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05/15/2024
 4 minutes

Cartier vs. Rolex – Can the Jeweler beat the Crown?

By Jorg Weppelink
Rolex-vs-Cartier-2-1

The world of luxury watches is full of prestigious names. Rolex and Cartier are probably the two most well-known out of all of them. Which will come out on top in a one-on-one comparison? Let’s find out!

The world of luxury watches is full of prestigious names. Rolex and Cartier are probably the two most well-known out of all of them. Which will come out on top in a one-on-one comparison? Let’s find out!

Cartier vs. Rolex: History

Rolex is the biggest luxury watch brand in the world, with roots dating back to 1905 in London. In 1919, the brand relocated to Geneva, Switzerland, and created the first waterproof watch with the Rolex Oyster in 1926. The Rolex Perpetual was the first automatic watch with a winding rotor, premiering in 1931. In the 1950s, the brand set the standard for modern sports watches with the Submariner, GMT-Master, and Explorer. With other famous timepieces like the Cosmograph Daytona, the Day-Date, the Datejust, and the Yacht-Master, the brand extended its collection to become the world’s most famous watch brand, synonymous with success and prestige.

Vintage Rolex Oyster (ca. 1940er)
Vintage Rolex Oyster from the 1940s

Cartier was founded as a luxury jewelry brand in 1847 in Paris, France. In the early 1900s, it started producing watches, with the Cartier Santos-Dumont becoming the first mass-produced watch. The Cartier Tonneau, Baignoire, and Tortue quickly followed. The brand introduced the Cartier Tank in 1918, which quickly became a success. The coming decades would see many Cartier Tank variations that, along with the Santos, the Pasha, and the Crash, would become some of the most recognizable watches around, making Cartier one of the most prestigious watchmakers, and a symbol of sophistication and class (read more about Cartier’s rich history in our article Cartier: The Brand That Unites Creativity, Elegance, and Tradition).

Vintage Cartier Tonneau (ca. 1978)
Vintage Cartier Tonneau from around 1978

Watch Collections and Models

The Cartier Tank Normale is the most classic version of this model.

Cartier has an extensive collection of watches consisting of nine standard product lines and two special lines, with limited collector’s editions and special haute horlogerie pieces. The most famous is the Tank, the collection that’s home to great models like the Tank Louis Cartier, Tank Française, Tank Américaine, Tank Must, and Tank Cintrée. Other famous lines include the Pasha, Santos, Panthère, and Ballon Bleu. The brand’s Privé Collection brings back some of the unique classics from the archives in limited numbers, no doubt to the delight of many enthusiasts and collectors.

The Rolex Submariner 16610LN
The Rolex Submariner 16610LN

The Rolex collection is organized differently. First, the brand has its Professional line, home to sports watches like the Submariner, Explorer, Explorer II, GMT-Master, and the famous Daytona. The second is the Classic line, which consists of the more stylish models like the Day-Date, Datejust, Sky-Dweller, and 1908, among others. As such, the Rolex collection is easy to maintain an overview of; Rolex really does have a limited number of executions. And with 14 different product lines featuring a number of great model variations, there are plenty of fantastic watches to choose from.

Style & Design

Iconic, but rather expensive: the Cartier Tank Cintrée.
Iconic, albeit expensive: the Cartier Tank Cintrée.

Rolex and Cartier are two completely different brands when it comes to design. Cartier’s overall design signature is far more classical, while also being more aesthetically creative and varied. As such, every single model has a distinct character linked to the time it was conceived, making it stand apart from its peers. People who love Cartier usually look for that typical style to make a design statement.

Rolex designs are generally a lot more similar among its models. The clear Rolex design signature finds its roots in the 1940s with its classic models like the Day-Date, Oyster Perpetual, and Datejust, and the 1950s for the sports models like the GMT-Master, Submariner, and Explorer. The design aesthetic for the latter models became the blueprint for the modern sports watches we know today. An important foundation of Rolex’s design philosophy is its incremental updates it has implemented over the years: evolution rather than revolution, with many current watches still linked directly to their earlier generations, a design approach that has created Rolex’s many icons.

Quality & Technology

In terms of quality, Rolex is hard to beat when it comes to mass-produced luxury mechanical watches. Rolex produces all of the parts of its timepieces in-house, including the movements. Rolex watches are known for their fantastic reliability, tremendous accuracy, and outstanding production quality.

Cartier offers a wide selection of mechanical and quartz watches, producing a significant percentage of its calibers in-house, especially the high-end ones for its exclusive pieces. The brand additionally uses base movements from other reputable watchmakers, modifying and finishing them to Cartier standards. Cartier furthermore works with third parties to develop new quartz movements.

Pricing and Value Retention

Rolex watches are incredibly stable in terms of keeping their value. Even though the market has slowed down over the last two years, many current Rolex models still trade over their list prices. Although the prices for pre-owned Rolex watches have come down, they are expected to rise again over time. There is always plenty of interest from passionate collectors in vintage Rolex models, helping them to always retain their value.

Rolex Daytona – An icon that’s hard to get your hands on

Cartier has seen a rise in its popularity over the last five years. As a result, many of the brand’s watches have increased in price on the pre-owned market. While these are nowhere near Rolex prices, this clearly shows a healthy interest in Cartier. The rare classics and limited edition releases are highly collectible, and priced accordingly. You still can get your hands on an affordable pre-owned Cartier, but don’t be surprised if prices for its watches rise further over the coming years.

Rolex vs. Cartier: Who wins?

If you want a best-in-class daily wearer, or the ultimate functional tool watch, look no further than Rolex. Its watches are known to last forever, and on top of that, Rolex is the ultimate luxury watch brand. But if you want something more outspoken, stylish, and unique, Cartier is the way to go. It delivers a wide selection of unique, iconic classics with sophistication and refinement that surpass the functional character of Rolex. Whatever you select, there is no going wrong with these two world-class luxury watchmakers.


About the Author

Jorg Weppelink

Hi, I'm Jorg, and I've been writing articles for Chrono24 since 2016. However, my relationship with Chrono24 goes back a bit longer, as my love for watches began …

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