Cartier’s watch – A “crashing” success

Did it melt, like the watches in Salvador Dali’s 1931 surrealist masterpiece, The Persistence of Memory? Or was it run over, preferably by a sleek black Daimler Princess limousine on Jermyn Street? Or was it, indeed, the result of a traffic accident, a crash, and somehow returned to its maker for warranty repairs, as a sardonic gesture, which, in turn, inspired a master designer who imagined a working mechanism out of this distorted wreckage?

There are more myths than realities to what is surely one of the oddest wrist watches in production by any company, much less Cartier. Called the Crash Watch, it was designed in 1965 by Rupert Emerson, a staff designer who spent more than four decades with Cartier in London. Based upon a damaged watch (and not – despite the obvious similarities – upon the celebrated Dali image of the melting watch), it took two years to perfect its no less unconventional mechanical movement.

Originally issued in a limited edition of 12 watches in 1967, and available in recent years only on special order, it is now being reissued in a limited edition of 400 for the world. The two watches allotted to Canada have already been sold (for $19,500 each, including GST); but a few still remain in Paris, from where it can be special ordered. For the really special customer, including Elton John, who got one as a gift from Cartiers to celebrate his 45th birthday, a jewelry version of the Crash Watch can also be special ordered, its surreal shape adorned with 139 diamonds, and priced at about $41,000.

Another Cartier watch that boldly struts its stuff with a gaudy air of extravagance is the new Pasha 3 Time-Zones watch. The latest addition to the Pasha line of Cartier watches, it takes its name from an earlier era – well before Timex made waterproof watches for every Mixmaster in the land.

In 1933, the Pasha of Marrakech wanted a waterproof watch to wear while swimming in his pool. He took his order to Louis Cartier, who created a one-of-a-kind gold waterproof watch.

In 1985, the present proprietors created a new family of watches, each waterproof to 30 metres. Inspired by a 1943 model, the new design evokes post-Art Deco Modernism, with its over-sized bezel surrounding a round face, typically with more than one dial. Its assertive complexity and bulk makes the Pasha Cartier’s answer to the busy, traditionally macho watch styles of Rolex.

With more to look at than most TV shows, the Pasha 3 includes two additional watch faces for the extra two time zones, and a third dial for telling the calendar date, plus a black oblong area that shows the phases of the moon.

All this technology comes in one of the world’s largest wrist watch packages. Calculated to make your average chunky Rolex look downright demure and petit, the Pasha 3 weighs in at nearly 150 grams, with a diameter of 38 millimetres and a thickness of seven millimetres. Sadly, I should add, it is all made possible by a quartz movement; but I, for one, would have liked to hear this beast ticking.

For all of its features and bulk, the visual design of the Pasha 3 Time Zone is surprisingly delicate-looking, with its grainy silver dial, Roman numerals, a blue sapphire cabochon on its winding stem, and two push buttons to control the second and third time zones, one with a yellow sapphire cabochon and the other with a grey chalcedony cabochon. The price, including GST, is $33,000.

The Crash Watch and the Pasha 3 Time Zones watch are available at Les Must de Cartier, 102 Bloor St. W., Toronto.

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