Feature: Cartier Ballon Bleu – Real vs Fake
It’s no secret that Rolex is one of the most faked brands in the world—we’ve all seen those market stalls on holiday peddling numerous shady imitations—but the fake watch market doesn’t stop there, oh no. And not only are fakes not limited to the arena of Rolex, but also not to the £100, DOA monstrosities that stand out a mile off. Modern CNC technology and the growth of aspiration across the globe has incentivised the manufacturers of fake watches to push their attempts further and further. And this is where we are now, with a fake of the Cartier Ballon Bleu de Cartier that you’d be hard-pushed to spot.
Before we go into more detail on the fake itself, let’s explore why it exists in the first place. After all, if the manufacturer of this dud is able to produce a watch to this level of quality, why not simply make its own watches? Well, there’s a glaring difference between them and Cartier—nearly two centuries, as it happens.
Apprentice Louis-Françoise Cartier, upon completion of his training, took over his master’s Paris workshop in 1847, slowly building a name for himself with his unique approach to his craft—but it was his sons, Louis, Pierre and Jacques who saw the potential in their father’s work.
While Pierre and Jacques spread the Cartier name worldwide, Louis remained in Paris, the style hub of the world. There, he created game-changer after game-changer, such as the wristwatch worn by pioneering aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont. At the time, men exclusively wore pocket watches, and not because wristwatch technology wasn’t available—it had been possible for half a century by that point—it just wasn’t fashionable. Cartier’s watch on Santos-Dumont’s wrist changed that, marking the beginning of the end for the pocket watch.
It was this kind of class-leading thinking that attracted the attention of watchmaker Edmond Jaeger—partner to Jacques-David LeCoultre and supplier of movements to greats like Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe—to furnish Cartier’s watches with his engines. Celebrity customers soon followed, such as King Edward VII and VIII, Queen Alexandra, King Afonso XIII, Tsar Nicholas II, Queen Marie, King Fouad, King Zog—not to mention numerous Princes, Princesses, Dukes, Duchesses, Field Marshalls and all sorts of influential personalities.
And it’s important to understand that Cartier is desirable not only because people like Marilyn Monroe, Michelle Obama and Kate Middleton wear it, but because it is a brand rich with heritage that has shaped the course of fashion for nearly 200 years—and that’s not something you can fake.
The Ballon Bleu de Cartier is one of Cartier’s more recent designs, introduced in 2007, and it’s a prime example of how the brand is still able to bring fresh, new ideas to market even after a century of making watches.
Inspired by a pebble, the Ballon Bleu mimics that smooth, satisfying tactility with its compound curve case, a profile matched by the crystal to form an unbroken shape all the way around. It’s a complicated design, particularly considering the integrated, shroud-like crown guard, and it’s here that the first sign of lesser workmanship is found on the fake.
Where the genuine Cartier’s crown guard is defined all the way around its front most face and brushed on the inner edge, the fake is less precise, blurring the divide between the case and crown guard without the crisp, distinct separation. Turn the watch over and the same can be said of the engraving: the fake is harsh and crude, the genuine uniform in finish and refined on the edges.
The dial—Cartier’s forte—is where the fake really begins to really show its weaknesses, despite the attention paid to tiny details like the silver date wheel and hidden Cartier signature at seven o’clock. The guilloche—the repeating engraved pattern in the dial’s centre—is far more precise and defined on the genuine watch, offering greater contrast as the light plays over it.
And then there’s the satin finished rings onto which the markers are printed; on first glance, they appear to be finely bead-blasted, but closer inspection of the genuine reveals a light radial brushing as well, which brings life to the finish as it moves under light. It’s an extra layer of attention and skill in the finishing that results in a surprisingly stark difference, leaving the fake looking rather flat and dull.
The hands appear to be a pretty close match until the flaws in the fake become apparent. The Cartier’s hands are heat-blued, a difficult process that requires extreme precision and is easy to get wrong. It results in a deep blue lustre and maintains the crisp edges of the hands. For the fake, a coating is easier, and that results in sloppy, uneven edges.
Lastly, on the dial, is the print. Dial printing is an underestimated skill that is incredibly hard to perfect, and on the genuine the print can be seen to be clear, crisp and well-defined, even to the smallest detail like the ‘Swiss Made’ script at the bottom. The fake immediately appears sloppy under magnification; defined corners become rounded blobs, straight edges bleeding into their surroundings.
Cartier has updated this model to the in-house calibre 1847 MC, but the ETA clone in the fake matches the movement previously used. Of course, the finishing is far more coarse, as being hidden, it’s wasted energy on the faker’s part.
Without expert advice, buying a fake watch is a very real risk, one not worth taking and easily avoided by choosing a trustworthy retailer. And if it’s a fake you want, consider what it is you’re really after: for an affordable timepiece, there are many brands out there producing original designs at great value. What you don’t get from a fake is the pride and cachet of owning a watch built by the very company that was there, all those years ago, making watchmaking what it is today.
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