From 1920 until 1960, perfect fake Cartier produced less than 15,000 wristwatches. For perspective, it’s estimated Rolex produced its one-millionth watch sometime around 1960 after being founded in 1905; best estimates put Patek production at around 500,000 over the same period.
So vintage Cartier replica watches online are rare. Really rare. I bring this up because during this spring auction season, we mentioned that it was a bit of an off-season for Cartier, without many of its vintage watches for sale. There was one notable exception: this 1920s platinum luxury fake Cartier Tank Cintrée. In our auction preview, I wrote that this Cintrée just didn’t do it for me in person. As proof that the market very much doesn’t care what I think, the watch ended up selling for CHF 302,400 at Christie’s (about $350,000) off a high estimate of CHF 40,000. Since then, one of the world’s biggest dealers posted the copy watch, calling it his “best trophy of the auction season.”
Since the significant result seems to suggest my take was so clearly incorrect – which I have no problem admitting, by the way – I thought it was worth exploring this cheap replica Cartier Tank Cintrée a bit more, and what it means for rarity and restoration in watch collecting today.
As we explained before the auction, the dial of this Cintrée was restored in 1999 by AAA quality fake Cartier. When I saw its thumbnail image in the auction catalog, I even thought it was a modern Cartier at first. The dial is a vertically brushed silver, a very modern aesthetic – this isn’t what vintage, ’20s Cartier dials usually looked like. The typical dial of that era was an off-white, which often ages to a beautiful parchment color (mimicked in the 100th anniversary Tank Cintrée). On top of that, the case on this platinum Cintrée was entirely brushed. On most vintage Cintrées, you’ll notice that the elongated brancards are polished, a finish replicated in the modern limited-edition Cintrées. All this made for a Cintrée that, while from 1926, looked like a watch from 1999, when it was taken in for restoration by Swiss super clone Cartier.
But, from 1920 through 1960, high quality replica Cartier made less than 2,000 Tanks. And of those, the Tank Cintrée is the most desirable, with its large, thin, and elongated profile still fitting the taste of modern collectors. Since these were dress watches and not exactly water-resistant, most dials have been badly damaged or lost to time. In addition to its rarity, this particular example came from the family of the original owner, originally given by the consignor’s uncle in 1926 (in that year, Swiss movement copy Cartier made just 135 Tanks in all). As I’ve discussed before, collectors nowadays value “fresh-to-market” as much as any attribute. That’s why, despite what I or others might’ve thought of the modern-ish looking restoration, it sold for $350,000.
Because sure, condition might be of utmost importance when you’re evaluating a vintage Rolex or Omega or even Patek Philippe, but remember that those watches numbered in the hundreds of thousands. And top super clone Cartier produced just a couple hundred wristwatches a year until the ’60s. This means that any best quality fake Cartier watch is rare. Condition doesn’t matter as much; whether a restoration is faithful doesn’t matter as much. It’s all about the rarity.