A Brief History of the Cartier Tank

Created in 1917, the stunning yet understated Cartier Tank was the brainchild of none other than Louis Cartier. He gave birth to what is now considered to be one of the finest and most sought-after horological masterpieces ever produced. Believe it or not, this design did not carry any name but later took its inspiration from what appears to be a tank’s cockpit used during the First World War that Cartier observed on the Western Front. Its square aesthetical look and name were the signal for the exclusive Cartier Tank.
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General Pershing, The First Cartier Tank Owner

The original sample was given as a present to General Pershing, a general officer belonging to the US Army responsible for the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. It was not until two years later that the Tank was introduced to the watch market blending its sleek feminine curves alongside a forward-thinking art nouveau-inspired square face which was clean, simple, and completely new.
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Horology Trend Setter

Completely crisp and seamless, its appearance has given birth to a number of different wristwatch variations but has remained true to its particular distinctiveness. The lines and equal sizes were identical to these tanks that were marching across a variety of battlefields at the time. But what are the Tank’s defining features? It not only provides its signature dial with the numbers corresponding to Roman numerals but steel hands are dagger-shaped with chemin-de-fer chapter rings and a sapphire cabochon. In 1919, as soon as the Tank was placed into Cartier’s official salon in Paris, history changed forever. Cartier was then able to take his rightful place among the horological greats for this iconic model which set the standard in pioneering design.
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As movements of a different kind were on the up such as Cubism, Futurism, and Bauhaus, these trends led Cartier to consider several points. He intended to create something that focused on modernist influences where less was certainly more. Form and function had a definite role to play which was reflected in the original prototype in 1917. The solution to the problem came in the form of the Cartier Tank which many watchmakers have struggled to enhance. With the brancards extremely close to the band, the Tank is unwavering, unapologetic, and extremely understated with an impact that has never been matched to this day. The perfect square shape as well as the similar brancards measurements ensured the smooth continuity of this incredibly formed outline. It is designed in its purest and most innocent form.
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The straight bars are a simple yet ingenious concept that was way ahead of its time and has made the Tank a true legend. This model is not just construction in its finest form but an evolution of grace that captures the true essence of the Zeitgeist.

The First Elegant Wristwatch

As Cologni declared in his book Cartier the Tank Watch, this model was, “the first elegant wristwatch destined for the modern man of action.” In the first year of production, only six Tank watches were ever produced. By 1920, 33 models had been manufactured. The Tank was finished in a wealth of materials including yellow gold, white gold, pink, and platinum.
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So what was going on in the world when Monsieur Cartier introduced this fine piece? In 1917, the revolution was very much in the air thanks to Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks. April saw Jeannette Rankin as the first female member to be elected into the U.S. House of Representatives. It was the same year that the British Royal family changed their title to Windsor whilst, across the pond, Woodrow Wilson began his second term as US President.