This Cartier watch is 100 years old today

This Cartier watch is 100 years old today

Think Tank

Text: Celine Yap

Discover the many changing faces of the Cartier Tank

Its elegance is flawless and its style, timeless, which is why the Cartier Tank would make for an exceptional choice of a dress watch for both men and women. But did you know that this classical timepiece had military origins?

The name alone should be a dead giveaway but in reality few people stop to consider the dichotomy. Indeed, a timepiece as sophisticated as the Tank cannot be more diametrically opposed to the lumbering military object that inspired its design.

But inspire it did. It is said that in 1917, Louis Cartier had created the Tank as a gift to General John Pershing of the American Expeditionary Force. He derived the core design of the timepiece from the many Renault FT-17 tanks deployed along the Western Front. Aptly named, the Tank had prominent vertical bars called brancards on both sides of the case where the lugs have been integrated. No other watch at that time had such a sleek, simplified profile.

Although the first Cartier Tank was made in 1917, the watch was not offered to the public until 1919, when the war finally ended. Only six pieces were produced, however, and all of them sold within two months. As expected of a leading jewellery maison, Cartier swiftly followed up with a gem-set variation in platinum. Truly, if anyone could put a luxurious spin on a military tank, it would be Cartier.

The Tank is one of the earliest form wristwatches to have ever been made [Editor's note: Form watches are watches made in any other shape than round] and it underscored Cartier's nascent but visionary approach to watchmaking, that watches can perform more than a time-telling role; it should also be an elegant accessory.

In the decades to come, Cartier would produce ever more enrapturing variations of the Tank, all of which are loved equally by collectors, artists, designers, and royalty. Constantly in the limelight, the Tank was worn by everyone from actors like Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, and Rudolph Valentino as well, who insisted on wearing it on the set of The Son of the Sheik. Artists like Andy Warhol, too, professed to be a big fan of the Tank.

The complete Cartier Tank collection is available at Cartier boutiques and selected retailers.