The Cartier name is known worldwide, the French brand is synonymous with luxury goods and recognised predominantly as a manufacturer of exquisite jewellery and watches. Although the company formed in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier passed out of family ownership over 50 years ago the Cartier name has remained a hallmark for quality. Having received its first royal warrant in the early 1900’s the company still courts royal approval today, with the Duchess of Cambridge having been seen sporting the Ballon Bleu watch.
Of course, very few of us boast a royal budget and when you consider that Cartier’s 400+ watch range includes the diamond encrusted Rotonde De Cartier Earth & Moon Platinum at around £540,000 this is very much a brand which appears at first glance to put itself well beyond the reach of most mere mortals.
However, the truth is that Cartier do produce some comparatively inexpensive watches and we’re here to highlight exactly what we believe to be the cheapest Cartier watches available.
First, a confession….
I have to admit that I’ve previously been something of a snob in regard to the delineation between a jewellery manufacturer and a watchmaker, for me the former made jewellery; the latter watches and never the twain should meet. I’m far from alone in this, with a number of watch aficionados maintaining in the past that a company can only be regarded as a watchmaker if the movement inside it’s timepieces are made “in-house” and since Cartier had a history of bringing in other manufacturers movements they couldn’t claim to be a “watchmaker”.
Granted Cartier bought in parts from some of the most renowned manufacturers such as Piaget, Genta and JLC, but there remained an idealism that somehow only movements produced in-house could be considered as “the real thing”.
Cartier themselves have addressed this though subsuming various specialist watch engineering firms into their group and eventually built a state of the art manufacturing site at La Chaux-De-Fonds around a decade ago to give them a production base for their own movements that rivals the likes of Rolex and Omega.
Another criticism of Cartier has been that their designs can be a little too avant-garde, more work of art than of practical use and whilst this might be fine for jewellery it isn’t “the done thing” for watches, however the examples we’ve selected show that Cartier do have an eye for the clean and functional whilst remaining true to their brand.
There are two basic designs which Cartier produce which are, in our opinion, as affordable as it comes when looking to purchase a Cartier watch.
The Tank name was allegedly inspired by the Renault tanks seen by the founder’s grandson Louis on the Western Front in 1917. The basic design of the modern version is extremely similar to that of the original and so immediately harks back to its heritage. However “Tank” is rather a blatant misnomer if taken to indicate that the watch might be chunky and rugged; even the larger of the two case options measures a modest 31mm x 40.85mm, a little over 7mm in depth and water-resistant to only 30m. The steel case is slim and beautifully finished with the polish you would expect from a pre-eminent designer, so it is a watch definitely aimed more at lovers than fighters!
The dial is an eye catching opaline white, with stylised black Roman numerals and minute markings contrasting nicely to the blue steel hands. This is all protected by a sapphire crystal glass and power is provided by a quartz movement (although an automatic version is available which includes date function) which presumably helped keep costs down. The beaded crown is finished with Cartier’s signature blue cabochon and a black calfskin strap is provided as standard although Cartier offers various alternative strap options including orange, pink, blue and tan amongst others.
The base model retails at around £2060 for the small Tank Solo or £2160 for the larger version which is also available with a steel bracelet for around £2350. Considering that these are Cartier watches and the prices are quoted based on their own website (at the time of writing) these are actually incredibly competitive. Few, if any, of the other luxury watch brands offer much in the same price bracket.
Ronde Solo de Cartier
Before closing I wanted to suggest an alternative to the Tank Solo, as not everyone wants a square or oblong watch and happily Cartier cater for those in search of a round dial at a budget as well.
The (literally) far less obliquely named Ronde Solo is available in various diameters from 29mm, 36mm and 42mm. In terms of materials and styling they are very similar to their slightly cheaper Tank cousin, although the dial of the Ronde Solo includes a secondary ring of numbers inside the Roman numerals denoting the 24hr clock in small arabic lettering. Again these are available with a choice of strap colour with prices starting from £2120 for the 29mm model on black calfskin up to £2970 for the 42mm case version.
So there we have it, Cartier styling and sophistication at a price that really doesn’t break the bank. I for one have started looking at Cartier in a less blinkered light.