image: Cartier)
Just two years after setting up shop in London, Cartier would receive a Royal Warrant from King Edward VII on March 10th, 1904. King Edward would famously call Cartier the "jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers". (image: Cartier)

Management of Cartier London passed from Jacques to his son Jean-Jacques in the early ’60s. At the time, Cartier London did not make its own wristwatches but relied on importing them from Paris. But Jean-Jacques rapidly added to his verticalized workshop of goldsmiths and craftsmen a team of watchmakers. This provided much valued autonomy for him to be truly creative. And, by God, he was. The watches that emerged from Cartier London in the ’60s and ’70s are considered some of the most important designs in the brand’s history. They are also, because of their unique dial iconography, some of the most valuable vintage watches in the world. Jean-Jacques took the traditional stylized Roman numerals created by his uncle Louis and modernized them in a way that was absolutely captivating and energetic. By removing the chemin de fer minute track, removing also the serifs in the fonts and making them even bolder and more attenuated, he channeled an incredibly modern dynamism into watches like the Tank Cintrée or the Baignoire Allongée “Maxi Oval.”

Portrait of Jean-Jacques Cartier (image: Cartier)
Jean-Jacques Cartier, a visionary in his own right, would continue the success of his father, Jacques, by creating some of the most iconic watch designs in Cartier's history. (image: Francesca Cartier Brickell)
English Art Works workshop (image: Cartier)
The English Artworks workshop seen here in 1930 was the engine that produced watch and jewelry works of art for Cartier London. (image: Cartier)
Cartier London Tank Cintree 1969 (image: Auro Montanari)
Jean-Jacques' creative bent was expressed by adapting his uncle Louis' classic designs. This Cartier London Tank Cintrée from 1969 had elongated roman numerals and lost the railroad minute track of the original Tank Cintrée from Cartier Paris. (image: Auro Montanari)
Cartier London Baignoire Allongee 1969 (image: Bonhams)
Jean-Jacques would take the original Baignoire and elongate it as well to become the Baignoire Allongée in 1958. It is arguable that the Allongée is even more elegant that the original design it is based on. This example dates from 1969. (image: Bonhams)

The Creativity of Jean-Jacques Cartier

Says Shary Rahman, who was so enamored with the designs created by Jean-Jacques Cartier as to have his special order Tank Cintrée feature a London-style dial in black with white indexes, “You can really feel that Cartier is responding to the rise of Pop Art and other cultural changes. If you think about it, in 1967, Andy Warhol was creating his silk screens of Marilyn Monroe, a Pop version of an iconic star. To me, Jean-Jacques was similar in creating a Pop version of his uncle Louis’ dials. The Cartier London dials, even by today’s standards, feel so wonderfully modern. That is the magic of their design.”

Marilyn Diptych by Andy Warhol, 1962 (image Artspace)
Marilyn Diptych by pop art legend Andy Warhol. The silkscreen painting was completed just a few weeks after Marilyn Monroe's death in August 1962. (image: Artspace)

But in 1967, Jean-Jacques Cartier unveiled his most important creation — a watch named the Crash. Here was a watch that was deliriously asymmetrical and that looked almost melted. It was as radical a rethinking of form as Picasso expressed in his first foray into Cubism and, indeed, I imagine the reactions to it were similar to that from the audience present at the Kahnweiller Gallery for the first showing of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. When it was unveiled, one could have only imagined the reactions of shock, confusion and gape-jawed awe. And yet, somehow, the beauty of the Crash was devastating.

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso, 1907 (image MoMA)]
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 by cubist master Pablo Picasso was radical in its perspective and composition. Since Avignon is a street in Barcelona famous for its brothels, many suspect the five ladies in the painting to be depictions of ladies of the night. (image MoMA)

One of the reasons the Crash is so steeped in mythology is that its origin is unknown. There are three theories related to its birth. The first is that it was inspired by a Baignoire Allongée “Maxi Oval” that was returned by a customer after he suffered a terrible car crash, where the watch was smashed, deformed and melted. So beautiful was the resulting deformed shape that Jean-Jacques Cartier was inspired to design a watch based on it. While this is certainly the most entertainingly evocative of the stories, it is also the least likely.

The second theory is that the Crash was inspired by the Salvador Dali surrealist masterpiece from 1931, The Persistence of Memory. In this tableau, we see a Freudian dreamscape with clocks seeming to melt and drape over themselves into contorted shapes. Looking at the clock that appears on the far left, one cannot help but appreciate how closely it resembles the shape of the Crash watch. Indeed, if you were simply to flip the clock 180 degrees from left to right, it would be almost identical in shape to the Crash.

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali, 1931 (image MoMA)
The Persistence of Memory, 1931 by Salvador Dalí, is one of the most recognizable works of Surrealism. When asked if he was inspired by Einstein's theory of relativity, Dalí replied that it was a surrealist's perception of Camembert cheese melting in the sun. Could this be the inspiration for the Cartier Crash? (image MoMA)

The third theory is put forward by Jean-Jacque’s granddaughter Francesca Cartier Brickell in her tome, The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewelry Empire. In this book, she recalls a conversation with her grandfather, who explained that he wanted to create a watch that would become an emblem of the swinging ’60s in London, an era of unprecedented social change. He wanted a watch that symbolized rebellion. He started with a maxi oval Baignoire and then pinched each end and put a kink in the center, resulting in the shape of the Crash. This is probably the most likely of the three theories. However, to me, even while this is totally accurate, it still allows for Jean-Jacques and Rupert Emmerson, the designer he worked with on the watch, to be fully aware of the Salvador Dali painting. Considering how close the shape of the clock in The Persistence of Memory is, I would say that it is plausible they were directly inspired by it.

Crash London Original 1967
An original Cartier London Crash from 1967. The overall shape is remarkably similar to that of the Baignoire Allongée on the right. (image: Cartier)
Cartier London Baignoire Allongee Original 1957
An original Cartier London Baignoire Allongée from 1957. Could this watch be the progenitor of the Crash all along? (image: Cartier)
Francesca Cartier Brickell and her book
Francesca Cartier Brickell, granddaughter of Jean-Jacques Cartier tells the comprehensive story of her family in her book - The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewelry Empire

What is interesting is that this wildly adventurous design holds tremendous appeal to modern collectors. Says Eric Ku, a Cartier collector with a dream assembly of two original London Crashes, a modern London boutique edition Crash, a Crash Radieuse, and two special order Crashes, “I agree with Cyrille Vigneron’s statement about the best brands having singularity. And when it comes to singularity, there is no watch that is more unique than the Crash. I find something so powerfully daring and dynamic about it. Yet there is a refinement and elegance to the watch that could only have been achieved by Cartier.”

Says one of Cartier culture’s key figures and educators, Roni Madhvani, “I love shaped cases. To me, they are such an amazing expression of the human capacity to create beauty. What is remarkable about the Crash is, despite its asymmetry and its iconoclastic lack of adherence to harmony, it is sublimely beautiful. This is the power of Cartier to create balance and beauty even while being disruptive.”

Cartier Crash, 1967–Present Day

Original London Crashes from the initial series were made in relatively small numbers from 1967 to the 1970s. According to Sotheby’s, it is speculated that less than a dozen were made. Note that these Crashes are the largest classical Crashes made in that they are 43mm by 23mm. The watch was revived in 1991 by Cartier Paris in a limited edition of 400 watches in 38.5mm by 22.5mm yellow gold cases with the word “Paris” on the dial instead of London. It was extrapolated as a women’s diamond watch on a bracelet in 2013. Then, in 2015, it returned in grand form with a stunning skeletonized version. Here, the bridges of the movement designed by Carole Forestier replicated the form of the stylized Roman numerals. It was launched in a platinum edition of 67 pieces with a case size of 45.32mm by 28.15mm in 2015; then 67 rose gold pieces in the same size in 2016.

An original Cartier London Crash circa 1967
An original Cartier London Crash circa 1967
Cartier Paris limited edition Crash 1991
A Crash from the 400-piece 1991 limited edition that had 'Paris' on the dial instead of 'London' and only came in yellow gold. (image: Sotheby's)
Ladies Crash 2013
The Crash from 2013 was produced in two metals of 267 pieces each. This here had a diamond-set rose gold case with a teardrop-shaped bracelet also in rose gold. (image: Cartier)
Ladies Crash 2013
The 2013 Crash in white gold with diamond set case and white gold bracelet. Made in 267 pieces. (image: Cartier)
Ladies Crash 2013 Limited Edition
The 2013 release also saw two limited editions of 67 pieces each, fully paved with diamonds on the case and bracelet. The rose gold version is pictured here. (image: Cartier)
Ladies Crash 2013 Limited Edition
The white gold full diamond limited edition Crash from 2013, produced in 67 pieces. (image: Cartier)
Skeletonised Crash 2015
In 2015, the Crash became skeletonized by the hand of the preeminent Carole Forestier Kasapi. This is the platinum version powered by the manual wind 9618MC movement with two barrels and 72 hours of power reserve. Made in only 67 pieces. (image: Cartier)
Skeletonised Crash 2016
The skeletonized Crash returned in 2016 but this time in pink gold. It had the same movement as the 2015 model and also made in 67 pieces. (image: Cartier)

In 2018, Cartier unveiled the Crash Radieuse, an amazing timepieces with a dial motif that replicated ripples in a pond. These ripples flowed into the 42mm by 23.3mm case itself, making this one of the most unique versions of the Crash ever created. In that same year, Cartier also relaunched the Crash as a watch that could be purchased at the London boutique as a tribute to the model’s incredible history. These 38.5mm by 22.5mm watches featured “Swiss Made” on the dial instead of “London.” However, the watch was limited to only one piece a month, which soon created a waitlist that stretched basically into infinity. There was also a 15-piece limited edition of white gold, diamond-set Crashes launched at the London boutique as part of this initiative.

Crash Radieuse 2018
The Crash Radieuse from 2018 not only had a unique dial and case design, but a diamond cabochon which sets it apart from other Crashes. It came in a 50-piece limited edition. (image: Cartier)
Crash London Reissue 2019
Cartier announced a reissue of the Crash in 2018 that would only be available from the London boutique and with only one piece being made per month. Note that the dial says 'Swiss Made' instead of 'London'. (image: Cartier)
Crash London Reissue 2019 limited edition
The 2018 reissue also saw a limited edition in white gold with a diamond set case, made in only 15 pieces. (image: Cartier)

Over the past few years, Crashes have also exploded in value. Original London Crashes are being sold at just under one million US dollars. In 2021, one was sold at a Sotheby’s auction for 806,500 Swiss francs. Paris Crashes are also extremely valuable, commanding a price of over 200,000 US dollars. London boutique watches are valued at around 2.5 times their original retail price on the secondary market. This has not come without its complications. My dear friend Nick Foulkes, who used to bicycle around London with his Cartier London Crash on, has relegated this particular timepiece to his safe deposit box. He explains, “I bought these watches when they didn’t cost a fortune and because I loved them. Now my affection remains for them, but because of their value, I can’t wear them with the ease I once did.”

Crash London Original sold by Sotheby’s
The record-breaking original London Crash that sold for CHF806,500 at Sotheby’s Important Watches: Part I in 2021. (image: Sotheby's)
Crash Paris Reissue 1991 sold by Monaco Legend Auctions
A Paris Crash from the 1991 reissue sold for € 201,500 at Monaco Legend Auctions in October 2021. (image: Cartier)

Says the world’s greatest Cartier collector Auro Montanari, “The rise of the Crash in value follows the trend of vintage collectors returning in a big way to Cartier. Part of this is the current strength of the modern brand and its focus on iconic watches, part of this is that collectors went through everything — military watches, Rolexes, Pateks — and are now looking for something simple, pure and elegant. When it comes to this, you naturally turn to Cartier. And of all the models, the Crash is the most unique.”

Nick Foulkes
Nick Foulkes
Auro Montanari
Auro Montanari

The Cartier NSO Program

OK, so now that we’ve defined the Crash as one of the most desirable watches on the planet, how does someone go about acquiring one? At the moment, there are three pathways. Ah… alas, much like the grasshopper trying to attain spiritual nirvana, though there are multiple roads to the destination, none are easy.

The first is the secondary market or auction scene, but as explained, that comes today with a hefty premium. The second is to be placed on the waiting list of the Cartier London boutique; however, from what I understand, the list is now so long that even getting on it is not easy. The third way is to be given the opportunity for an NSO or “New Special Order,” where truly fortunate clients are able to create watches based on Cartier’s existing shapes. There are, of course, certain restrictions; for example, if you err too much beyond the realm of what is Cartier, it will be politely suggested that you rein yourself in. The individual with final approval for all NSO projects is the legendary Pierre Rainero, head of Cartier’s patrimony and a living repository of all things Cartier.

Pierre Rainero
Pierre Rainero - Cartier's Director of Image, Heritage and Style since 1984. (image: Cartier)

I get it — you want to know how to get accepted into the NSO program. Well, as with all things, you have to earn the privilege. Look, the reality is that we exist in a capitalist society, and so it is no mystery that being a good client to any brand means that you earn rewards or access to them. There are no real shortcuts here. At the same time, one of the things I love about modern Cartier is how passionate their team is about their brand and their watches. They respond well to you when you are also genuinely passionate about Cartier. Says Ku, “My experience is that they are very receptive to people that are clearly and sincerely crazy about their brand, because that’s the way they are.” In fact, it is hard to find people from any other brand today who are as collectively knowledgeable about their history and their designs. Says Foulkes, “Agreed — but this is a big change from 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. I attribute this to Cyrille Vigneron and the culture of excellence and passion he has created at Cartier.”

In 2018, I was given the opportunity to create my first NSO watch. I had attended SIHH that year where they launched the platinum Tank Cintrée. Because they were unable to allocated me the number of the watch I had initially requested, I was asked if creating a special order watch based on the Cintrée would be something I would consider. More than “consider” it, I was blown away by the kindness of the offer. On a trip to Burgundy in France, that one NSO project actually became two watches, one for myself and one for my friend Mo Coppoletta. When I showed Mo the beautiful renderings Cartier had made for the watch, he was so smitten with one of them that I requested it for him on his behalf and, miraculously, it came to be. We both absolutely loved our watches and you can listen to the story about those timepieces here.

I would warn neophytes about to enter the seductive world of Cartier that it is highly addictive. Because of its multiplicity, the fact that it has so many icons, your journey with Cartier can easily endure a lifetime. Once I’d worn my Cintrée, I was constantly amazed at how adaptable it was to any occasion. It also imbued me with a sense of calm and well-being that I attribute to its Zen reductionist hour and minute minimalism, combined with one of the most beautiful designs for any luxury object bar none. In particular, the way it arched elegantly to conform to the shape of the wrist was a masterstroke of ingenuity. It was also extraordinary how a watch that was a century old and largely unchanged could feel so vibrantly modern.

(Image: Revolution©)
The author's first pièce unique commission with Cartier - A platinum Tank Cintrée with pink dial and burgundy numerals. (image: Revolution©)

Follow that Light

As I began to think of my next Cartier, the dream that quickly materialized was for a Crash. But what is important to know is that while it is rare to be permitted entry into the NSO program, it is even rarer to be allocated a Crash. Nonetheless, I politely requested one, and when I was given the answer that I could proceed, I almost couldn’t believe it. Now came the question of what to create together with Cartier’s design team and the spectacular Hazel See, Cartier’s watch manager in Singapore. Having gone through the NSO process once before, I felt emboldened to suggest something wildly ambitious but at the same time rooted in substance. If you look at the various limited editions I’ve created, you can see that I have strong affection for luminous watches. To me, the light signature created by a watch at night is as strong an identifier of its personality as its appearance in the daytime. Having looked through the history of the Crash, I realized that there had never been a luminous version of the watch made. But I thought such a timepiece would be fascinating. Because of the unique shape of the Crash, how it sits slightly canted clockwise and because of the kink in the case that appears at four and five o’clock, I thought that a luminous version would be instantly identifiable in the dark. Of course, I realized that the likelihood of this being approved was slim. But as the Latin saying goes, “Audentes Fortuna Juvat,” or fortune favours the bold. When I broached this with Hazel, she agreed that it was a long shot, but she also saw nothing wrong in submitting the request. Then came the nail-biting months of wondering what Rainero would think. I consulted with Ku who told me, “Cartier seems pretty hesitant to go down the luminous route.” Soon, I received my reply and, to my very genuine amazement, it had been approved. Incredible. I remember shouting, “God bless you, Pierre Rainero!” when I heard the news.

(Image: Revolution©)
The world's first luminous Cartier Crash in white gold. (image: Revolution©)
(Image: Revolution©)
The author was very specific about not wanting the lume to be overly bright and Cartier nailed the shade and intensity of the lume to a T. (image: Revolution©)

During the process of conceptualizing the watch, I had explained to Hazel that I was entirely comfortable with Cartier’s senior watch designer, Raphaël Abeillon, to take the lead in terms of the color of the dial. Apparently, he had even researched my Instagram profile and decided on something blue as this hue had prevailed across my wardrobe. After some further discussion, we decided on a midnight blue color at the perimeter of the dial that would graduate to a lighter blue in the center. It turns out this is also the first graduated or fumé effect dial that Cartier has ever created for a Crash. I wanted the watch to be my chosen timepiece when a black-tie occasion is called for. Because my tuxedo, tailored for me by my friend Lorenzo Cifonelli, is executed in a light mohair blend midnight blue. This color appears black under indoor lighting while black actually appears brown. The synergy between watch and evening suit were perfectly aligned. What I didn’t expect was that the Crash would be a watch that was actually incredibly adaptable, suitable even when in frayed denim and cowboy boots, and to my infinite surprise, on the weekend in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts. Because of its relatively small size and thin strap, I initially thought it would only be at home in more formal occasions, but the strength of its utterly unique mind-bending design is that it defies any conventional sense of dress code. I like to think the question you should ask yourself related to a Crash is not “What will you wear it with?” but “How does it reveal the strength of your character?” I’ve also seen the watch on a woman’s wrist and it works beautifully in situ as well. The Crash is the perfect expression of Cyrille Vigneron’s adage: “A Cartier is not an identifier of gender but rather a revelation of character.” There could be no better for the Crash.

(Image: Revolution©)
Suitable in all styles of dress and for any occasion - this could very well be the ultimate dress watch. (image: Revolution©)
The Cartier Crash First Light has a very subtle fumé effect on the dial that graduates from light in the center to dark at the edges. (image: Revolution©)
The Cartier Crash First Light has a very subtle fumé effect on the dial that graduates from light in the center to dark at the edges. (image: Revolution©)

My watch, which was delivered to me in February this year in what I can only describe as the most charming and heartwarming of ways that embodies the grace of the Cartier team in Singapore, was staggering to behold in the metal. As Cartier’s famous deep red box was opened, you could immediately see the distinctive shape of the white gold case and then the lightest blue part of the dial at the very center, which contrasts with the near black tone at the edge of the dial. I’ve had a few watches, like my Patek Philippe end-of-series bronze dial, yellow gold 5970 allocated to me by Thierry Stern, that have flooded me with emotion. But none more than the Crash, which has rapidly become my most treasured and intensely personal timepiece.

(Image: Revolution©)
Two very special Cartiers for a very special collector. (image: Revolution©)

It is not lost on me the significance and weight of history to be awarded the first luminous Crash in Cartier’s history. Since the extraordinary act of form shaped rebellion was created in 1967 to that fateful date 55 years later when I received my watch, I am very aware that Cartier, the king of elegance, a brand of irrefutable singularity and immeasurable durability, has never made a luminous or graduated dial Crash until now. That I am the individual that it was made for humbles me. Perhaps the thing I like best about the watch is that it simultaneously demonstrates Cartier’s immense power in creativity and the extraordinary longevity of its designs. The watch and the maison that created it are ultimately the stars here. I am but the fortunate human vessel that, for the duration of my life until it finds its way to my children, will have the privilege, pleasure and honor of being its custodian. In the last few years, I’ve experienced some major upheavals in my life and, for the first time, I genuinely know that things are back on track and better than ever. When I wear this amazing timepiece, I feel assured of this deep in my soul. As such, I’ve named this Crash “First Light,” both in reference to its status as the first of its kind and referring to the time when sunrise begins and the sky starts to brighten, which seems an apt metaphor for what I’m experiencing in my life today, thanks to many people, one of whom is the amazing Cyrille Vigneron.

Special thanks to Cartier’s regional CEO Cecile Naour, and Anne Yitzhakov, Imane Laasri, Hazel See, Gregory Hallak, Richard Gan and Clayton Lau of Cartier Singapore.