Can’t afford a Cartier Crash? Buy this instead

Inspired by Salvador Dalí, the Softwatch is a relatively affordable, just-as-cool Crash alternative
Cant afford a Cartier Crash Buy this instead
Zane Gan

The Cartier Crash is a watch I’ve resigned myself to only admiring from a distance. It’s a stake through the heart: the Crash, the iconic jeweller’s blobby 1967 masterpiece, is an all-time watch. But over the past few years, Crashes have skyrocketed in value – peaking at auction last year for over $1 million – thanks in part to its association with influential collectors like Tyler, the Creator. There remains, however, a glimmer of hope for thinner-walleted Crash fanboys like myself.

The Exaequo Softwatch is a watch shaped like a wheel of Camembert left out on a warm summer evening. The piece has quite a backstory. According to I Am Casa’s Andrea Casalegno, who helped dig up the history of these watches, Exaequo founder Philippe Muller came across Salvador Dalí’s “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory” and knew immediately he had the basis for a new model.. The Crash is often referred to as “Dalí-like,” but the Softwatch is actually inspired by the Spanish artist: Muller based the case shape directly off one of the painting’s melting clocks. “A real clock gives us the exact time; the watches of Dalí are timeless,” explains the Dalí museum. “By making the clock soft it becomes impossible for it to function and so it refers to eternity.”

Exaequo launched the Softwatch in 1990 but, because of a legal misstep, the company would only last another eight years. Muller wasn’t content with merely taking inspiration from Dalí; he wanted the reference to be even more explicit. So, without getting permission from the artist’s estate, Exaequo started printing Dali’s signature on the watch’s dial and boxes. Naturally, this didn’t fly with Dalí’s representatives, who sued Exaequo straight out of existence. The company shuttered in 1998, and the Softwatch was lost to time for many years following.

But the Softwatch has resurged in popularity in recent years, thanks in large part to collectors like Casalegno, who first stumbled upon it in the mid-2010s. Like many watch fans, Casalegno dreamed of owning a Crash, and was considering shelling out for a well-known copy of the model from Churchill. Instead, stumbling home drunk from a friend’s 18th birthday party one night, he discovered a Softwatch up for sale on eBay for around £180. “I won the auction and forgot about it,” Casalegno said. “One month later, I opened a box in the mail and there it was, beautiful and so nice on the wrist.”

Casalegno fell so hard for the Softwatch that he started contacting anyone with information about it, including other collectors and an importer who was responsible for bringing these pieces to Italy, where he’s based. As Casalegno prepared to share his reporting on his website I Am Casa, he shrewdly bought up a half-dozen more Softwatches while prices were still in the basement. “Andrea had a huge influence in the rise in popularity of the Softwatch,” said Jasper Lijfering, the owner of Amsterdam Vintage Watches.

Casalegno’s early investment proved wise: While Softwatches could be had for a few hundred dollars just a few years ago, they now sell for prices in the low four digits. That rise in value speaks to just how desirable the Crash and other Cartier watches have become recently. Much like how the Softwatch has drafted off the Crash’s popularity, pieces from Bueche Girod – who supplied watches for Cartier in the ‘60s and ‘70s – are also experiencing a swell in demand, thanks to their resemblance to models like the Bagnoire and Tank. “[Bueche Girod] only became anything worth talking about once those Cartiers shot up in value,” says the Geneva-based dealer Sacha Davidoff.

Some collectors rightfully see the Softwatch as more than just a cheap alternative to the Crash. “To the untrained eye or someone unfamiliar with Cartier watches” – SHOTS! – ”yes, it’s a Crash alternative,” said Elias Marte, the watch influencer and collector. “But I’m a big fan of surrealist art and Salvador Dali.” For a true Crash lookalike, Marte suggests, collectors should instead opt for the Cartier Baignoire, whose case the Crash’s design is based on.

Marte with his collection of Softwatches.

Zane Gan

In any case, despite the Softwatch’s rising value, it still remains a steal compared to the Crash, and occupies a special place in the watch world: not an outright copy of a famous watch, but a worthy piece in its own right with a lot of similar qualities—the Liam Hemsworth to the Crash’s Chris, if you will. “The Softwatch is this crazy, crazy, quirky special watch with a little extra something special,” said collector Benni Baron, who owns multiple Softwatches.

And much like the Crash, the Softwatch is also gaining famous fans. None other than Sir Paul McCartney gave a Softwatch as a gift to Geoff Emerick, a sound engineer on several Beatles albums. The back is engraved with the phrase “Paul Is Alive,” and came with a note thanking Emerick “for your help in squashing the old rumour that Paul is dead.” Honestly, I’d like to see the Cartier Crash do that.