To celebrate the centenary of the legendary Tank wristwatch, Cartier is releasing a raft of new pieces to honour its iconic timekeeper.
By James Buttery
In 1917 wristwatches were still in relative infancy, often little more than converted pocket watches with soldered wire lug loops onto which a strap could be secured. But using round cases, as pocket watches had done in centuries past, these early wristwatches would have at least been recognisable. Cartier’s work in popularising wristwatches – which in the opening years of the 20th Century were still viewed as distinctly feminine objects – embodied his fondness for geometric lines, creating something entirely new in the process.
In 1904, when he created a watch for his friend and aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont after Santos had complained that it was not easy to use his pocket watch while flying. The elegantly softened square case with beveled corners was quite unlike anything else that had come before.
Thirteen years later when Cartier designed the Tank he eschewed the flowing, organic lines of the, by then, unfashionable Art Nouveau style in favour of something far more relevant to the burgeoning Art Deco movement. The Tank was inspired by the Renault tanks being deployed for the first time on the battlefields of the First World War, its flanks – known as brancards – aping the prominent tank tracks.
Cartier’s Tank designs were something else altogether, rectangular in form and heavily stylised, more suited to formal occasions rather than a tool watch of the battlefield. He had created the first dress watch.
The Tank, which went on sale in 1919, went on to find a legion of admirers over the decades – Rudolph Valentino famously insisted on wearing his during filming of The Son of the Sheik, a complete anachronism given the film’s setting.
Cartier has, from time to time, revitalised the collection with a series of iterations such as the Tank Cintree (1921), Tank Louis Cartier (1922), Tank Americaine (1989), Tank Francaise (1996) and Tank Anglais (2012). Each tweaks the formula in some way – the Americaine’s case is tall, slim and curves around the wrist, while the Francaise goes for sharp lines over curves – but the core remains the same, roman numerals, the squared-off ‘chemin de fer’ railway minute track and the cabochon-set winding crown.
To celebrate, Cartier has created new versions within the Louis Cartier, Francaise and Americaine collections as well as a new skeletonised Cintree.
The Louis Cartier, the most quintessential of all Tank designs, receives six new variations; four with diamond-set brancards in either white or pink gold and a simple, chic pink gold model, above, in two sizes. Each is powered by Cartier’s manually wound 8971 MC movement.
Cartier has also produced the Tank Americaine in stainless steel for the first time and has introduced two sizes of the Tank Francaise in stainless steel case with diamond-set brancards.
Perhaps the most interesting of the lot though is a newly skeletonised Cintree, above, the watch that served as inspiration for the Americaine, in both pink gold and platinum, each in limited runs of 100 pieces.
The lack of dial and heavily reworked 9917 MC manually wound movement leaves behind only the chermin de fer track and hands as recognisable elements of the Tank. Much like Cartier’s other haute horlogerie creations, its design is as much occupied with what is not there as what remains; negative space might well be considered one of Cartier’s metier d’art.