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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 jeweler’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.. t 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.