Cartier’s Tank: 100 years of the iconic wristwatch

From Andy Warhol to JFK, the Tank has told the time on many of the most famous wrists in history

There is nothing so solid as a Tank. And, like the Renault tanks used on the Western Front that inspired Cartier’s most iconic watch, this timepiece has made it through thick and thin, triumphing and enduring as it has fought its way into the annals of style history. Simplistic, elegant and the pinnacle of French watchmaking, this is a beacon of the fine timepiece industry, and a watch that has graced some of the most famous wrists in history – for the last 100 years.

A century ago, the prototype watch was presented by Cartier to General John Pershing of the American Expeditionary Force and, a year later, it was introduced on a larger scale. By 1919, the Tank had entered full production.

Regarding its design, this signature wristwatch follows the lines and proportions of the tanks found on First World War battlefields – at once square and rectangular and with a strap integrated seamlessly into vertical sidebars called ‘brancards’. And, since its first variation, the Tank has seen subtle redesigns and special editions released, including the Tank Louis in 1922, the Tank Americaine in 1989 and the Tank Francaise in 1996.

And many of the most famous men in history have worn a Cartier Tank. Pop art icon and dedicated Cartier watch wearer Andy Warhol was once quoted as saying: “I don’t wear a Tank watch to tell the time. In fact, I never wind it. I wear a Tank because it’s the watch to wear.”

Warhol knew an icon when he saw one – having designed several of his own – and the artist’s Cartier of choice was a Tank Solo in 18k yellow gold, with a white dial and black roman numbers. Fitted on a black alligator strap and with a gold cabachon crown, the design is simple and timeless.

This signature wristwatch follows the lines and proportions of the tanks found on First World War battlefields

And the famous wearers don’t end there. Not only did President of the United States, John F Kennedy, wear a Tank, it has also shared the stage with one of the Rolling Stones. And, as the frontman of one of the most important, and longest-running, rock bands in history, Mick Jagger can be forgiven for wanting a timeless timepiece.

Which is why, when he was searching for a new watch in the mid-90s, he opted for the Tank Française, a newly-released variation on Cartier’s icon. An update on the legacy of the original, the Française is both smaller and squarer than the Solo model worn by Warhol.

The dial, however, remains the same – white with black roman numerals to retain the instantly recognisable Cartier aesthetic. Quintessentially Cartier sword-shaped hands in steel blue serve a similar function, ensuring that the watch loses neither readability nor style.

The Française was a statement by Cartier. Almost 100 years since the first watch in the range, this was an affirmation that the French jewellers were adept at reinvention, and could adapt their timepieces for each new decade whilst staying true to their signature style. And so, over the years, Cartier has produced many variations on the Tank, from the Anglaise to the Americaine.

The watch is the perfect piece to span your formal and casual wardrobes, and a 30 metre water-resistance even allows you to take this timepiece to the water for some more sporting activities. Meeting the needs of those with limited and unlimited budgets, men from the stoic JFK to ex-James Bond Timothy Dalton have adopted the Tank as their own – and that’s as glowing an endorsement as you’re likely to get. Here’s our pick of the best Tanks available to buy right now:

Want to see more of Cartier? Check out our review of their equally stunning Drive de Cartier range. To see more of their watches, visit the Cartier website.

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