Cartier makes waves with its golden ‘Pebble’
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No complications, no gem-setting, not even a gold bracelet… it is a mark of how far Cartier has come as a watchmaker in recent years that it can charge £40,800 for a time-only wristwatch. What is more, I am pretty sure that, when released next month, the 150-piece 50th-anniversary release of the watch aficionados know as the “Pebble” will make hot cakes seem positively glacial when it comes to sales.
As the nickname suggests, it resembles the sort of stone you might skim along the surface of the water: a shape that invites you to caress it, promising the tactile satisfaction of a pebble worn to smooth, geometric perfection by aeons of erosion. The design derives its effect from the tension between the circular case and square dial, its corners oriented so that it sits like a lozenge with corners at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. It is incredibly simple yet uniquely recognisable.
Until recently the watch barely warranted a footnote in the history of Cartier. Made by the London workshops, it dates from the fag end of the Swinging ’60s. The Paris, New York and London businesses owned by different branches of the family were not reunited until the late ’70s. Each developed its own ranges of products that were interpretations of Cartier’s classics. But whereas the Pebble’s sibling, the Crash, arrived bang on time in 1967 – capturing the psychedelic spirit of the times – the Pebble made its debut in 1972, when Britain was already hurtling down the lift shaft of economic decline.
At the time both watches were made in extremely small numbers but over the intervening years, the Crash was periodically revived and has now become a seven-figure watch beloved by Tyler, the Creator, Jay-Z and Kanye West among others, while the last Pebble was made in 1977, after which, excuse the pun, it sank like a stone. For decades it was of little interest beyond Cartier enthusiasts… until last year when a 1972 example fetched SFr403,200 (about £378,000), eight times its low estimate, at Phillips in Geneva.
The 50th anniversary release comes at a propitious time and the new watch is careful to respect the original, as Cartier director of image, style and heritage Pierre Rainero explains. “The one in the ’70s was a bit smaller. The dial is also a little different because the first dials were not pure white but, as we say in French, blanc cassé; the new one is more creamy.”
The relaunch marks a new era in the development of Cartier as a watchmaker, which began its return to greatness when, under president and CEO Cyrille Vigneron, it turned away from overly complicated watchmaking to focus on heritage designs. Called Privé, this programme has revisited the well-known classics: Tonneau, Cloche, Crash and Tanks Chinoise, Asymétrique and Cintrée. While these other designs have been revived at various times since their launch, the Pebble, dormant since 1977, is virgin territory. So why has it taken so long?
“I think there is maturity among collectors, the public, the press and the global market [about this design],” says Rainero, “and I think the vision of Cartier is better appreciated today than it was even five years ago.” In other words, the design was ahead of its time. Now, 50 years on, popular taste caught up.