Watches occupy the interesting space between math and art, where both engineering and design are critical to making a desirable timepiece. But despite this foundational bedrock, watches are still subject to the ebb and flow of trend-based tides and market dynamics, which see different designs go from hot to not as the consensus on taste evolves. Recently, a changing of the guard has happened, where the sports watches from Rolex, Patek Philippe or Audemars Piguet have been superseded by a more cerebral timepiece: the Cartier Crash.
Much like any other trend-driven market, the timepieces that see the tide turn in their favour have usually been spotted on the wrist of a celebrity tastemaker, whose endorsement can catapult the watch into the public consciousness. It’s important to remember over the last half-decade, the watch world has exploded in the number of people interested in watch collecting, meaning for many freshly minted enthusiasts, steel sports watches have always been the hottest thing on the block.
In fact, in the 1960s, steel sports watches weren’t considered to be anything special at all, and when first released, “early Rolex chronographs often languished on dealers’ shelves,” unsold and unwanted. One of the first trends in modern watch collecting was in the 1980s, when the most sought after watches were tiny Rolex “Bubblebacks”, measuring just 32mm in diameter and originally made in the 30s and 40s.
Jason Singer, a watch collector for more than four decades, offered a clear line of sight to this chapter of history in a Hodinkee interview, where he explained why they were so popular. Specifically, it was because, “the Bubbleback watch was kind of like the $20 gold piece for coin collectors, everyone knew what they were and everybody wanted one.”
“They were quite valuable relatively speaking, and they were quite large relatively speaking. In the 80s, people were wearing smaller watches, and all of these 32mm Bubblebacks (…) were vastly larger. That, coupled with the diversity of style, (…) attracted me to the watches.”
Today, most folks wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a watch that was less than 36mm, much less one whose design was born in the period between the two world wars. As a result, Rolex Bubbleback watches have gone from some of the hottest property in watch collecting to a relatively obscure sub-category of vintage Rolex.
In the same period, the Rolex Daytona ref. 6265 in steel has jumped at least tenfold, from being a well-made everyday chronograph to becoming a collecting holy grail that commands a six-figure price. It’s the same trend of steel sports watches that saw someone pay $650,000 for a steel Patek Philippe Nautilus with an RRP of $50,000, the fire of which is fanned by celebrities being regularly spotted wearing these watches.
However, in the last year or so, just as more and more celebrities try to get the hottest steel sports watches on their wrists, there has been a handful of quiet tastemakers splitting off from the crowd, looking to establish the next wave of lusted after timepieces. Those quiet tastemakers also happen to be some of the biggest names in hip-hop, like Kanye West, Tyler, The Creator, and most recently, Jay-Z. All three have been spotted wearing the Cartier Crash, an unusually shaped little gold watch, which is already showing the signs of its growing popularity.
Kanye was the first rapper to make the move at the tail end of 2018, arguably bringing the Cartier Crash into the public eye for the first time. He was spotted wearing a Crash again in an interview with David Letterman (his then-wife, Kim Kardashian was wearing a matching watch), which solidified its status as a cool watch before anyone else thought to wear it.
This is where we have a glimpse into the mind of someone at the cutting edge of culture. Someone who isn’t remotely interested in what is currently popular, who are instead constantly looking for the vacuum of attention left behind areas of hype. When everyone else zigs, Kanye zags. When everyone else is spending a fortune on casual steel sports watches, Kanye is looking at niche sub-categories of conservative dress watches.
It isn’t simply being a contrarian for its own sake, but a process of actively seeking alternatives to the acceptable norm. It isn’t just about being different or bucking a trend, but a form of creative expression that seeks to spotlight the individual over the crowd. Kanye isn’t standing apart from a group of peers. Kanye’s standing with his own set of design-focused interests and motivations, which aren’t drawn to practical, utilitarian timepieces.
Tyler, The Creator is another rapper who has fashioned himself as a multi-disciplinary creative. With his own successful music career, instantly recognisable clothing label and an increasing appetite for film production and direction, his creative talents are beyond doubt at this point.
With a personal style that sits somewhere between skating culture and a Wes Anderson flick, his enthusiasm for the Cartier Crash makes complete sense. Tyler, The Creator’s interest in Cartier has gotten to the point he was even spotted at a recent Cartier themed auction in Monaco, as well as featuring the watch in a recent music video for his track LUMBERJACK.
Earlier this month, Jay-Z was also spotted with a Crash on his wrist (albeit a modern version, rather than the vintage pieces worn by Kanye and Tyler, The Creator). As you’d expect from a verified mogul of the music business, Jay-Z has just about every watch you can imagine, including an ultra-modern $4 million Richard Mille.
What makes Jay-Z’s adoption of the Cartier Crash important, isn’t the fact that he’s another rich rapper, but that his level of international celebrity boosts the Crash to an entirely different level. Rather than just worn by two alternative rappers with clothing labels, Jay-Z brings the Crash into the mainstream, offering an endorsement as an artist with once in a generation impact and status. It’s no longer two fringe data points, but a triple-threat of a trend line that points to Cartier being on the up.
The next question is less about just how high prices at auction will go, but instead if interest in the Cartier Crash will ripple outward to the other creative designs from the French-founded watch and jewellery firm. With prices for both vintage and modern Cartier watches at a significantly more approachable level than many steel sports watches, there’s certainly a strong appeal.
If you’re just getting into watches and find yourself drawn to Cartier, now is a perfect time, with Cartier releasing a number of well designed and affordable watches just in the last few years. Plus, with the hype around steel sports watches somehow still sustaining itself, Rolex has become an impossible entry point for many, making the hunt for alternatives all the more interesting. We’ll have to wait and see just how much of a wave is created around interesting, design-focused watches in the coming years, but we’re confident the Cartier Crash wont’ be falling out of favour any time soon.