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The History of the Cartier Tank

With a heritage rooted in WWI, the Cartier Tank has come to define classical elegance with its simple and pioneering design.

The Cartier Tank is one of those rare watches that’s endured time itself without losing its integrity. First introduced in 1917, the timepiece has a rich heritage that’s matched by few. Though Cartier has since released various editions, the Tank remains almost identical to the model put forth over a century ago. Although the design is simple, it’s instantly recognizable and has come to define classical elegance. The Cartier Tank is a true pioneer of luxury timepieces that unlocked a new chapter in the history of watchmaking.

Built Like a Tank

Two years into the First World War, the public had its first glimpse of a top-secret military weapon. The British deployed the armored tank for the first time at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Under the leadership of Winston Churchill, the world watched in awe as these “landships” changed the stalemate of trench warfare. Engineers designed these war machines to cross no-man’s-land and punch through enemy defenses with ease. This deployment ushered in a new era of mechanized warfare.

Louis Cartier had become enamored with the distinctive design and rigorous geometry of the British Mark IV armored tank. So much so that he created a watch in 1917 that reflected the aesthetic of this new wartime phenomenon. Living in Paris, Cartier also witnessed first-hand the dawning of the Cubism movement, the German Bauhaus style and de Stijl in Holland. Machine-influenced shapes were just coming into fashion and Cartier seized the opportunity by pushing it to another level.

Following the Liberation of France in 1918, Cartier presented the prototype “Tank” to American General John Joseph Pershing for his wartime efforts. Pershing cherished the watch and brought it back to the United States where it was thrust into the spotlight.

A Pioneer of Luxury Watches

Like the intimidating land ships rolling around the Western Front, the Cartier Tank itself ventured into unchartered territory in watchmaking. The Cartier Tank was a timepiece that broke the rules and ushered in a new era of watchmaking.

The most obvious was the rectangular and flat case inspired directly by the angular shape of the Mark IV tank. During the early 20th century, wristwatches were still a relatively new phenomenon. Traditional pocket watches still dominated the timepiece landscape–and nearly all of them were round. With the introduction of the Tank, Cartier steamrolled the pocket watch, playing a vital role in ushering the era of the wristwatch.

This design was also a radical departure from the twisting foliage of the dominant Art Nouveau style. The no-frills timepiece was a simple two-handed watch with no additional functions. The rectangular shape and clean lines made for a simple and elegant aesthetic.

This was topped off nicely with roman numerals, adorned blue hands and leather bracelet. The sapphire cabochon-cut stone on the winding crown remains a hallmark of Cartier timepieces to this day.

The Tank Goes Strong

Cartier also created the intricate shape of the Cartier Tank with a fully attached strap. Not only did this strap connect the arm to the dial, but it played a vital role in the distinctive aesthetic as well. The ergonomic folding buckle allowed for a streamlined look that allowed the wearer enhanced security.

In his pursuit of excellence, Cartier wanted to create a complete watch that went beyond the case and dial. He decided to team up with Edmond Jaeger and famed Swiss manufacturers Jaeger-LeCoultre for the raw movements of the timepiece. He entrusted Jaeger with complete creative freedom.

Cartier redefined the less-is-more approach and reached the perfect balance between form and function–the holy grail in the world of luxury timepieces. It didn’t take long for its popularity to soar.

Into the Hands of the Influential

The Tank is perhaps the epitome of elegance and sophistication. Cartier has a history of supplying its products to royalty, so it was no surprise that the Tank quickly found its way onto the wrists of the influential.

Following the conclusion of WWI, the Cartier Tank was popular among the Hollywood elite. The world saw the Tank on the wrist of Rudolph Valentino in the 1926 film The Son of the Sheik. Gary Cooper and Warren Beatty are a few notable names who liked the sober timepiece. Cartier even supplied political figures such as Jackie Kennedy and the Obamas.

During the postwar days, the Cartier Tank was fashionable. Today, it’s the simple and pure design typical of Cartier is a timeless classic. The elegant aesthetic is one of those rare products that will not only last for generations, but it will forever look as modern as it did when it left the drawing board.

Regardless of age, gender, style or occasion, the Cartier Tank is an excellent choice that has come to define luxury and elegance! Inspired by the innovative war machine, the invincible timepiece has become a true legend in the world of watchmaking.

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