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The Cartier Buying Guide: Models, Prices & Everything Else You Need to Know

Everything you need to know when buying a Cartier watch, from models to prices.

By

Isaac Wingold

October 13, 2022

/

8 min read

Cartier isn’t just one of the best-known names in watches and jewelry, it’s also one of the biggest players in the luxury market as a whole — meaning, when it comes to buying a Cartier watch, you can expect both a high-quality product and high-quality ownership experience. On top of their timeless and elegant designs, these watches are known for being incredibly reliable, generally requiring little more than routine servicing.

Still, buying your first Cartier watch (or even your next) can be a tough decision. With so many different models to choose from, a little guidance definitely goes a long way. To help you narrow it down, we’ve put together this guide to all the crucial things you need to know before purchasing a Cartier watch.

Cartier Brand History and Significance

What Makes a Cartier a Cartier?

  • Pioneers of Modern Watchmaking
  • The Jeweler of Kings and the King of Jewelers
  • Iconic and Elegant Designs

Key Cartier Models to Know

Should You Buy a Modern or Vintage Cartier? 

Bezel's Cartier Picks

New York's Cartier Maison in 1920 – Photo via Bloomberg.

Cartier Brand History and Significance 

Cartier’s history dates back to 1847, when Louis-François Cartier founded the brand in Paris. Over the course of nearly two centuries, Cartier has positioned itself as one of the world’s most prestigious designers and manufacturers of jewelry, evolving to include luxury watches after the turn of the century. 

In the time since the brand’s earliest attempts at watchmaking, there’s been no shortage of iconic designs, each adhering to the brand’s signature design language of old world sophistication, now recognizable from a single glance. Like other top tier watchmakers, Cartier’s current collections consist mostly of historic designs innovated upon over the decades. 

Over the years, Cartier has proven its serious watchmaking chops, producing a number of different skeletonized watches, along with watches equipped with exciting complications, like the more recent Rotonde collection. This all amounts to a sense of reliability in Cartier’s specific brand of luxury. Regardless of which Cartier watch you add to your collection, it’s sure to have both iconic design traits, a high grade movement, and the brand’s signature, traditionally sophisticated style. 

The many facets of Cartier.

What Makes a Cartier a Cartier?

Alberto Santos-Dumont pictured alongside an early Cartier wristwatch.

Pioneers of Modern Watchmaking 

By the time Cartier entered the watchmaking space around the turn of the century, the brand had already established itself as one of the world’s most respected jewelers. Naturally, Louis Cartier’s adventures in watches had to begin with a similarly impressive first effort, producing what’s considered the world's very first men’s wristwatch in 1904, for Brazilian aeronautical pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont. After kicking things off in the most monumental way imaginable, Cartier went on to produce countless important designs, including the Tank, Ronde, and Santos among others.

One of Cartier's famed high jewelery watches, demonstrating the brand's unmatched expertise with gem-setting.

The Jeweler of Kings and the King of Jewelers

Few brands have enjoyed a clientele as star-studded and high-profile as that of Cartier’s over the centuries. Beyond just modern day celebs, Cartier has historically been commissioned by countless royal families across the world to produce both jewelry and watches, so much so that the brand was once described by King Edward VII of England as “the jeweler of kings and the king of jewelers.” If that endorsement alone wasn’t enough, consider that Cartier has supplied Indian Maharajas and the Spanish Royal family, along with countless others throughout the brand’s history. 

A designer's sketch depicting the Cartier Santos-Dumont.

Iconic and Elegant Designs 

There’s a particularly classy feel to a Cartier on the wrist – an immaculate vibe, if you will. This inherent feeling of lavishness is thanks to the watchmaker’s timeless design language, defined by black Roman numerals on silvered, white guilloché dials with blued steel hands. These design traits now serve as the industry-wide blueprint for a versatile and discernibly more upscale watch (compared to a tool watch like the Rolex Submariner, for example). 

Several of Cartier’s watches have become pop culture icons in their own right, each with their own devoted followings of collectors - from the Santos, to the countless iterations of the Tank, to the drool-worthy Crash.

The latest generation of Cartier watchmaking icons.

Key Cartier Models to Know 

Cartier Santos de Cartier Ref. W2SA0009.

Cartier Santos de Cartier

Shop Cartier Santos de Cartier

Dates: 1978-Present

Price range: $2,000-$3,000,000+

Highlights:

  • Introduced by Cartier as an updated interpretation of Santos-Dumont models, to address the increasing number of integrated bracelet luxury sports watches released throughout the 1970s
  • Has been produced in four key evolutions: the original Santos Carrée, the Santos Galbée of 1987, the Santos 100 of 2004, and the latest Santos de Cartier introduced in 2018 
  • The first stainless steel watches to be produced in series by Cartier
  • Notably worn by Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street (1987) 
  • Produced in a wide variety of configurations
Cartier Tank Louis Cartier Ref. WGTA0011.

Cartier Tank

Shop Cartier Tank

Dates: 1917-Present

Price range: $1,000-$200,000+

Highlights:

  • The most iconic and historically significant of all Cartier watches
  • Its straight case shape, with lugs that stay in line with its extremities, was inspired by the shape and proportions of military tanks used in WWI 
  • The collection features a number of stunning iterations of the tank, including the Tank Louis Cartier, Tank Must, Tank Française, Tank Américaine, Tank Anglaise, Tank Cintrée, and Tank Chinoise among others
  • Notably worn by Muhammad Ali, Princess Diana, Andy Warhol, Michelle Obama, Duke Ellington, Truman Capote, and Jacqueline Kennedy, among others
  • Now offered with both quartz and mechanical movements 
  • Produced in a wide variety of configurations
Cartier Ballon Bleu de Cartier Ref. W3BB0021.

Cartier Ballon Bleu de Cartier

Shop Cartier Ballon Bleu de Cartier

Dates: 2007-Present

Price range: $3,000-$200,000+

Highlights:

  • One of the most important designs of Cartier’s modern era of watchmaking, sought after for its elegance and three-dimensional symmetry  
  • Features a case shape reminiscent of a pebble, with a rounded crown guard, surrounding a sapphire cabochon-topped crown  
  • Now offered with both quartz and mechanical movements 
  • Produced in a wide variety of configurations
Cartier Pasha de Cartier Ref. W2PA0008.

Cartier Pasha de Cartier

Shop Cartier Pasha de Cartier

Dates: 1985-Present

Price range: $1,000-$300,000+

Highlights:

  • Inspired by a watch commissioned in the 1930s by the Pasha of Marrakech 
  • Characterized by its canteen-style crown guard, studded T-lugs, and a removable cage-like grid, protecting the case, crystal, and dial 
  • Designed by Gerald Genta, also credited with designing the Patek Philippe Nautilus and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
  • Now offered with both quartz and mechanical movements 
  • Produced in a wide variety of configurations
Cartier Crash London Boutique Edition Ref. WGCH0006.

Cartier Crash

Shop Cartier Crash

Dates: 1967-Present

Price range: $80,000-$1,000,000+

Highlights:

  • The definition of irreverent, avant-garde luxury 
  • The asymmetrical case shape is inspired by a disfigured Cartier Baignoire Allongée, brought into the London boutique following a car crash 
  • Offered exclusively through the brand’s London boutique, and with a several year long waitlist, the Crash is one of, if not the most difficult Cartier watch to get your hands on 
  • Notably worn by Tyler the Creator, Kanye West, and Kim Kardashian, among others
  • Offered exclusively with a mechanical movement
  • Produced in a wide variety of configurations
Cartier Ronde Must de Cartier Ref. WSRN0032.

Cartier Ronde de Cartier

Shop Cartier Ronde de Cartier

Dates: 1937-Present

Price range: $1,000-$6,000,000+

Highlights:

  • Designed by Louis Cartier after penning other iconic designs
  • One of the few Cartier watches to exclusively be produced with round cases
  • Features signature details including a Roman numeral dial, blued steel hands, and a sapphire cabochon set crown, like other celebrated Cartier watches 
  • Now offered with both quartz and mechanical movements 
  • Produced in a wide variety of configurations
Cartier Panthère de Cartier Ref. WSPN0006.

Cartier Panthère de Cartier

Shop Cartier Panthère de Cartier

Dates: 1983-Present

Price range: $1,000-$7,000,000+

Highlights:

  • Inspired by the fierce feminine nature of panthers, an obsession of Louis Cartier’s since the founding of the brand 
  • Panthers have played a significant role in the brand’s history, inspiring the designs of necklaces, bracelets, and rings
  • Often referred to as the “It Girl watch” 
  • Offered exclusively on highly flexible bracelets produced in steel, two tone, along with rose gold and yellow gold 
  • Notably worn by Zendaya, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rihanna, Charlie Sheen, Madonna, Keith Richards, Pierce Brosnan, Bella Hadid, and Dua Lipa, among others
  • Offered exclusively with a quartz movement
  • Produced in a wide variety of configurations
Cartier Santos-Dumont Ref. WGSA0032.

Cartier Santos-Dumont 

Shop Cartier Santos-Dumont

Dates: 1911-Present

Price range: $4,000-$30,000,000+

Highlights:

  • The world’s very first men’s wristwatch, produced by Louis Cartier in 1904 for the Brazilian aeronautical pioneer, Alberto Santos-Dumont, allowing him to not take his hands off controls to check the time while flying 
  • Its square form is said to have been designed to resemble the shape of the Eiffel Tower when viewed from directly above, just as Alberto Santos-Dumont did upon being the first to circle and fly over the tower in 1901
  • Features a bezel secured in place with screws, inspired by the industrial age
  • Now offered with both quartz and mechanical movements 
  • Produced in a wide variety of configurations

A vintage example of the Cartier Tank Asymétrique.

Should You Buy a Modern or Vintage Cartier?

Whether you ultimately decide to buy a vintage or modern Cartier, the good news is, you’re buying something that’s both timeless and elegant, with a pretty good likelihood of one day becoming a family heirloom (you’re welcome, future generations!) That said, you’re going to have to approach both wearing and owning a vintage Cartier quite differently than you would a modern reference. Cartier’s earlier watches are far less waterproof and durable across the board, requiring more care and consideration on the wrist than their modern counterparts. This means you’ll want to avoid taking a vintage Cartier Crash swimming, or wearing a vintage Cartier Tank to the gym. In those cases, you’d be better off opting for a modern Cartier, like the latest Santos models, boasting water resistance ratings of 100m. If you are, however, looking for something just for special occasions, then you might just be cut out for vintage Cartier collecting. 

Bezel’s Cartier Picks

Cartier Santos de Cartier Ref. W2SA0016

Cartier Pasha de Cartier Ref. W31076M7

Cartier Tank Américaine Ref. 1740

Cartier Panthère de Cartier Ref. W2PN0006

Cartier Ballon Bleu de Cartier Ref. WSBB044

Cartier Tank Must de Cartier Ref. WSTA0054

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