Why the Cartier Tank Watch is a Design Icon

Cartier Tank Watch

The Cartier Tank with an aesthetic that transcends time and an entourage among the beau monde, this classic piece has held cult status for more than a century.

In the beginning

Louis Cartier designed the prototype for the Tank in 1917, the penultimate year of World War I. The story goes that the legendary French jeweller based the design on a military tank seen from above. Set against the round watches of the day, the Tank’s straight, androgynous lines felt instantly modern.

If you know, you know

With each famous follower, the Tank legend has grown. Devotees have included Yves Saint Laurent, Frank Sinatra and Sofia Coppola, who bought one after finishing her film Marie Antoinette. Andy Warhol once said, “I don’t wear a Tank watch to tell the time. In fact, I never wind it. I wear a Tank because it’s the watch to wear.”

Andy Warhol

A royal affair

Diana, Princess of Wales, owned two – a Tank Louis Cartier and a Tank Française. After she wore the latter on a trip to Australia, the Sydney Cartier store reportedly sold four in a week. Late last year, there was speculation that Harry had given his mother’s all-gold timepiece to wife Meghan after she appeared to be wearing the heirloom in the couple’s first official portrait after leaving their senior royal roles.

Going, going…

In June 2017, Jackie Kennedy Onassis’s Cartier Tank sold for US$379,500 at Christie’s New York, more than tripling its auction estimate. The former First Lady received the engraved gold wristwatch from her brother-in-law Prince Stanislaw “Stas” Radziwill just months before President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 and the signature black lizard strap and sapphire-set cabochon crown feature in many photos of the style icon. The lucky buyer? Kim Kardashian.

Cartier Tank Must watch

Future classic

Part of the Tank’s secret is its evolving design. This month sees the launch of the nextgeneration Tank Must, with a bracelet made of about 40 per cent plant matter, produced using apple waste, and a solarpowered quartz movement. But you’d never tell. Microscopic perforations in the Roman numerals on the photovoltaic dial allow light to pass through, elegance intact. “Rather than trying to modernise the Tank, we’ve homed in on its classicism down to the smallest detail,” says Marie-Laure Cérède, Cartier’s director of watchmaking design. Consider the definition of a modern classic redefined.

Cartier Tank Must watch / $3950 (large)

Hero image: Louis Mornaud. Portrait photography of Andy Warhol by Arnold Newman.

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