The History Of The Cartier Tank
The History Of The Cartier Tank
In 1917, less than 100 miles from the Western Front, Mr Louis Cartier began work on a wristwatch that would become the benchmark not only for “shaped” watches but dress watches as a whole. From his workshop in Paris he had seen pictures of the first armoured personnel vehicles rumbling across the scorched earth of Flanders, and the footprint of their caterpillar tracks inspired the watch’s principal feature: its lateral brancards, or “stretcher handles”.
The “Tank”, as it would inevitably become known, made a dramatic break from the elaborate, Art Nouveau curves still fashionable at the time. Art Deco was just around the corner and the Tank’s svelte flanks were perfectly attuned to the genre’s streamlined flamboyance, bringing modern design into watchmaking’s fusty ateliers. One of the very first prototypes was presented to US General John Pershing in 1918 and the watch went on sale in the following year, to instant acclaim. A century on, it continues to be a bestseller for Cartier – as timeless as timepieces get.
Even at this early stage of the 20th century, Mr Louis Cartier had already established himself and the brand founded by his grandfather as a pioneer of shaped watchmaking. Rather than fuss unnecessarily over mechanics, which it could source from trusted, top-notch Swiss suppliers, Cartier’s focus was firmly on the form of the watch itself. This had begun with the square Santos of 1904, which was designed for Mr Cartier’s friend, the Brazilian aviator Mr Alberto Santos-Dumont. Over the following years, Mr Cartier’s wild watchmaking imagination saw the brand’s watches moulded and massaged into all manner of forms, from tortoises (Tortue) and baths (Baignoire) – all with the same Belle Époque dial combo of blued hands and Roman numerals.
A century on from Mr Louis Cartier’s wartime brainwave, it’s the Tank that continues to rule the roost. The simplicity of its design language means it has lent itself to more iterations than any other watch collection by Cartier. Each version of the Tank reflects the style of its time.
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Tank Louis Cartier
The original design of 1917, revived for the Tank’s 100th birthday – so perfect that just a few contemporary millimetres have been added; so historically significant as to boast the name of the man who made Cartier a watchmaking contender in the first place. Having barely changed in a century, the “LC” still works just as well as it ever did.
On the 100th anniversary of the Tank in 2017, its legendary “Curve” iteration of 1924 – stretched and elegantly arched to embrace 46mm of your wrist – was skeletonised to dramatic, light-drenched effect, the architecture of its movement’s exposed bridges reflecting the actual architecture of the Art Deco era.
Born in 1989 at the dawn of a new historical era for Cartier, oriented strategically towards the US, Tank Américaine adapted the stretched and curved Cintrée with subtle elegance to suit the burgeoning preference for a bigger watch. It has remained a favourite ever since, enjoying a recent facelift for the Tank’s centenary year.
The Française of 1996 updated and perpetuated the Tank legacy with a chain-link bracelet. The curved case, boldly set at the center of the bracelet to seamlessly mimic its lines, works so well it’s a wonder Cartier took so long.
The simpler, cleaner and more contemporary design of 2004’s Tank Solo honoured the unique aesthetic of the original Tank, but appealed to a younger crowd, cementing its current-catalogue status from the get-go.
A landmark for 21st-century Cartier, Tank took an unexpected turn when the Anglaise collection was introduced in 2012, thanks to its distinctively masculine interpretation, integrating the crown within the right-hand brancard of its case.
Wear It Well
City Slicker, Dapper Dandy
Encased by yellow-gold, in Louis Cartier form, at a positively diminutive 34mm across, the modern interpretation of the original Tank is crying out a double-breasted navy suit and broad chalk stripes. Windsor-knotted tie and not-too-matchy-matchy pocket square stuffed with blousy flourish also recommended (braying barrow boy attitude not-so-much).
Monochrome Design Guru
In steel, rather than gold, the Américaine gets a whole new look – one that arguably heightens the Art Deco form of its 1920s forebear, the similarly curved Cintrée. Which makes it the ideal accessory to any architect’s archly assembled wardrobe – charcoal tones, unfussy lines and little more.
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