Updated: Sep 25, 2020
Andy Warhol once said “I don’t wear a Tank to tell the time. In fact, I never wind it. I wear a Tank because it’s the watch to wear.” Now Andy Warhol was not the go-to man for Haute Horology but as far as aesthetics go – him saying that does say a fair bit about the Cartier Tank. The watch itself was designed by Louis Cartier in 1917 and gains inspiration from the Renault FT-17, a tank used in World War I. The watch has a fair bit of resonance to the great war as it was handed down to General John Pershing in 1918 as a victory watch. By 1920 they were being sold in retail stores with a whopping 6 sold in the whole year. However, it took some time for the Cartier Tank to gain household recognition. In 1926, the watch made its movie debut on Rudolph Valentino’s The Son of the Sheik film. The Cartier Tank experienced a launch in one of the most difficult periods of the 1920s with the Wall Street crash resulting in about 102 annual sales and basically for the next 40 years Cartier would not make more than 100 Tanks annually due to the lack of demand.
1920s Cartier Tank Normale (Photo Credit: monochrome-watches.com)
In the 1960s when the Tank did begin the gain some traction a tragedy occurred for the brand and that was the untimely death of Pierre Cartier and the brand was no longer with the Cartier family. The reemergence of the brand occurred in 1972 when two investors, Robert Hocq and Joseph Kanoui, bought the brand Cartier Paris. In 1974 and 1976 respectively they purchased Cartier London and Cartier New York, which allowed the brand to reconnect as a single entity. At the time the CEO of the group implemented a new philosophy of “Les Must de Cartier” with the intention to attract new customers to Cartier. The Cartier Tank played a central role in their expansionary strategy and became a central timepiece.
Many have referred to the Tank as the more elegant version of the earlier Santos line which had a sportier look with the squarish case. Due to the success of the Santos they introduced the Tank as a more formal timepiece as part of their model range. The use of a tank as inspiration and offering the watch to war generals actually does seem more like a marketing technique by Cartier in the early 20th century to resonate better with the consumers of that era. However, the allure of the watch has remained ever since. The distinctive feature of the Tank in pop-culture is that it was worn by true lovers of the watch and not just by brand ambassadors who are also significant figures in entertainment, arts, politics and business.
Cartier Tank Solo XL (Photo Credit: cartier.com)
The Tank series by Cartier holds a significant portion of their historical backbone. For both men and women alike, the thin width of the rectangular shape of the case, polished bezel and use of bold roman numerals on the dial make it distinguishable. The modern version of the watch was initially introduced with ETA movement with a Cartier modification however Cartier subtly introduced an in-house movement – the 1847 MC into the Tank series. An in-house movement will definitely help Cartier attract new purists by enhancing the image of the Tank being more than an iconic watch just known for its aesthetics.
The Tank Solo XL embodies Cartier’s century old design of watchmaking but today is available at a price of £3,000 and less for the female equivalent. For people looking for a new but elegant wristwatch at an affordable price the Cartier Tank Solo XL would be a top choice.
Editor & Co-Founder