Timeless Elegance: The Cartier Tank

Amy Lin of Saffronart introduces the classic Cartier Tank wristwatch

Must de Cartier Tank Vermeil Wristwatch
The Story by Saffronart

New York: The Cartier Tank is easily one of the most iconic watches of the 20th century.  Ever since its debut in 1917, it has never stopped evolving and continues to be celebrated today.

Louis Cartier developed the blueprint for the legendry Tank watch during the Great War. Inspired by patriotism and the Renault tanks used on the Western Front, the case consists of a rectangular bezel encasing a square crystal, resonating with image of a WWI ‘tank’. This watch elegantly resolved the problem of combining timepieces with wrist bands by hiding the lugs under the case’s elongated sidepieces. Cartier later presented the design to General John Pershing of the American Expeditionary Force. With its classic design, the Tank instantly became a favourite among celebrities throughout the decades, with patrons such as Yves Saint Laurent, Truman Capote, and even Michelle Obama.

Yves Saint Laurent photographed wearing a Cartier Tank watch, Paris, 1983
Photograph by: Irving Penn
Image Credit: http://www.obsessionphoto.com/news/623,irving-penn.html

There have been many Tank iterations over the last 95 years. The Tank Francaise, for example, has a metal bracelet that mimics the caterpillar tracks on army tanks while the Tank Chinoise has a case that echoes a temple doorway.

The Cartier Tanks featured in our The Story by Saffronart are from both Cartier and Les Must de Cartier, a sub-brand that was established in the mid-seventies.  It’s said the line was inspired by a staff member who said, “Cartier, it’s a must.”  These Tank watches are significant for many reasons. They were the first large scale commercial watches to use vermeil (gold-plated silver) casing for a vintage accent. In addition, they became Cartier’s most affordable items during the eighties and nineties in an effort to combat counterfeits. The many editions of the watches feature various Arabic and Roman numerals with colourful bands, but always retain the classic “tank” design.

Cartier Silver Tank Wristwatch
The Story by Saffronart

Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s style director says it best in Franco Cologni’s book,“ The evolution of design of the Tank is never whimsical; it goes together with the original intentions of the design to create the purest shape possible. The Tank watch, for us, is the purest shape ever created. It has ‘essential design,’ design that looks for the essence of things. We don’t like useless décor but we are not just talking about function. The features, a sense of proportion, the volume, and colours, everything is considered and everything belongs where it should.” In essence, the Tank perfectly fuses simplicity with elegance, combing both mechanical ingenuity and artistic design. Tanks may not be the most elaborate watches available, but their Cartier heritage and timeless design make them a must for watch collectors and lovers.