The 1991 Re-edition

The Cartier Crash has entered the realm of legend amongst watch lovers. The reason for this is in part its asymmetrical design but also, it’s the Crash’s much debated origin story.

The origin of this watch is fascinating and many have attempted to provide the definitive answer to its conception. One story claims that the watch was inspired by Salvador Dali’s painting, The Persistence of Memory. The famous painting depicts melted clocks and watches. While this would be very cool if it were true, there is just no evidence to support it. In 1967, when the Crash was released, Dali was collaborating with rival watch brand, Piaget. It seems unlikely Dali worked with both watchmakers simultaneously.

The Persistence of Time by Salvador Dali | Credit: MoMa, N.Y.

It’s understandable that people would have a desire to connect the watch and the painting given the Crash’s melted looking design. A likelier story involves a car accident. Legend has it that a client of Cartier brought in a damaged Cartier Baignoire for repair. The Baignoire was supposedly melted and warped as a result of the heat caused by the burning car. This apparently set in motion the inspiration that would produce the Cartier Crash.

This story has grabbed everyone’s imagination but there has been no confirmation that this story is true either. In fact, the most likely story is the simplest. Cartier have always been about pushing the boundaries of watchmaking and they are always doing what no one else is. No one else has made a watch like the Crash. Most of Cartier’s most eccentric watches can also be tracked to their design house in London, where the Crash was created. Could this design house that has been producing strange and eccentric watches for 43 years by that point, have come up with the Crash idea all on their own? Yeah, I think that’s likely. Is it possible that it might have been inspired by a destroyed watch? Yes, maybe, but considering there has been no confirmation from Cartier about the burning car story it maybe isn’t likely either.  

If the car accident story were true, that would be a brilliant marketing opportunity for Cartier, and it seems like a waste not to capitalise on. But what if that’s exactly what they have done with the story? What if Cartier have purposely allowed the story to become something of an urban legend in order to increase the prestige and exposure of the watch completely organically? That way they don’t have to lie about their inspiration, and they still get to keep a fascinating story attached to their watch. This would suggest that the burning car story is also false.

Original 1967 Crash

But what about the watch itself? Is it as fascinating as its fabricated origins? Yes. It’s brilliant, obviously. Each of the original London Crash watches were made by hand. The case was larger than most popular watches at the time measuring at 43mm long and 25mm wide. To achieve the warped look of the dial, the numerals had to be painted on once the movement had been fitted inside the case. The movements were powered by a manual LeCoultre movement.

The Crash has enjoyed several reiterations since its original release. Cartier released another smaller version in 1991. This release was limited to just 200 pieces. Their next re-release of the Crash was in 1993 that saw even fewer pieces, with just 13 in yellow gold. This version of the Crash was made for the opening of Cartier’s Rue de la Paix store in 1993.

In 2012, Cartier revived the Crash once again but exclusively for women this time. This version was much flashier than its predecessors due to the inclusion of diamonds and a steel bracelet. Adding to this flashiness were the two case options in either 18K white or yellow gold cases.

Ref. WL420051 | Credit: Cartier

Cartier continued to take the Crash concept further in 2015 when they released the Crash Skeleton. This variant allows wearers to observe the inner workings of the watch. What is interesting about the Skeleton variant is that it doesn’t have a traditional dial to provide the melting illusion. Cartier had to get creative, so they came up with a solution by sculpting the platinum skeleton into the shape of the hour markers. It’s a great showcase for Cartier’s expertise but it doesn’t quite pull off the illusion as well as its predecessors.

Ref. WHCH0006 | Credit: Cartier

In 2018, the Crash got a great iteration, the Cartier Crash Radieuse. They focused on the aesthetic here rather than the movement and as a result it looks amazing. The hour markers are faded into the background and the focus is put on these black ripple-like lines. The black ripples escape the dial onto the gold bezel. They remind me of a tyre tread, like the watch has been run over and has been left with cartoon like black treads. I suppose it’s appropriate and in 2018, there’s no way Cartier are unaware of the legend surrounding the Crash.  

The Cartier Crash is an incredibly unique watch that deserves the attention it receives. The fun little origin stories are all part of what makes this watch special. If only they weren’t so hard to find!