The New Sold-Out Watch That Isn’t Really New

An early version of the Cartier Baignoire was introduced in 1912. But this summer, as one editor said, ‘It’s the talk of the town.’

Even before Cartier’s new Baignoire Mini bangle watch arrived online and in stores around the world in late June, there were waiting lists of prospective buyers.

And by mid-August, the versions in 18-karat yellow or rose gold, priced at $11,800, were no longer available on Cartier’s website; the jeweler said they would appear again in November.

“This is unusual for a women’s watch,” said Paige Reddinger, the watch and jewelry editor at Robb Report magazine. The race to get a new timepiece, she said, is more typical for men’s limited-edition mechanical timepieces or a coveted Rolex or Audemars Piguet model.

But this summer, the feminine, oval shape of the Baignoire — in English, bathtub — has been “the talk of the town,” Ms. Reddinger said, referring to the new, expanded collection of Baignoire models, including the Mini bangle and the standard size offered in white, yellow and rose gold on gold bracelets and leather straps.

The new Baignoire Mini model, in yellow gold with a quartz movement.

“We are seeing a return to small, elegant timepieces, which ties back to fashion, and that’s why models like the Baignoire are seeing a resurgence,” she said. “Cartier has their ear to ground, they know what’s cool, and what’s happening.”

The demand is evident on eBay, which reported that in the United States and Canada there was a 90 percent increase in searches for “Baignoire” from April to July, compared with the same period in 2022. And searches for “Mini Baignoire” increased more than 375 percent during the same time period compared with the previous year.

Harry Fane, a vintage dealer in London who specializes in Cartier watches, said he does not think the renewed interest has anything to do with fashion. “Cartier is very clever at marketing its watches,” he said. “They create the demand, and all of the sudden people say, ‘I have to have the latest thing.’”

He noted that the house’s recent reissue of classics like the Crash and Tank Normale have been “hugely successful.”

Over the past six years, Cartier has been reimagining its collections, including the Panther, Santos and Ballon Bleu, explained Arnaud Carrez, Cartier’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer. “We respect our heritage and at the same time constantly enrich and push the boundaries of creativity and taste,” he said.

The stacking jewelry trend seems to be one reason the Baignoire bangle was an instant hit. “The fact it can be stacked is creating even more interest and appetite from clients who want to wear it to complement their Love, Juste Un Clou and Clash bangles,” he said.

That is the same reason London Jewelers, a retailer with seven locations in the metropolitan New York area, cannot keep up with the demand for the new Baignoire. “The bangle is more like a piece of jewelry that our clients can add to their stack of bracelets,” said Randi Udell-Alper, the company’s vice president. “Women are discovering the style for the first time, and they love hearing that it is actually older.”

But it is not just the bangle that is in demand, she said, noting that Baignoire models on leather straps also have been popular.

The celebrity Kendall Jenner was photographed in Los Angeles in January wearing a Cartier Baignoire. Bauer-Griffin, via Getty Images

An early version of the Baignoire style appeared in 1912, when Louis Cartier — a grandson of Louis-François Cartier, who founded the jewelry house in 1847 — created its first oval timepiece. But it wasn’t until 1958 that the design evolved into the contoured shape and proportions of today’s model. And in 1973, the style was christened the Baignoire.

Over the decades, the house introduced variations, including the Baignoire Allongée, an elongated oval with a mechanical movement; midsize versions with an integrated gold bracelet design; and models with diamond dials and diamonds around the bezel.

Mr. Fane said he personally prefers the old models over the new ones: “I’m a purist, I buy all the older Baignoire models that I can find. I love the history and those manufacturer’s techniques from earlier days, especially the models made in London.” (He noted that the Baignoire models that Cartier made in London from 1964 to 1974 have a slightly different dial and configuration than those made in France.)

The ladylike style resonated with me long before it became a trend this year.

In 1994, as a reporter covering jewelry and watches for Women’s Wear Daily, I spotted the Baignoire on a public relations executive, and I had to have one. It was my first luxury purchase.

When I lost it in 2016, it proved nearly impossible to replace. Cartier had stopped producing the style and there were only a few on the secondary market. A lot of people didn’t even know the style’s name.

Finally, a pre-owned dealer found my ’90s model on a crocodile strap and I purchased it. Its feminine shape and the smaller proportions suited my style. I also loved the fact that it was different; no one I knew had it.

Recently, people have been stopping me to say that they “love my new Baignoire.” For nearly 30 years, almost nobody noticed my watch — suddenly, it’s the new hot timepiece.

The new Baignoire models on leather straps are identical to the models from the ’90s, something that Mr. Fane said has boosted his vintage business. “When people can’t get the new watch, there becomes a furor trying to track one down, and they come to me asking for the old ones,” he said.

The Cartier Baignoire Mini bangle watch in rose gold.

Cameron Barr, chief executive officer of Craft + Tailored, a vintage online dealer, said some of his clients want both the vintage and new Baignoire models. “The Baignoire wasn’t really looked at, but now it is definitely in demand. Cartier did a good job paying homage to the past while telling a modern story.”

He pointed out that the interest in new styles also spiked demand for other Baignoire variations from the recent past, including the Maxi Oval and the Baignoire Allongée.

The Baignoire Oval style also has connections to the brand’s Crash model, said Eric Wind, the owner of Wind Vintage, an online watch dealership with a showroom in Palm Beach, Fla.

For years, the story circulating in the watch industry has been that a Cartier client’s Baignoire was damaged in a car accident in 1967, inspiring the Crash, which does look as if it melted a bit in a fierce fire. Cartier executives have never confirmed or denied the origin story.

Mr. Wind said the Baignoire is a great value compared to Crash timepieces, which sell for six figures. (On his website, an average price for a pre-owned Baignoire on a leather strap is $5,000.)

“The Baignoire,” he said, “is more within reach for people who want an interesting Cartier watch style with similar design language to the Crash.”

Mr. Wind said he is not surprised that the Baignoire has regained popularity: “With tougher economic times, people are wanting something not quite as flashy and loud, and smaller watches are a bit more tasteful.”

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