Watches & Jewellery

100 years of Cartier Tank: A brief history

by John Ng
09.10.2017
Having just turned 100 years old, clear-cut lines and a strict, measured composition continue to forge the powerful style and character of the pure, enduring and timeless Cartier Tank collections.

The year was 1917. The Cartier Tank was a rare, boldly minimalist design for a wristwatch and fast-forward to 2017, this iconic watch is turning 100 years old.

And to celebrate the milestone, we decided to take a look at the history of the Cartier Tank and see what makes this 100-year-old icon iconic.

Read on for a brief history of the Cartier watch, created just for you by our deputy editor and resident watch guy John Ng.

The Beginning

Four lines with two parallel shafts, a sapphire cabochon on the crown and a leather strap, Louis Cartier himself deliberately eschewed the ornate Art Nouveau look that was enjoying its heyday at the time.

Though this should not come as a surprise since his avant-garde jewellery designs had always been known for their geometric lines and shapes.

Inspired by the Renault tanks that he saw from the Western Front, the Tank embodied a powerful vision.

The Inspiration

The story goes that Louis modelled the design of the watch on the top view of a tank; the brancards evoked the treads and the case represented the cockpit of the vehicle.

Shaking traditional habits and ushering unprecedented innovations into the workshop, it became one of the sensations in the world of watchmaking instantaneously.

Formal research was conducted into aligning the circle of the hours with the strap, as well as paring down the overall presentation.

The Design

The ultimate goal was seamless integration of the lugs and the case as an extension of the strap.

To put it another way, the strength of the Tank design lays in its dramatic break with the elaborate curves fashionable at the time and the exercise of restraint in its form.

The Icons

Fast-forward to today, the Tank has reached its first century milestone and the watch has been the timepiece of choice for history’s biggest style icons – Princess, Diana, Gary Cooper, Catherine Deneuve, Andy Warhol and Yves Saint Laurent, just to name a few – and after a hundred years, remains as fashionable as it is highly sought after.

While bridging one era to the other, it gives rise to a resolutely modern way of life centred around three cult models: the Tank Louis Cartier, the Tank Américaine and the Tank Française – all of which exemplify the epitome of style and elegance.

(Swipe below to see the list of stars who has worn the Cartier Tank)

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Andy Warhol
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Gunter Sachs
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Yves Saint Laurent
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Princess Diana
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Catherine Deneuve
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Valentino
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Niels Schneider
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Gary Cooper
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John Pershing
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Alain Delon

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