The History of the Cartier Crash Watch

Cartier Crash Watch

A successful person sees opportunities in every difficulty, and Jean-Jacques Cartier is the ideal example. He led Cartier to become a brand synonymous with affluence as it exudes class that not every Tom, Dick, and Harry can afford. Remaining in business and still attracting the crème de la crème means that Cartier has to stay ahead of the competition, and sometimes all it takes is a design. Such was the case with the Cartier Crash watch, whose design instantly fascinated Cartier’s loyal customers. However, the odd design does not seem to have a specific story regarding how it came to be, so here is more about the history of the Cartier Crash watch.

The Theories behind Its Inspiration

Many stories have been floated around regarding the inspiration behind the Cartier Crash watch, and Global Blue published one. According to the article, in 1967, a Cartier London customer took a watch damaged in a car accident to the jeweler for repair. Cartier was then fascinated by the design and decided to make a watch with a similar design. Some sources give more details about this particular theory saying that the customer was an elderly lady.

Another variation of the rumor is that a Cartier executive had been involved in a car accident in London. His car was in flames, resulting in the executive’s watch on his wrist being deformed by the excessive heat. This version is further detailed by other sources claiming that the executive was a brand manager who died in the car accident and that Cartier released the Cartier Crash watch in his honor. Whatever the exact happenings that led to the watch’s creation, heat damage’s involvement remains the same in all variations. It is said that the specific watch that was destroyed by the heat was a Baignoire Allonge model. It had an oblong shape but still was one of Cartier’s popular wristwatches at the time. Besides these two main inspirational stories, some believe that a painting could have inspired Cartier.

According to Fashion Moves Forward, the Cartier Crash watch could also have been inspired by two paintings: “The Persistence of Memory” in 1931, and “Melting Watch” in 1954, both by Salvador Dali. Although the watch’s shape is quite different from the Crash watch, since the painting’s design almost resembles “7,” it is easy to see why people would compare the two. The final theory, which could most probably be the closest to the truth, involves Rupert Emmerson. He was an influential artisan working with Cartier in the visual identity department had more to do with the odd design. Some sources claim that he decided to twist the design of an Oblique watch designed in the 1930s to make it more relevant in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Watch Has Had a Few Versions

The final theory involved Emmerson redesigning the Oblique to create the Crash, but Phillips revealed that Cartier was not taken in by the idea at first. However, the design must have been made public because the local clients fell in love with it, convincing Cartier that it was an idea worth pursuing. Consequently, the first original version of the Cartier Crash watch was in 1967. Still, he played it safe by releasing only a handful of the timepieces.

They were made exclusively by hand and came in a gold case with a white dial. After fitting the movement in the case, the Roman numerals were painted with the hour markers printed in a warped front to give an illusion of a melted watch. Since it was a very limited edition getting a hold of one now is nearly impossible, and it would cost you an arm and a leg; The Watch Company believes you would have to part with at least $25,000 and if you want one with diamonds, then $140,000 is the price tag. In 1991, Cartier produced more than a handful of the Crash version; this time, the number increased to 200. It was up to Cartier Paris to manufacture the watches because, in the 1970s, the three stores were reunited. At first, Cartier London had remained in charge of producing the Crash, Tank Center, and the Maxi Oval. In 1991 Cartier Paris decided to launch its own smaller version of the Cartier Crash, leading to the London Crash being retired after three years. The main difference was only in size; while the 1967 watches measured 43 mm, the 1991 timepieces were 38 mm. In 1993, Cartier Paris opened a new store, Rue de la Paix store, and the Cartier Crash watch commemorated this milestone. As always, the production was limited, and only 13 pieces were available for sale.

Attempts to Copy the Design

While it took a while to convince Cartier that the Crash would be a much sought-after piece despite its odd design, some of the company’s designers could already picture themselves sitting on millions courtesy of the watch. Therefore, according to Revolution, two of the leading designers in Cartier London left the store to try and be as successful as Cartier. They named the brand Churchill Watches, and the first thing they did was release their own version, a Churchill Crash watch, to compete with the Cartier Crash watch.

Unlike Cartier’s that measured 43 mm by 23mm, Churchill’s timepiece was 52mm. They even copied the color scheme by adopting Cartier’s yellow-gold and white-gold for their cases. The brand released the watches to the USA and UK but going against a renowned brand like Cartier was a poor decision. It became a cheap knockoff that could not even fetch reasonable prices at auctions. Collectors were not interested. On the other hand, Cartier continued making different versions, including one for women embellished with diamonds. It was the first flashy version released in 2012, before the company came up with Crash Skeleton in 2015.


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