The Cartier Tank isn’t just a key pillar in the maison’s watch line-up, but also an important part of watchmaking itself. From the timepiece’s initial conception to its evolution over the years, this design-centric model has grown into a family of instantly recognisable timepieces that continue to be Cartier’s calling card. Along the way, it has also reflected the zeitgeist in every time period, and served as an analogue to the major trends in both the cultural and watchmaking spheres.
Building the Tank
The Tank was designed in 1917 by Louis Cartier, the grandson of the brand’s founder Louis-François Cartier. This was no random stroke of genius – by the Tank’s initial conception in 1916, Louis Cartier had already created the Santos (in 1904), and successfully established Cartier’s second identity as a watchmaker.
When he was creating the Tank, Louis Cartier was inspired by two major sources. The first was the Art Deco style that was then in vogue. This is reflected in the geometric shapes that still dominate the timepiece’s minutiae, from the Roman numeral indices to the rectangular railway track chapter ring. Louis Cartier’s other inspiration were the mechanised tanks that were being introduced to break the stalemate on World War I’s Western Front. This can be clearly seen in the two parallel bars that define the Tank’s flank. Known as the brancards, they serve as both case and lugs, and were intended to mimic the tracks on the sides of a tank when it is viewed from above.
Over a hundred years later, the Tank’s design has long become an icon. Its archetypal variant is a rectangular timepiece sporting the signature branchards and fitted with a white/opaline dial that’s been printed with Roman numeral indices as well as a rectangular railway track chapter ring.
Cartier’s expertise with design, however, has given rise to numerous iterations of the Tank over the years. Even today, the Tank isn’t so much a single model as it is a range of timepieces with a shared heritage. Therein lies the strength of the Tank’s design – to be so adaptable and versatile as to effortlessly assume different forms while remaining recognisable.