780960 Cartier Paris Cristallor

I can recall very vividly a few years ago reading a post from a well-known watch writer titled, ‘Not every unknown vintage Cartier is a sleeper’. With full respect to the author, actually, I believe the exact opposite to be true. And the market is proving out such. The thing about Cartier, particularly around the mid-century, is that their creativity knew no bounds. Their case shapes always had a decidedly classic and elegant edge, but varied in design from the London Baignoire Allongée to Obus Savonnette, Cheich and everything in between. There are an unfathomable number of iterations, all expressive yet in the same vein. Less than a decade ago, people used to hate the Chinoise case, laugh at the Bamboo, and Crashes would routinely sell sub 50K. But today it seems Cartier can do no wrong, even in retrospect. So perhaps it’s time to reconsider the primary target of that article I read: the Cristallor.


The Cristallor was introduced in the early ’70s alongside 12 other Tank iterations as part of a ‘shaped’ collection that included things like the Ellipse, Bamboo, Ceinture, Gondollo, and Stepped Tank. In fact, the Cristallor is often confused with the Stepped Tank but really quite different if you study the two side by side. The Cristallor has three steps with harsh enough case edges to make it almost octagonal and hidden lugs, where the stepped tank has rounded brancard ends and exposed lugs. The confusion is clearing as Cartier scholars dig deeper and deeper, but easily forgiven as the Cristallor was made in tiny numbers.

All known examples have case serials within three digits of each other, indicating that fewer than 1000 were ever produced. Each starts with serial ‘780960XXX’, giving this case an unofficial reference number 780960 that many use. It was available in two sizes and yellow or white gold, this is the larger at 35mm but just 6mm thin despite being a mécanique. The larger size is rarer and quite bold for Cartier back then. Some dials were signed Swiss Made (which seem to appear on later serial numbers), others, like this, Paris. Interestingly, it seems like fewer than half of Cristallor dials have the ‘secret’ Cartier signature in the 7 numeral that this dial does, whether a change halfway through production or later service replacements, we’ll likely never know. The Cristallor is one of the last remaining Cartier designs whose price is still lagging behind its outright rarity. It’s just this and the Ceinture now. However, opportunities to pick one up are increasingly hard, maybe a couple or less yearly. A sleeper or just to edgy (stepped bezel, get it)? Possibly both.

This example has a great case, doesn’t show a hint of polishing on those hard angles. There is light surface wear but not a visible major bash anywhere. Its dial is original and lacquered, very beautiful with extremely fine hairlines you always see. Its calibre 78-1 is running well and in spec. It comes from a well-regarded Japanese retailer who sourced from a Japanese collection. It even has its deployant clasp, box, and guarantee papers.