Legend has it that when Louis Cartier designed the Tank he was inspired by the new Renault tanks, the armament prodigies of the time, armour plated and with caterpillar tracks, used on the Western Front – it was 1917. Historians are not convinced but the fact is that the first prototype which was named after its creator, was given to General John Pershing of the American Expeditionary Force. However, it was only in 1919 that the first specimens were produced and sold. The Tank Cartier was not the first wrist watch in the history of watch making, neither was it the first of the Cartier brand, which was the Santos, but it was the most innovative and revolutionary of designs at the time, which paved the way for the aesthetic principles of Art Decò. Rectangular rather than square casing, straps concealed under vertical sidepieces, the cabochon crowns and the Roman dial-like numerals are all still distinctive elements of this miracle of rigour and elegance, with a stridently modern style, Tank Cartier continues to be a best-seller today.
The Tank Cartier collection includes different models and there are more than 250 reinterpretations. The Tank Américaine launched in 1989 was the first water resistant, elongated and arched Cartier which fits the wrist well and has an adjustable strap mounted onto the famous foldable strap designed by the company in 1910. The Tank Française, the most popular style, was introduced in 1996 and is inspired by the original 1917 version. The strap is reminiscent of the caterpillar tracks and the square casing is based on the classical principles of French architecture found at the base of the Eiffel Tower or in the courtyard of the Louvre. The latest version is the Tank Anglaise where for the first time the winding crown, without the sapphire cabochon, is situated integrated into the brancards. The watch-makers conceived a unique method for its construction: at the beginning of the process the two main pieces which form the casing are numbered and worked on as a pair.
Many aficionados of the Tank are high profile celebrities – Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Truman Capote, Duke Ellington, Rudolph Valentino (who wanted it on the set of “The Sheik” and imposed it on the production unit), Andy Warhol, Ingrid Bergman, Catherine Deneuve, the Kennedy presidential couple, Lady Diana (after her death Prince William inherited it). And there continue to be many fans. The latest? Michelle Obama, who has fuelled the legend that rates it an iconic object with loads of style to spare.