Throwback Thursday: Nine decades of the Cartier Tank

A Cartier Tank circa 1920, in white gold and platinum. Photo by Nick Welsh, Cartier Collection © Cartier
A Cartier Tank circa 1920, in white gold and platinum. Photo by Nick Welsh, Cartier Collection © Cartier

Jackie O wore one, and Michele Obama shows hers prominently in a recent portrait. The Cartier Tank is the definitive ladies power watch (and men’s too – the Tank is one of the few watch models that is truly gender blind). The Tank’s status as a classic stems partly from its longevity. Not only did it define the look of its era but has never lost its relevance, thanks partly to continual updates by Cartier. What doesn’t change, though, is the dial – with its distinctive chemin-de-fer (railroad track) chapter ring, Roman numerals, blued steel hands and winding crown set with a sapphire cabochon, it has come to define classic.

The first Tank, the Tank Louis Cartier, was designed in 1917 as a special edition, inspired by the Renault tanks being used in World War One, and used by the Allies to liberate Franc. High-ranking American officers in France received the first models in 1918. Beginning in 1919, it was launched to the general public.

Since then, it has become something of a franchise for Cartier. Among those that followed the original are the Tank Cintrée in 1921, Tank Chinois in 1922, Tank Étanche in 1931, the reversible Tank Basculante in 1936, the Tank Asymétrique in 1965, Tank Allongée in 1968, Tank Americain in 1989, Tank Française in 1996 (the most successful launch in the history of Cartier), the manchette-style Tankissime in 2005 and, in 2012, the Tank Anglaise.

In four years, Cartier will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Cartier Tank. I will be among those in line for whatever collectors’ piece they introduce to commemorate the occasion (a Geneva Seal Tank Tourbillon?) – and for the party that celebrates it.

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