I recently bought a vintage 18k yellow gold Cartier Panthère watch completely set with diamonds (bracelet, case and dial) at an auction. Some of the diamonds were loose and the watch did not run. A local Cartier dealer (I am in the Netherlands) sent the watch to Cartier for me, together with my Must the Cartier watch that needed a battery replacement (always ran perfectly on time). It would take about 2-3 weeks to get a quote and 8 weeks for the repair, they guessed. After 2,5 weeks the dealer phoned me and told me Cartier would not touch the diamond setting, because they claimed it was not factory, but they were willing to service the watch. Because they found moisture in the (quartz) movement, it needed a full service, and with that they would replace the blue hands, that they claimed to be oxidized, for free. Also they would replace the (gold) lunet screws, because they were not factory as well. Total cost: €750,-. If I choose to have the -according to them - damaged backscrews replaced, it would be an additional €80,-
But, to have the work done, I had to agree to them replacing my diamond encrusted sunburst dial with a plain white (with black numbers) one, because 'they do not want these watches to exist', so I was told. Only after special request from the dealer and some consideration they would let me get my diamond dial back, but they would disable it to prevent I would have it replaced in the watch. I then decided to have the watch returned to me unrepaired, together with my Must de Cartier that according to Cartier needed a new crown and therefore a complete service à €470. Because you can buy these watches vintage between €500-€800, I didn't think it was worth it.
Once I got my watches back (paid €60 'research costs' for the Must, the dealer was so kind to not charge me for the Panthère because she felt they did not offer me a real solution), I was checking the back of the Panthère for the damaged screws Cartier had mentioned. I did not see what they meant, but once I compared the watch to the pictures I took before sending in the watches, I noticed the screws seemed untouched. Untouched as exactly the same screw with the same tiny screwdriver marks in exactly the same spot in the same position. Then I checked my Must watch and it was the same: the screws appeared untouched. I did some research and every source told me the same story: if the watches were indeed opened up this is impossible. So my watches were both never opened yet Cartier made claims about the watches needing full service and charged me €750 and €470, or €60 research costs per watch. I called the manager at my local dealer and she told me a long long story that high end watchmakers take photo's of the watch and put every screw back in exactly the same position because some customers won't accept a change of one hundreth of a millimeter (she really said that!) and that she was very sure the watches had been opened or she would tell me and that she could ask for the photo's but she wasn't sure they would still have them because of privacy reasons. Uhuh. 'If you can't convince them, confuse them.' (if still in doubt, read this article about screws in watches and why they are never aligned in the first place, and that their position will change every time they are opened because of slight changes in torque from every watchmaker https://www.salonqp.com/updates/watch-culture/roger-smith-dial-screws/)
Three days later I took the watches to a watchmaker. He put the Panthère watch under a camera with a microscope so I could see it on a big televisionscreen. There was no oxidation on the hands. He then opened the watch and told me it hadn't been opened for a while, because dead skin cells fell of when he opened it (which is completely normal but not when it has been opened and not worn again). There was no moisture in the movement, but some very light tarnish was visible on the battery only (it might have been empty for years?). He replaced the battery and we waited 20 breathtaking seconds for the 'pulse' that showed the movement was working. It worked, and it worked fine. The watchmaker did some lubrication where needed, and made the bracelet to size for me, all while I was waiting. After about one hour of work and talking he charged me €48 and I left his shop with my lovely watch working.
My Must de Cartier watch (and the Tag Heuer I also brought with me) both were ready one week later, and I was charged €28 for a battery-exchange for the Must. It was checked (no further service needed) and tested to be waterproof as well. It runs perfectly. The watchmaker told me this watch also had not been opened for quite some time...
Now everyone reading this story can draw their own conclusion of what happened here and decide whether they want to bring their watches to Cartier for 'service' or take them to a real watchmaker (maybe I should add that 'full service' for a quartz movement means Cartier throws out the old movement and replaces it with a new one. Why? Because you don't need very well trained people (aka real watchmakers) to do this, so it's cheaper than actually servicing these watches).
If you enjoy being lied to and ripped off excessively and you don't know what to do with all your money, then go ahead and take them to Cartier, you won't be disappointed. If not, opt for a good watchmaker.
The worst part for me was realizing I would have done it. Had they charged me €1200-1300 for 'servicing' this watch and repair and check the diamond setting, I would have happily paid for it. Because it is Cartier. Because you don't expect this kind of practice from a reputable company. You just don't think they need it. I took the Panthère to a goldsmith who send it to a first class diamond setter, 2,5 weeks later the work was done and I paid €120. Got that? We fool ourselves justifying these ridiculous prices they charge, we let them get away with it, BECAUSE IT'S CARTIER. They know best, right?
Dear Cartier, I LOVE your designs, your watches, your jewellery, please focus on what you do best and make your profit there, instead of ripping people off with made-up 'research' and overexpensive repairs that are just unneccesary. It would make us all feel so much better about your brand. Now wouldn't that help with your sales? (I switched to buying Tiffany & Co).
I will share this experience all over the internet, on every watch forum etc. because I DON'T enjoy being lied to, I can think of nicer ways to spend my money, and I guess there are many people like me out there. But most of all, people should know who they are dealing with. Truth needs to be told.