Cartier Crash: The Iconic Watch Inspired By a Car Crash

Jan 10, 2020
Cartier Crash: The Iconic Watch Inspired By a Car Crash

It is normal for people to draw inspiration from random things that they see. And watch designers are no different. One Cartier watch, for example, was based on a real-life war tank. Another example is the Royal Oak. Gerald Genta sketched the iconic timepiece with a traditional diving helmet in mind.

Meanwhile, some folks take their creativity a notch further. If you think that a Franck Muller watch is wacky enough, then wait until you see this other Cartier watch that was made by accident. And when we said “made by accident”, we meant a car crash inspired it.


Even for a Cartier watch, the Cartier Crash is without a doubt very strange and controversial. We can also use the same adjectives to describe the origin stories that surround it.

While there are two different versions of the story, both of them have one thing in common — a car accident. The first one tells the tale of a woman who brought in a Cartier watch for repair. She claimed that the watch was badly damaged from a car crash.

The other narrative is about how one of the brand’s managers crashed his car. To make an already terrible thing worse, the vehicle went ablaze while he was inside. During the accident, he was wearing a Cartier watch which melted due to the heat of the fire.

The result, as they say, inspired then-head of Cartier London Jean-Jacques Cartier to create a new Cartier watch. This watch would turn out to be a legendary model. Some people even claim that they released the bizarre Cartier watch as a memorial to the victim.


If there’s one thing you could expect from a Cartier watch, it is distinctiveness. A glimpse at their catalogue can prove it and you can thank Jean-Jacques’ creative juices for that.

It seems that Cartier will never be caught dead following the status quo. To show, they ignored one of the most important things in watch design — symmetry. As you can see, symmetrical is the last thing you’ll think of when you see the Cartier Crash.

But it worked, didn’t it? This Cartier watch’s unconventional shape gave it a groovy vibe to it. In effect, people became more interested. As what other creatives say, “know the rules well so you could break them like a pro”. And that’s exactly what Cartier did.

Cartier Crash, Cartier watch
Photo from A Tick of Time


Before the accident, the Crash was another model. But which Cartier watch met its doom in an accident? It was the Cartier Baignoire Allongée. The undeformed watch was originally oblong in shape. Its name even means “elongated bathtub” in French.

Some people even joke that if you want to own a Cartier Crash (I kid you not, that Cartier watch is extremely hard to spot), you can do a little workaround. Get a Baignoire Allongé instead and put it near a fire. Of course, no guarantee that your beloved Cartier watch would still be working after.


Over the years, Cartier decided to design and redesign the Crash. We have listed below the different versions of the iconic timepiece.

Original Cartier Crash, Cartier watch

The original Cartier Crash

I wouldn’t count the exact watch that was in the accident as the original. So technically, the first version of the watch was released in 1967 by Cartier London. 

It comes in a gold case with a white dial. The Roman numeral hour markers were printed in a warped font. This gives you the illusion that it’s melted. It is said that Cartier released only a handful of units of the watch.

Right now, this version of the Cartier watch can easily fetch up to $25,000. There was even a time when the brand posted four models for sale on their official website. Those versions cost somewhere between $75,000 and $140,000. The markup was because of the added diamonds.

The 1991 Version

In 1991, Cartier Paris took over the watch’s production. With that in mind, they released their own version of the timepiece. This time, it’s smaller. While its predecessor measures at 43mm, this one comes in 38mm. Like the previous version, Cartier Paris produced this in limited quantities — 200 pieces to be exact.

Cartier Crash Rue de la Paix

A couple of years after Cartier Paris’ takeover, they decided to release it again. This time, in very limited quantities. The Cartier watches of this batch came in yellow gold and in only 13 pieces. That special batch was made for the opening of the Rue de la Paix store in 1993.

Cartier Crash for women, Cartier watch

2012 Crash for Women

In 2012, Cartier decided to revive their Crash collection but this time, they made it for women. Compared to the other versions, this one looks flashier. Apart from the steel bracelet that it came with, it was equipped with shiny diamonds. It also came in 18K white or yellow gold cases.

Cartier Crash Skeleton, Cartier watch

2015 Crash Skeleton

Some watch geeks find themselves spending too much time admiring the gears through the clear caseback. If that’s not enough, they turn to Skeleton watches where you can see all of the moving parts.

In 2015, Cartier exhibited its dominance in Haute horology by introducing the Crash Skeleton. A skeleton watch doesn’t exactly have a dial. That means Cartier had to be creative to show the illusion that it’s melting. As a solution, they sculpted the platinum skeleton to the shape of the hour markers.

If truth be told, this was a great opportunity for Cartier to show off their skills in mechanics alongside their fine artistry.

Cartier Radieuse, Cartier watch

Cartier Crash Radieuse

For this iteration of the famous Cartier watch, they decided to focus more on the aesthetics than the movement.

The case is made of yellow gold. Furthermore, its design on the dial makes it distinguished from the other Crash watches. Its Roman numeral markers are faded and on top of it are what seem like black ripples.

Those black ripples continue up to the gold bezel similar to a gadroon. These small details make the watch a work of art.


Other people refuse to believe the gruesome history of the Cartier Crash. Instead, they say it came from a famous painting by Salvador Dali. The one they call The Persistence of Memory. His work depicted a few clocks that were melting in a desert.

But no matter how convincing the story may sound, there is no evidence behind it. Au contraire, Salvador Dali was connected with a different watch brand. He was in a project with Piaget in 1967, the same year the Cartier watch in question was released. 

However, I can’t really blame other people for comparing the two works of art. If you ask me, the clocks really do look similar to the Cartier Crash.

Cartier Crash, Cartier watch
Photo from A Tick of Time


It’s not just the design that the Cartier watch engineers had to worry about. Watches are powered by tiny gears, and fitting those gears inside an odd-shaped case proved to be a challenge.

This is why they made a special movement just for the Cartier Crash. The complexity of its shape is no joke. Thus, the fact that they made the watch work established the brand’s ascendancy in watchmaking.


One hard pill to swallow about watch collecting is that even money can’t guarantee that you’ll acquire your grail. Take the case of the Cartier Crash where stocks are very limited. If you adore the Crash but are finding it difficult to obtain one, here are some alternatives that you can consider.

Franck Muller Crazy Hours, Alternative to Cartier Crash

Franck Muller

Do you want wacky? Franck Muller will give you wacky. While it doesn’t have the odd shape that the Crash has, it still delivers the same groovy vibe.

If you want to take it a step further, you can check out their Crazy Hours collection. Instead of the traditional format, Franck Muller jumbled the order of the numerals. Just don’t blame us if ever you run late for misreading the time. 

Cartier Baignoire, Cartier watch

Cartier Baignoire Allongée

What better alternative to the Crash than the original Cartier watch that it was based on? This Cartier watch is a lot like the Crash sans the weird shape. It is a little easier to obtain, too.


Up to this day, the watch community is divided on this Cartier watch. Some might love it, but I’m pretty sure somebody would say that creating a watch from an unfortunate event is done in bad taste. 

Whichever side of the fence you are, the Cartier Crash has cemented itself in the watch community’s hall of fame. It even found its way to the wrists of distinct people like Mary Quant, Tommy Nutter, and Kanye West.

Sure, the watch is not for everybody. But it’s amazing how Cartier can fuel creativity from even the most bizarre and macabre events. Cartier continues to prove that they’re not just another fashion watch brand. Their watchmaking should be taken seriously.

Cartier is known for making a lot of quartz watches. Find out why it shouldn’t be a dealbreaker by reading our primer here.

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