Cartier cel­e­brates 100 years of its Tank watch by looking back and forg­ing ahead with new mod­els

#Legend - - TIME KEEPER -

NO DOUBT EX­ISTS in any­one's mind that Louis Cartier was a rev­o­lu­tion­ary. We've sung his praises and com­mended his de­signs count­less times in the pages of #leg­end, yet still, we come back to gaze at Louis Cartier's work and pon­der the ge­nius of the grand­son of the founder of the brand. This is an­other oc­ca­sion to do so.

This year is the 100th an­niver­sary of the Cartier Tank, and Louis Cartier's de­sign – not quite square, not quite rec­tan­gu­lar, by turns mas­cu­line and fem­i­nine – re­mains as rel­e­vant to­day as it was when in­tro­duced in 1917.

The ad­vent of the Tank her­alded a new era of watch­mak­ing that pro­duced time­pieces dif­fer­ent in form and func­tion from what went be­fore. Wrist­watches were still a nov­elty in the early 1900s. Most were worn by women as dec­o­ra­tive ac­ces­sories, ad­juncts to costly bracelets with elab­o­rate clasps. Men of the era car­ried pocket watches.

Louis Cartier al­tered the norm by de­sign­ing a wrist­watch for men. In 1904 his best friend, Al­berto San­tos-Du­mont, a well-known avi­a­tor, com­plained that pocket watches were dif­fi­cult to read while pi­lot­ing the prim­i­tive aero­planes of the day. Louis Cartier promptly set about de­sign­ing a flat wrist­watch with a square bezel for San­tos-Du­mont.

It was named, nat­u­rally enough, the San­tos. It was the first Cartier man's wrist­watch.

When the Tank came along, its de­sign was based on the treads of the French army's new weapon for fight­ing the First World War: a Re­nault tank. Much as in the San­tos, the lugs of the Tank were an in­te­gral part of the case. The strap was at­tached to ver­ti­cal side­bars on the sides of the case called bran­cards.

The de­sign broke away from the Art Nou­veau style that was fash­ion­able at the time, set­ting the trend in con­tem­po­rary watch­mak­ing. Louis Cartier fa­mously em­ployed the ge­o­met­ri­cal pat­terns and ab­stract forms of Art Deco in his de­signs. The rec­tan­gu­lar Tank con­tained a move­ment made by Ed­mond Jaeger. It had sword-shaped blue steel hands made by Breguet, Ro­man nu­mer­als on the dial, a chemin de fer chap­ter ring and a crown sur­mounted by a sap­phire cabo­chon.

The Tank was an in­stant suc­cess. It ap­pealed to ev­ery free-spir­ited man and woman, be­com­ing an es­sen­tial ac­ces­sory. The watch has dec­o­rated the wrists of Gary Cooper and Andy Warhol, of Madonna and Cather­ine Deneuve. The Tank was the watch of its time and the watch of eras since, loved by artists, ac­tors and film di­rec­tors.

Ru­dolph Valentino in­sisted on wear­ing a Tank watch in ev­ery scene of the film The Son of the Sheik (1926). The watch is vis­i­ble to­day in stills from the film, looking amus­ingly out of place, in view of the set­ting of the movie. While film­ing Un Flic, Alain Delon and Jean-Pierre Melville dis­cov­ered they wore iden­ti­cal watches, each hav­ing a Tank Ar­rondie. Warhol, who loved his Tank so much he sketched it in 1985, 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.”

Other de­voted wear­ers of the Tank were Yves Saint Lau­rent, Diana, Princess of Wales and Jackie Kennedy Onas­sis. The Tank owned by Kennedy Onas­sis re­cently fetched US$379,500 at auc­tion, the win­ning bid­der be­ing Kim Kar­dashian. The 18k gold square wrist­watch is in­scribed on the back. Her brother-in-law, Prince Stanis­law Radzi­will, gave Kennedy Onas­sis the watch to com­mem­o­rate the com­ple­tion of an 80-km walk that the Kennedy fam­ily un­der­took in Palm Beach, Florida, as part of a cam­paign by her hus­band at the time, Pres­i­dent John Kennedy, to get Amer­i­cans to ex­er­cise more. Kennedy Onas­sis trea­sured the watch, and was of­ten pho­tographed wear­ing it.

Sofia Cop­pola, di­rec­tor of the re­cent Cartier film fea­tur­ing the Pan­thére de Cartier, made the Tank her first Cartier pur­chase. “I re­mem­ber buy­ing my first Cartier watch, a Mini Tank, af­ter I'd fin­ished film­ing Marie An­toinette (2005). I of­ten do that af­ter a big project. I buy my­self a treat to re­mem­ber it by. I went into the store and found this re­ally del­i­cate minia­ture one.”

The Tank came in nu­mer­ous ver­sions, in­clud­ing the quin­tes­sen­tial Tank Louis Cartier, cre­ated in 1922; the Tank Française, cre­ated in 1996; the Tank Améri­caine, de­signed in 1987; and the Tank Cin­trée, the pre­cur­sor of the Tank Améri­caine. To cel­e­brate 100 years of the Tank, Cartier has in­tro­duced new ver­sions of each type of Tank.

The Tank Cin­trée Skele­ton is a work of art, avail­able in pink gold or plat­inum. It has a skele­ton move­ment which fol­lows the curve of the rec­tan­gu­lar case. Two new ver­sions of the Tank Louis Cartier are avail­able. Both are driven by the 8971MC me­chan­i­cal move­ment with man­ual wind­ing. One comes in a choice of pink or white gold and has bran­cards set with di­a­monds. The other comes only in pink gold, with­out di­a­monds. The Tank Française is now avail­able in steel set with di­a­monds, while re­tain­ing its curved case and bracelet. The Tank Améri­caine is also now of­fered in steel. It comes with a new fold­ing buckle which al­lows the strap to be ad­justed to fit the wrist pre­cisely.

Clock­wise from top: A draw­ing of the Tank by Jean-Charles de Castel­ba­jac; Cather­ine Deneuve in 1984; the Tank Louis Cartier new ver­sions; the Tank Cin­trée and Tank Louis Cartier

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