If you browse around a couple different vintage shops in Vietnam, whether it’s a shop selling watches or bags, chances are such shops will carry one or more models of the Must de Cartier line. Almost all of those Must de Cartier watches are usually sold out relatively quickly too. We know that it’s a Cartier, but what exactly does Must de Cartier mean, and how was it created? Let’s find out.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Seiko decimated the mechanical watch industry by introducing the Astron, the world first’s quartz watch. Quartz watches were designed to run on batteries, which means the movements are just much less complicated and cheaper to make as the components can be easily produced in mass and require fewer human touches while these watches are at least as accurate, if not more accurate than its mechanical counterpart. These quartz watches put the Swiss watch industry in a vulnerable position since Swiss watches at the time were not only much more complicated to produce, but also much more expensive due to the use of precious metals. This event is called the “Quartz Crisis” in the watch world. Like many other watch manufacturers, Cartier was a victim in this crisis.

At this time, Cartier was producing watches in gold or platinum, which pushed the price of these watches much higher than that of the quartz watches, making these Cartier watches impossible to compete. Like many other businesses, Cartier had to find a way to combat the quartz watches. Whatever the solution would be, the center of this solution needed to be Cartier’s famous watches. The solution ended up being a watch line that would pay tribute to Cartier’s famous watches at a much affordable price. The name of this watch line is Must de Cartier, which roughly translates to “Cartier, it’s a Must”

I think the Must de Cartier Tank is a great example of how Cartier confronted the crisis but still kept the Cartier ethos. The outer case of the Must de Cartier Tank looks exactly the same as the Tank Louis Cartier (LC) with the rounded case shape. Where Cartier was able to make this watch more affordable was in the case material and the movement. Instead of 18k solid gold or platinum used in the Tank LC, the Must de Cartier Tank used a vermeil silver case that was gold plated to achieve the same luxurious look as the Tank LC. Instead of the in-house movement found in the Tank LC, the Must de Cartier Tank used either a quartz or a simple ETA based manual movement (ETA is a movement manufacturer, now part of the Swatch Group). By using gold plated and an alternative movement to power the Must de Cartier Tank, Cartier was able to offer this watch at a much lower price compared to the Tank LC but still able to keep the prestigious look of the Tank LC. The price was so competitive that the customers used to buy 2 watches at the same time.

I think the Must de Cartier line is great in the sense that it does not divert away from the Cartier brand at all despite using some cost cutting measures. It’s actually quite similar to Apple’s iPhone SE / XR. These iPhones were made of materials that were easier to work with, but they are still iPhones. Another similarity between the iPhone SE /XR and the Must de Cartier is that they both feature multiple designs that the flagship models are just a bit conservative to take on. Must de Cartier watches have more than a dozen of dial designs, and I don’t think even half of those were featured in the traditional Cartier watches. I have not heard anyone owning an iPhone SE /XR said that this is NOT an Apple product. On the contrary, they were happy with that purchase because they don’t have to break the bank to own an Apple product. I think the same logic applies to the Must de Cartier line.

Written by Daniel Q.