Perception, fallacy and truth

Mar 24, 2011,02:49 AM

I was having a discussion with a fellow collector, a gentleman who is discerning and educated, about the Cartier Astroregulateur. You can read my detailed explanation of the Astroregulateur here but in essence the movement is designed to address the same issues of gravity as a tourbillon, except in the modern context of a wristwatch. Remember that the tourbillon was originally conceived by Breguet for a clock or pocket watch, which were always standing upright.


My friend had commented the watch was expensive; retail is EUR250,000 or thereabouts. I explained that the Astroregulateur is as complicated as a tourbillon, the winding mechanism alone (including the pendular seconds) has 130 parts, and is functionally identical to a multi-axis tourbillon, at least in theory. And conceptually it was innovative and creative, a novel approach to a known problem instead of the conventional approach which is multiplying the axes of the tourbillon. His response was, "But it's not a tourbillon!"




The Cartier Astroregulateur


So that brings me to the issue of perception . A tourbillon is perceived to be complicated and consequently expensive. Yet that is not quite the case. Traditionally a tourbillon was rare because the parts were small, thus difficult to machine and finish. And subsequent assembly and adjustment was difficult.


Modern technology has made it easier to produce a tourbillon at all levels, which explains why Jaeger-LeCoultre could make the Reverso Platinum 2 tourbillon in a limited edition of 500 in three years. On the other hand, estimates vary but it’s safe to say only a couple of hundred in total, including wristwatches and pocket watches, were made from invention to the nineties.


I have myself disassembled a tourbillon. Well to be specific I disassembled the whole movement and removed the tourbillon regulator as a whole without taking the tourbillon regulator itself apart. I personally feel it is as complicated a taking apart a chronograph, which I have done, and a perpetual calendar, which I have not.


But if you don’t believe me, Christophe Claret made a similar point when I interviewed him in 2010. “The tourbillon is the most simple [movement] of my production. It is a very nice complication, but for me it’s not very technical.” In fact, Claret also said, “This is why many people like to make [tourbillon watches] – to make money."


And that perception leads to the fallacy that a tourbillon is an intrinsically valuable, rare and complicated mechanism. Some tourbillons are just that, the Patek Philippe ref. 5101 for instance, or the Breguet La Tradition Tourbillon, or the Lange Pour le Merite. But many are not. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Tourbillon in my opinion is a great example of the wonders of industrialisation; it is neither refined nor sophisticated, but admittedly it is cheap.


A separate point that emerged in the same conversation was the topic of Cartier itself. Cartier is undeniably a mass market luxury brand. Brand-specific figures are not revealed, but Cartier does EUR2.0 to 2.5 billion in revenue annually. Its bags and perfumes are sold in airports. Cartier is not quite as mass market as Tiffany & Co. or Louis Vuitton, but it starts at a lower price point than say Harry Winston.


Yet to the average consumer who buys the average Cartier item, pen or cufflinks or small trinket, Cartier is an incredibly exclusive and rare luxury brand. Cartier has done a terrific job of building on its history – Cartier does have an amazingly rich history – as well as creating a modern image of high luxury. Those gilt-edged red boxes don’t cost all that much but look brilliant.



High luxury at Cartier


Because of Cartier’s position as a mass market luxury brand, some discerning watch buyers sneer at Cartier Fine Watchmaking. Traditionalists who think Patek makes the best complications and Rolex the best sports watches refuse to acknowledge what Cartier has achieved in high horology, and how much it is still investing to that end.


Yet the products speak for themselves. Anyone who looks closely, at the Santos skeleton for instance, cannot deny it is highly finished and well executed watch. The truth is Cartier, as a whole, is a mass market luxury brand, but its Fine Watchmaking is exactly that – fine watchmaking.



This message has been edited by SJX on 2011-03-24 02:49:50

More posts: Christophe ClaretSantos

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A great read SJX

 By: emcquillan : March 24th, 2011-03:41
A very interesting essay on perspectives. IMHO brand recognition can be a slow moving ship in any established industry . There are obvious exceptions and these generally cater to a younger and faster moving crowd. Btw, I like Jaeger LeCoultre's "working m... 

Thanks emcquillan

 By: SJX : March 24th, 2011-04:07
I agree that the JLC Master Tourbillon is great for what it is, an affordable tourbillon. It is like the IWC rattrapante vs Patek 5959, same complication but radically different levels of complexity and finish. - SJX

Semantics comes into play too

 By: cazalea : March 24th, 2011-13:04
for example, regarding the JLC Tourbillon you mentioned, I would have preferred you to describe it as relatively inexpensive rather than cheap . In the same way, when cooking, I prefer to have my wife ask me Could you cook my fish a bit longer rather than... 

No is the answer.

 By: TdotBean : March 24th, 2011-18:08
The fine watchmaking part of cartier will never IMHO get to the point of great public acceptance. How many are willing to buy a flashy watch that don't flash at all? A Porsche does a better job than a cartier tourbilon. Only die hard fans will support it ... 

Something that you might like

 By: SJX : March 25th, 2011-03:19 - SJX

Demand is there

 By: SJX : March 25th, 2011-03:12
About 1500-2000 watches of the Fine Watchmaking collection are made per year, and they sell at a fairly good pace, better than the Collection Privee Cartier Paris that came before. There are enough buyers. The issue is who are these buyers? Consumers who ... 

Hi SJX. This is a great read. My question here and not just specifically for Cartier...

 By: Echi : March 25th, 2011-02:27
is that, the ones who've never been in the "fine watchmaking" space before... are they forcing it? what's the reason behind pushing the envelope? if it's legitimacy, i think that you can still produce great timepieces worthy of the Cartier mystique withou... 

History and legitimacy

 By: SJX : March 25th, 2011-03:27
Cartier does has a history in the fine watchmaking space. From approximately the twenties to the forties, Cartier made top-end watches, many with complications. Movements were supplied by EWC which in turn obtained ebauches from LeCoultre. The watches of ... 

Well if the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Tourbillon is cheap....

 By: Dje : March 25th, 2011-08:24
Hi JiaXian, I know that you have not liked it from the start but I do and for good reasons I think, in my very humble opinion. I don't think "cheap" is a word that makes senses with a Master Tourbillon. Well if the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Tourbillon is ch... 

A few things

 By: SJX : March 25th, 2011-08:43
Hi Jerome, The JLC Master Tourbillon is good value for money, that I grant you. But, 1) The finishing is poor. For example, the anglage is either embossed or diamond cut. Also, the Cotes de Geneve has no glow. 2) There is nothing technically innovative ab... 

Well, SJX, I too think you're entitled to your own view, here.

 By: amanico : March 25th, 2011-09:10
Do you always compare watches which don't play in the same budget? I would be curious to know in what price category is this Cartier, while the JLC is on the 35 000 Euros range. So, for you, a watch which is 3, 5, 7 or 10 less expensive must have the same... 

You are misreading my post

 By: SJX : March 25th, 2011-09:30
either intentionally or not. My original post said that the Master Tourbillon is neither technically sophisticated nor highly finished but it is cheap, i.e. the price is low for a tourbillon. In response to Jerome, I said again: 1. JLC Master tourbillon i... 

Ok, I was indeed misreading your point of view.

 By: amanico : March 25th, 2011-09:34
By the way, do you have more detailled pictures of the movement? Would be very curious to see the level of finish. Bes,t and thanks in advance. Nicolas.

I only have one photo of the back

 By: SJX : March 25th, 2011-10:17
It is a prototype and not in good condition, neither does it have the final finishing. - SJX...  

No we're not misreading

 By: Dje : March 25th, 2011-09:59
Sorry JiaXian but we're not misreading. Cheap doesnt mean just less expensive! I've looked on the net and here's the kind of definition for cheap I find: cheap (ch p) adj. cheapĀ·er , cheapĀ·est 1. a. Relatively low in cost; inexpensive or comparatively ine...  

That was meant for Nicolas

 By: SJX : March 25th, 2011-10:12
I meant he was misreading my post, not you. When I wrote the JLC was cheap, I meant "Relatively low in cost; inexpensive or comparatively inexpensive" AND "Of poor quality; inferior". Also, I never made the point that the Astroregulateur is well finished,...  

Well I don't think they are better finished than a Master Tourbillon

 By: Dje : March 25th, 2011-10:58
Well I don't think they are better finished than a Master Tourbillon. The finish seems comparable on the pics, for as much as pics can be compared of course, as they can be easily misleading. And of course you can always have a look there: / D...  

Compare anglage for example

 By: SJX : March 25th, 2011-11:56
The anglage on the tourbillon bridge is uneven at places: While the bevelling on the keyless works of the Cartier skeleton tourbillon is even all around. The Cartier is more expensive, but you are making the point that the JLC is as well finished as the C...  

Honestly, SJX, I don't see your point on the difference of quality.

 By: amanico : March 25th, 2011-11:05
The JLC and the Cartier are not, by far, the most finished Tourbillons, objectively, and from what I see on your pics. The JLC is honest, for its price. But I may be biased... Best, Nicolas.

Just to chip in a bit.....

 By: CL : March 26th, 2011-23:54
When I first read SJX's article, it reads to me like he's saying that this Cartier watch is of very high finishing and basically a true fine watch. His mention of the JLC Master Tourbillon did not sound like an 'attack' of that watch, he just simply says ... 

Thanks for the summary CL

 By: SJX : March 27th, 2011-00:00
You said in three paragraphs what I took one article, six photos and 12 responses to say. And while you are right, not everyone needs a Simplicity, I think everyone, at least everyone I know, wants one. Some people even want it on a brown strap. - SJX

Agreed, CL..

 By: amanico : March 27th, 2011-00:01
I don't expect the Master Tourbillon to be finished like a 250 000 Euros watch, of course, and your observation makes sense, totally. But, and IF I got it well, for the price of this Cartier Tourbillon, and for much less, a GP 3 Gold Bridges like the one ... 

The Astroregulateur is NOT the best example of Cartier finishing

 By: SJX : March 27th, 2011-00:10
I think there is some confusion in the discussion. The Astroregulateur is a fine example of out of the box thinking, innovation and creativity, NOT finishing. There are other Cartier watches with better finishing. Perhaps I wasn't clear in my original pos... 

Ai yi yi, DJE!

 By: Mostel : March 25th, 2011-12:19
Quite a reply. neither watch interests me personally.

Same idea form Zenith...

 By: Ogygia : March 27th, 2011-06:02
Even Zenith G-force is more complicated as it have to compensate the motion on 2 axis. I would like some watch maker to combined cartier and design a spherical wrist watch which can wind as rolling ball and show the time on itself....

Similar but different

 By: SJX : March 27th, 2011-23:18
Zenith's solution puts the balance wheel on one plane at all times; it is always flat like a marine chronometer inside a gimbal box. I find Cartier's solution a bit more elegant, the Zenith seems a little bit overkill. - SJX


 By: Ogygia : March 28th, 2011-09:49
But I don't like them both....

the cartiers just glow

 By: cuibono : March 26th, 2011-10:08
as a true layman compared to you guys, i have to say that something as pedestrian as a large case ballon bleu (forgive me if these seems to mass appeal for some) positively glows compared to the jlcs i've seen. amanico and others know that i absolutely lo... 

Wise words

 By: SJX : March 26th, 2011-23:06
Thanks for the wise comment Chris. Buy what you like, regardless of the "expert's" comments on anglage and perlage. Sometimes we get too caught up in the details and forget the bigger picture - do you like the watch? - SJX

i like it but

 By: lien : March 27th, 2011-02:49
i too think this one is overpriced since its a competing solution for an already overpriced complication and not that much prettier. nevertheless, you can't really put a price on innovation but i would really love to see some nice and more economy complic... 

I've heard that line before

 By: SJX : March 29th, 2011-02:31
I've heard many people express that same view. But the new Fine Watchmaking range is selling much better than the CPCP. Are those who mourn the demise of the CPCP the same people who were buying them, and are now sadly deprived of access to the CPCP? Perh... 

Interesting read.

 By: Davo : April 2nd, 2011-16:57
Thanks for enlightening me.