Fratello Top Tip: A Cartier Watch Does Everything A Rolex Does
Arguably, Rolex is the most famous watch brand in the world. But is it the most famous luxury brand in the world? I can answer that short and sweet with a firm no. The most famous luxury brand in the world is — yes, arguably — Cartier. The French maison has a much wider scope and reach than Rolex because of its much more diverse offering of products. That’s why I dare state that a Cartier watch does everything a Rolex does. And it may well do it a tad better. Find out how and why in this Fratello Top Tip.
Let’s start with something a Rolex does better than a Cartier. Today, all Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches are officially certified chronometers. Rolex named these super-precise watches Superlative Chronometers. Don’t go looking for chronometer-certified Cartier watches, though, because you won’t find them in the brand’s collection. But the difference between, let’s say, the movement inside the Rolex Oyster Perpetual 41 and the 41mm Pasha de Cartier is not a world-altering affair. The robust Rolex caliber 3230 with its Chronergy escapement has an accuracy of ±2 seconds per day, over twice the precision of a standard COSC chronometer. By comparison, the three-hand, self-winding, in-house caliber 1847 MC has a claimed accuracy of +7/-3 seconds per day. Based on these numbers, Rolex beats Cartier, but do these numbers win the overall race? Instrumentality is not paramount in the modern world of luxury watches, so this first win is more or less a Pyrrhic victory.
A Cartier watch does everything a Rolex does — Status in the eye of the beholder
Let’s look beyond instrumentality to find out how Cartier and Rolex do in a more complete head-to-head where image, brand awareness, and status are key factors. The luxury wristwatch is an eye-catching badge of wealth and status, but not all badges are equally easy to recognize. A Patek Philippe 5270P needs a trained eye to be fully appreciated when catching a rare glimpse of it in the wild. But a fluted bezel, Cyclops magnifier, and a Jubilee, President, or Oyster bracelet are easily recognized from 10 meters away. It doesn’t even take a trained eye to notice them, for even a layman knows he’s looking at a “top luxury watch”. It’s almost impossible to overlook a Rolex.
But what about black Roman numerals on a silvery-white dial and a blue cabochon on the crown? A Cartier watch is also incredibly distinct. Both Rolex and Cartier are status symbols, but they differ in perception.
History rubs off
A Rolex is an obvious choice to show success. But does it symbolize taste, joie de vivre, elegance, savoir faire, and class? I will let you answer that on your own. But a Cartier watch does symbolize all of the characteristics I just mentioned. Now yes, of course, there is a group of watch connoisseurs who admire and love a Rolex for its technical capacities, excellent engineering, and backstories about a Channel swimmer and a mountaineer. But those folks are most certainly a minority, and to most, a Rolex is an in-your-face show-off piece. A Cartier, however, speaks with a softer voice. Wearing a Cartier is a style statement. The backstory of early 20th century Parisian gentlemen — I’m talking about the stylish duo of Louis Cartier and Alberto Santos-Dumont — and a long stream of glamorous stars, style icons, and royals endows every Cartier a je ne sais quoi allure. And that rubs off on the wearer.
There is also a more down-to-earth advantage to wearing a Cartier over a Rolex, and although it’s a bit grim, it is one the biggest. Please read Thomas Stover’s extensive article on Theft And The Fear Of Watch Ownership, and you will reach the same safe conclusion — wearing a Tank gives you more peace of mind than wearing a GMT-Master II.
The “holds its value” argument sticks
When comparing Cartier to Rolex, it is impossible not to address one other important point — value. A Rolex holds its value extremely well. This is a well-known fact of life. But although Cartier is not quite on par with Rolex in this regard, the brand’s timepieces also seem to hold their value well. That is due, in part, to Cartier being a recognizable jewelry brand, but its leather goods, accessories, and fragrances are also a factor. Rolex has created a world with the watch at its very center. Cartier, however, has shaped an entire system in which its different “planets” orbit around the stylized double “C”. Rolex might be the most famous luxury watch brand in the world, but Cartier is, arguably, the most famous luxury brand period.
And another bonus is that starting prices for a Cartier timepiece are lower than the entry-level prices for a Rolex. This means that “tickets” to the special luxury realm of Cartier are available to a larger audience.
Interestingly, on the Fratello website, articles about Rolex outperform Cartier stories. On our social media channels, however, Cartier content provokes more views and comments than Rolex-related posts. On the website, seasoned and serious watch fans find the stories that appeal to them and find each other to discuss timepieces. Aspiring watch fans and people with a more general interest in luxury products are very aware of the appeal, status, style, and prestige that the Cartier brand radiates. Also, having a string of young, hip, and happening brand ambassadors does seem to pay off for Cartier. Younger generations may not know that Cartier’s nickname is “The Jeweler of Kings and The King of Jewelers”.They may not know that the brand once introduced a watch inspired by the Renault tanks of World War I. But they do recognize and value a Cartier Tank when they see one.
Cartier does it differently
All in all, a Cartier watch does everything a Rolex does, and in some ways, it outshines its coroneted competitor. A Cartier watch makes a firm but refined style statement in a more subtle way than a Rolex does. A Cartier watch does not project an image of money on its wearer the way a Rolex (so dangerously in recent times) does. Finally, a Cartier is first and foremost an expression of the wearer’s personal style and taste. Status, brand value, and prestige follow very closely, but they are never the focus.
There’s no denying that a Cartier watch does things differently and perhaps even better than a Rolex does. The Swiss robustness of a Rolex is no match for the French style that is deeply rooted in every Cartier creation. As a functional design object, a Cartier timepiece is a more complete, sophisticated, and eloquent creation. And that’s because Cartier is more than a watch brand — it’s the name of a luxurious, lavish style universe. You are, of course, most welcome to tell me how much you disagree with me in the comments.
Find and follow me at Lex Stolk • Instagram