Disclaimer: This article is merely one enthusiast's opinion on the Cartier Pebble. Take it with a pinch (or spoonful) of salt.
On the 50th anniversary of the Cartier Pebble watch, Cartier announced the release of the 150-piece limited edition series of this much fabled watch from La Maison. A $40,800, time-only precious metal timepiece without any complication or haute horology movement finishing? To the uninitiated, this may seem like a release doomed to fail from the beginning.
But here’s what the hype is all about. In a nutshell, unique case shape produced by Cartier London in 1972, only 6 known pieces that were ever produced, of which 2 of them sold for record amounts at auctions in 2021, and this is the first series production with this case shape.
Is it worth it? Looking at the watch in isolation? Probably not. Understanding the history of this case shape, the progression of the brand, and the significance of the release? Maybe. Knowing that this watch and case will remain special, and that secondary prices will likely remain high for the foreseeable future because of scarcity? Definitely.
In the 1960s, Cartier was split into three different geographies...Who am I kidding. You probably already know all about the history of the Pebble, and the 2021 auction results, and the specs of the 50th anniversary limited edition. If you don't, read Hodinkee's article. Or read Rescapement's article written last year (both articles written by Anthony Traina). I'm not a press magazine, and you're not here to read a press release. So let's get it moving on.
Photo Credit: Phillips
What's Going On With That Pricing?
Yes, it's pretty cool that they are releasing 150 more Pebbles, so more than 6 people can own them (actually less, because some sit in Cartier and Cartier collectors like Auro Montanari have more than 1). But other than that unique case shape, why is this priced so much higher than other Cartier watches in Yellow Gold? Just for comparison to other precious metal Cartier watches released in 2022 (prices in SGD). With the Pebble release, everything else feels like a steal.
- Cartier Tank Louis Cartier Rose Gold: S$18,600
- Cartier Santos-Dumont Lacquer Rose Gold: S$20,000
- Cartier Tank Chinoise Prive: S$39,900
- Cartier 50th Anniversary Pebble: S$63,500
But of course, the obvious reason why the Pebble is priced the way it is, is simply because of rarity, and because Cartier knows the value of the watch. The Pebble isn't the Tank Must with hundreds of different variants out there. With just 156 pieces out in the wild, and (ideally) many of them landing in the hands of true collectors who would never have to sell these pieces, you're left with not many pieces that can even be found on the secondary market, driving the price of this watch higher. Cartier understands this well, and that even if the Pebble was priced over 60% higher than the Prive, it would still sell out. This is not very different from why the Tiffany Patek Nautilus 5711 sold for over $6.5mil.
Could Cartier have priced it lower? Sure it could, and it would make the 150 folks who were given an allocation much happier (initially). We hear the standard "big brands increasing prices more than inflation and making watch collecting less accessible to the everyday folk" argument. I don't agree with that, because the Pebble isn't meant for the everyday folk. For that, they have the Tank, Santos, Santos-Dumont. Americaine etc. It isn't even for the regular Cartier enthusiast, because that's what the Prive line is for. This release is, in a way, to reward their top customers, to drive up interest in the brand.
Imagine for a moment that the Pebble was priced the same as the Prive collection at S$39,900, a collection that's released every year. Or even "better", if it was priced the same as the Tank Louis Cartier. How would you view the Pebble now? Would it have the same allure, prestige or desirability? Would a lower price do justice to the collectability of such a watch?
I'd argue that by pricing the watch higher, Cartier is actually doing future owners of these watch a favour, by increasing the inherent value of the watch. It is a clear signal of how Cartier views the Pebble vis-à-vis their other models that are released in the Prive collection. And even if these owners would never sell the watch, it still increases the worth they attach to the watch, and that's worth something.
Why Not Release This as Part of the Prive Collection? Why Not Make More than 150 Pieces?
Releasing the Pebble as part of the Prive collection, would definitely net more cash for Cartier because of the larger number of pieces made. But that comes at the expense of devaluing its heritage and history.
The Pebble is one of the "Daring Creations" (borrowing the term from A Collected Man) from the Cartier London era of the 60s, and not just a popular case shape that has been released in multiple editions over the past century. There aren't too many of these creations around.
Having a standalone release for the Pebble, separate from the Prive collection, allows the Pebble and its history to stand out from all the other releases from this year's novelties. If the Pebble was released as part of a Prive collection, would you know about the significance of Cartier's history in the 60s, and the daring creations of Cartier London? For most folks, probably not.
Could Cartier have made more than 150? Probably. Did they have to? If the goal was to raise cash, sure. But as I alluded to earlier, I highly doubt that the primary purpose of the Pebble was for that. Ultimately, it's a balance between more sales, and maintaining that exclusivity which helps to elevate the brand.
What's the Next Anniversary Limited Edition to Come?
The last time an anniversary piece was announced was in Jan 2021, with the 100th Anniversary of the Tank Cintree (just for comparison purposes, the Cintree was priced at S$42,800).
Photo Credit: SJX
The Tank Obus was released in 1923, so that could be a possible candidate for a 100th anniversary limited edition next year. But if you're following the script here, the Tank Obus isn't exactly a "grail tier" case from Cartier, so I don't think that's coming. Also, releasing one of these every year might make the whole idea of a standalone, special release, not so special anymore.
Photo Credit: Subdial
Looking at models instead of release years, a few standout models that have not yet been released in recent years include the Tank à Guichets (launched in 1928) and the Baignoire Allongee (1957). Despite being part of the Prive collection in 2020, I also think that the Tank Asymetrique (1936) has a chance (Cintree was also part of the Prive collection). Of course, there are so many other models that I don't yet know about (the history of Cartier is over 100 years!), so I'm pretty sure that my predictions are way off. Anyway, always fun to put it out there for posterity's sake.
Photo Credit: A Collected Man
Photo Credit: Watch4Moi
Is Pebble the Next Crash?
Personally, I don't think so. It takes a lot for a watch to reach the status of the Crash. Just a couple of auctions with crazy results, and a limited edition run, is not enough for a watch to reach that grail level. You still have to throw in a few celebrity watch spotting, multiple small releases over the span of decades, and in this age of social media, a few well placed pieces in the hands of watch influencers, for the Pebble to maybe have a chance.
I would also argue that the shape of the Pebble is not as striking or recognisable as the shape of the Crash. Yes, fitting a square peg in a round hole and making that into a watch is pretty cool. But making a watch so curvaceous that it is instantly recognisable? That's something else altogether.
I've Been Allocated One. Should I Get It?
I Haven't Been Allocated One. What Else Should I Get?
Luckily, Cartier's long history means that there are a ton of interesting models out there to hunt for, with varying price points. How about the Cartier Vendome BiPlan with its unique integration of clasp with case? Or the Cartier Diabolo with its curved case? If you aren't into vintage stuff, there are a ton of other models at the various price points. You can own a bit of Cartier heritage with the Santos-Dumont, the very first wristwatch!
Photo Credit: Amsterdam Vintage Watches
Photo Credit: The Keystone
In short, there's enough Cartier out there for everyone, which is what I really appreciate about the brand!