Cartier Tank: Great History, Famous Fans

Created 100 years ago in 1917, the Cartier Tank’s classic design has remained practically intact for an entire century. Somewhere between a rectangle and square, almost aggressively spare yet very refined, the ambiguity of the Cartier Tank endeared it to both men and women and earned it a reputation as the watch to wear of the 20th Century.

Let’s take a look at key moments in the Tank’s illustrious history, and the royalty, leaders and influential men and women who vouch for this icon.

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1904 The Wristwatch
Louis Cartier creates a watch for his friend, pilot and millionaire Alberto Santos-Dumont. Santos-Dumont wanted a watch he can wear while flying, and this collaboration gave birth to one of the first wristwatches ever – the Cartier Santos. Louis Cartier saw this as an opportunity to market the wristwatch as a male accessory.

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1916 Combat Tanks
After the Battle of the Somme in 1916, the public was given a glimpse of the armored tank which was until then a top-secret military weapon. So impressed was Louis Cartier by the rigorous geometric design of France’s Renault combat tanks that he made it the inspiration for his new line of watches.

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Tank Chinoise
1917 – 1920 Metamorphoses
Louis Cartier finishes the original Tank watch, the Normale. It was an exercise in restraint – modern, streamlined and with a brushed platinum case. As it was designed during the war, they waited until the end of hostilities in 1919 to launch it.The Tank began its metamorphoses with the Tank Cintrée, a more curvaceous watch, then followed by the Tank Chinoise, which was inspired by the chinoiserie trend of the decade.

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1922 Tank Louis Cartier
The new models were closely followed by the Cartier Tank Louis in 1922, the personal wristwatch of Louis Cartier, and the watch that set the standard for all succeeding Tank watches.

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1926 On the Silver Screen
The Tank makes its first appearance on the big screen. Rudolph Valentino starred in the movie The Son of the Sheik, and insisted on wearing his Tank wristwatch while filming. The cultural discrepancy with the Middle Eastern props and set and his Tank watch made it stand out.

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1928 – 1940’s End of an Era
Cartier would come up with futuristic and unusual designs for the Tank. The Tank à Guichet (1928) and the Tank Basculante (1932)Both watches would rarely be seen again.
Following the death of Louis Cartier and his brother Jacques in 1942, the golden age of the Cartier family would come to an end. Their New York and London companies were sold off to investors.

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Among many famous fans of the Cartier Tank are Princess Diana, President John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy-Onassis, and former First Lady Michelle Obama.


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Tank Louis Must de Cartier
1960’s Refuelling the Tank
The remaining Cartier brother, Pierre, passed away in 1964 and the family relinquished ownership of the business. Under the direction of entrepreneur Robert Hocq and Joseph Kanoui, Cartier would open new markets and diversify into cigarette lighters. They also developed a new concept: “Les Must de Cartier” (Cartier, It’s a must!) with the Tank as the central point of the collection. The Cartier business picks up.

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Tank Francaise
1980 – 1990’s Modern Tank
The Tank family of watches is joined by two new models. The Tank Americaine (1989) was created with an elongated and slightly convex case designed to fit the wrist more comfortably, while the Tank Francaise (1996) introduced smoother, beveled edges influenced by square shapes of French architectural design.
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Tank MC
2008 – present  A New Century
2008 was an important year for Cartier. They finally became manufacturers through their own in-house movements, beginning with the Calibre 9452 MC, which was introduced in the Tank Americaine; and eventually, their first in-house chronograph movement, the 1904-CH MC.
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Cartier celebrated its centenary in 2017, and 100 years of timeless, almost uninterrupted design. They celebrated in a big way, releasing six new versions of the Tank LC, the new stainless steel Tank Americaine, and the Tank Cintrée Skeleton.

While it has been updated to keep up with the times, the Cartier Tank has remained true to its original design, and is primed to enjoy many more years of popularity.

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SEE MORE OF THE WATCHES IN OUR VIDEO:

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PHOTO CREDITS:  George S. Patton France, By Signal Corps, Son of the Sheik By Director: George Fitzmaurice (1885-1940), Princess Diana By Nick Parfjonov (Own work), JFK and family in Hyannis Port By Cecil W. Stoughon, Michelle Obama official portrait By Joyce N. Boghosian, White House photographer. All [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons / Pierre Cartier and Family By Bain News Service photograph. Forms part of: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress) [Copyrighted free use] via Wikimedia Commons / Blog Thumbnail Must de Cartier Tank wristshot by Guy Sie licensed by CC BY SA-2.0.​
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