Time Traveller

The Cartier Tank celebrated its centenary in 2019, having maintained its prime position as the last word in elegant, iconic timepieces through each of its iterations and every era.

When Louis Cartier designed the Tank watch in 1917, Europe was at war. It is said images of the newly introduced Renault tanks on the Western Front inspired the spare lines and proportions of the timepiece. Form and function were balanced with inspired creativity, resulting in the pared-back elegance of a shape somewhere between a square and a rectangle—a radical departure from the ornate rounded shapes of the watch’s contemporaries.

While the Tank’s prototype was made in 1917, it was another couple of years before the watch was presented to the world. During that time, Cartier and his watchmaking partners researched and refined, working on the aesthetics, function and mechanics of the timepiece to present a design far ahead of its time—a modern classic for the ages.

Worn by the founder himself, the Tank Louis Cartier, released in 1922, retained the classic influences of the original—the Roman numerals, the ‘rail track’ minute scale, the sapphire cabochon—while introducing a striking rectangular dial, an alligator-skin strap and rounded ‘horns’ (strap attachments). Blued-steel hands shaped like swords and a strap buckle in 18-karat gold complete the look.

The Tank Française reinvented the classic in 1996, pairing a curved case with a link bracelet, the precision and simplicity of the watch face complemented by precious metal and brilliant-cut diamonds. It was no longer just a timepiece but a stunning piece of jewellery.

The Tank Solo was launched in 2004 and pays homage to the original. The ‘rail-track’, the Roman numerals, the parallel lines of the ‘brancards’ (sidebars) reinforcing the linear, minimalist design and presenting a powerful visual of the dial, the surprising sapphire cabochon and the blued-steel hands all underline the principles with which Louis Cartier approached his creation. Its pared-down lines in perfect harmony with the refined leather and precious gemstone, horns extending seamlessly from the brancards, the watch’s simplicity belies the intricate workings within.

Over the decades, the Cartier Tank in its various iterations has been coveted and acquired by the most discerning style-setters. Princess Diana had two, Jacqueline Kennedy was gifted one, Andy Warhol was never apart from his because it was “the watch to wear”. The purity of the Tank’s design transcends time and cements its place among those iconic objects that occupy legendary status. Whether it is seen gracing the elegant wrist of the inimitable Catherine Deneuve or the delicate one of the glorious Monica Bellucci, Tank is a forever classic.