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  • Harry Fane

Swinging London; swinging again

Another rare London watch reached a high price (US $ 175,000) yesterday at Watches of Knightsbridge in London. It was the turn of an ‘Octagonal’ model from 1976 to take center stage. This Report tells the Cartier, London watch story so here is a slightly more personal tale.

Some years ago, I had an empty morning in Paris. My only appointment was lunch at The Ritz Hotel. Being a lovely spring morning, I decided to amble slowly through the streets without purpose nor direction and just head vaguely in the direction of Place Vendome. It’s fun doing this...small cafes, art galleries, shops selling beautiful porcelain, food shops, and pretty streets, one right after another.

I was neither lost nor paying attention to where I was. I came across a jewellers but nothing in their window enticed me so on I wandered. A few doors down, I came across a small shop with lots of old Rolexes in the window. Nothing here for me either so on I walked. I had not gone far when something compelled me to go back to the watch shop. ‘Have you any old Cartier watches?’ I asked. A youngish fellow said he had one and went into the back and reappeared holding a Cartier, London ‘Octagonal’. The first ‘Octagonal’ I had ever seen. My heart skipped a beat. I had just begun working with a new collector who was very interested in the Cartier London watches and I knew he would love this.

In true Parisian style, the negotiations were annoying. The French can be very stubborn and the English very mean so it took a while to agree on a price. The watch was already expensive in spite of this being well before the Cartier London spark had been lit. I returned to London triumphant and the collector said he would come in the morning. When he saw it, his eyes twinkled a fraction too brightly and I dialed the price up a notch or two. All the same, he agreed to buy. Ever since, he has mobbed me up that I charged him excessively and I probably did...but yesterday, all that changed, and the collector (who subsequently bought a second ‘Octagonal’ model, plus a rarer ‘Decagon’) was very happy.

This whole story has always astounded me...why did I walk down that particular street, why did I return and go into that shop, and was that watch just sitting there waiting for me? It was too peculiar.....such astonishing luck!

The vintage Cartier watch market is splitting. There are the Cartier London watches which are rocketing up in value independent of anything else, and then there are the great classics, like The Tank, of course, which are becoming so, so rare it is hard to gauge the market let alone find the models.

For me personally, I am and always have been a 'Tank' man. I would not wear the ‘Octagonal’. As with vintage Cartier jewels, I want the jewellery I sell to be recognizable as ‘Cartier’ from a hundred meters away. In a hypothetical room, if you wave an ‘Octagonal’ Cartier watch in the air and ask ‘what is this?’, I guarantee no one will know....wave a Tank and ask the same question and everyone knows. I find relevance and value in this.

The man who I really envy is the fellow who just bought a London Tank Cintree from 1967 from me. Here you have a Tank, the best model Tank that Cartier ever made, with the modifications to the dial made specifically in London which take this watch into a whole new realm of elegance and beauty. I think this watch is the watch Carlsberg would make if Carlsberg made watches! (Apologies for reference to a TV ad only the English will get). This is probably the dream Cartier

watch but then Cartier made many dreamy watches. I don't really care much about this, that nor the other when it comes to wristwatches. But put on a Cartier watch and you

are immediately elevated to a higher place.

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