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For a hundred years, the Tank undresses

November 15 2017

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On the occasion of the centenary of this iconic watch, Cartier launches a Limited Edition Skeleton Tank. How does a watch become timeless?


It takes a start at all. Even in old age we are not immune to a stroke of madness. Take the Cartier Tank for example. Launched in 1917, it celebrates this year its 100 years. Beautiful longevity for a watch that was born in the midst of a worldwide conflagration. Over the years, according to the evolution of society and history, it has had some variations. To celebrate the jubilee of the original model, the Tank Cintrée, created in 1921, reveals its wheels.

The Tank appeared at a time when the wristwatch was in full swing, taking over the pocket watch. A period politically troubled especially. Impossible to forget its origins: its name already is an evocation of the tanks of the allied forces which intervened in 1917 during the First World War. Its shape then, according to legend, is inspired by a British Mark IV tank seen from above: the tracks are represented by the stretchers and the cabin by the case. Louis Cartier would have also offered one of the first prototypes of the Tank to General John Pershing, in 1918.

The particularity of the Tank Cintrée, which was born in 1921, is its rectangle dial and a curved case. The 2017 version is a skeleton model that also takes this pure aesthetic of the early twentieth century. It exists in two versions - pink gold and platinum - both limited to 100 copies. The 9917 ™ manual winding movement, which drives this model, adapts to the shape of the case. The set, with its symmetrical structure, evokes, in its form, the painting titled rhythms of Robert Delaunay (1934), but whose colors would have been removed.

How to explain that a hundred years later, this model has lost none of its modernity? It's primarily a design story. The more refined a form is, the less it may be attached to a given epoch. At the time of its launch, this shape watch marked a stylistic break: it was part of the tradition of round watches to which a bracelet was attached. Its fasteners were integrated into the case using two stretchers that became a signature. Completely marrying the Art Deco aesthetic, the case plays between the square and the rectangle over the variants.

The addition of timeless classic elements also plays a role: the round of hours, traversed by two sword needles, is written in Roman numerals around the railroad which is the minute scale. These elements are now part of the aesthetics of the Tank, as a code.

Finally, there is the quality of the movement: from the beginning Louis Cartier has called on the watchmaker Edmond Jaeger, who joined the Manufacture LeCoultre from 1903, to provide the engines of his watches.

The success of the Tank is a combination of harmoniously united elements: aesthetics, design, know-how and technology. But not only.

Marketing before the time

For a model to go through the decades, it must be desirable and desired. This is the subjective part of the case. It turns out that with its modernity and its clean lines, the Tank pleases the artists: it was found on the wrist of Gary Cooper, who wore a model of Tank Basculante, Alain Delon and the director Jean-Pierre Melville, Andy Warhol and Yves Saint Laurent, Catherine Deneuve and Madonna, billionaire Gunter Sachs and Lady Diana the Princess of Wales ... The list goes on.

But well before them and well before the appearance of the ambassadors of the brands and the product placement, the Tank has benefited from free and phenomenal advertising on the big screen. Lovers of silent movies remember this scene from George Fitzmaurice's movie - The Son of the Sheik - from 1926 where we see Rudolph Valentino disguising himself by opening his two-handed oriental costume with his Tank left on his left wrist.

He had simply refused to remove it during the filming, offering the vision of a delicious anachronism. Note that on one of the drawn posters of the film, which takes the same scene, the watch has been replaced by a gold cuff bracelet.

To understand the impact of this story, it must be put in context. If the name of Rudolph Valentino does not evoke much for the majority of people today, at the time, he was considered the most beautiful man, the most desirable, the sexiest on the planet: an ideal erotic for a whole generation, men and women alike.

The 23 August 1926, the day of his funeralHe had 31 years, more than 100'000 people came to pass in front of his coffin in a fabulous chaos. There were nervous fits, people crushed by the crowd, fights, tears, fainting. In short, a lot of hysteria.

Rudolph Valentino, with his face of a Roman statue, whose beauty crosses the times, was undoubtedly the best ambassador in spite of himself of the Tank.