100 Years and The Cartier Tank Continues to be Essential
There were many things I inherited from my father: being a lefty and the ability to play first base, his drive, sweet tooth, love for Hitchcock movies, blue eyes and less fortunately, his big ears. In my 30’s, when he passed away—way too young—I inherited his Cartier Tank Watch, which was, out of all his timepieces, the one that most reminds me of him. My dad, who owned menswear textile mills, was always impeccably dressed from his well-appointed business suits to his casual style on weekends. His Cartier Tank always looked so elegant on his wrist, although he collected other watches by brands such as Vacheron Constantin and Jaeger Le-Coultre.
I only wear vintage men’s timepieces and the unisex size of the Tank seems to suit me as well as it did my dad.
But why wouldn’t it? The Cartier Tank is an icon. It’s sleek understated design, throughout the last century is associated with Hollywood’s leading men and women and has graced the wrist of fashion legends, royalty and the U.S.’ most stylish First Ladies. Designed 100 years ago, 2017 celebrates this anniversary with Cartier unveiling new models to mark the occasion. The latest versions include two sizes, pink and white gold and with and without diamonds.
Before Louis Cartier ingeniously invented the Tank during World War I, the pocket watch was often converted to be worn on the wrist on leather straps. In 1904, Cartier first designed the Santos for Alberto Santos-Dumont, an airplane flier. Other wristwatches were created by such Swiss companies as Patek Philippe and Girard-Perregaux. But like the pocket watch on a strap, these were bulky, uncomfortable and cumbersome, particularly on the battlefield. Cartier’s Tank was revolutionary—in that is was the first wristwatch that was devised to be sleek, with an integrity of design and that not only looked good but performed well. It is reported that the name was inspired by the outline of military tank vehicles and a prototype was given to General Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe for his role in the Great War.
The Tank was also the earliest wristwatch ever to be shown on celluloid, worn by Rudolph Valentino, in the film The Son of the Sheik. The film was released, and the watch launched, just two weeks after the actor’s shocking death in 1926, The watch is said to have belonged to Valentino himself, since it had nothing to do with the script and was completely anachronistic when it came to the period costumes.
Since Valentino’s day, there have been approximately 250 variations of the original, with square and rectangular models including the Tank Louis Cartier (1922), the Tank Americaine (1989), and the Tank Francaise (1996).
Some of Hollywood’s most dapper leading men have sported Cartier watches on screen. In the suspense thriller North by Northwest (1959), Cary Grant wore his own Tank, paired with a perfectly tailored gray suit throughout the entire film.
Actors such as Clark Gable, Warren Beatty and Gary Cooper owned and wore their tanks in films and publicity stills. And, actresses such as Greta Garbo and Tallulah Bankhead also looked chic and fashionable in their Tanks.
The list of famous people goes on, from First Ladies Jackie Kennedy to Michelle Obama, who both wore theirs casually to fashion designers Yves Saint Laurent and Tom Ford. Princess Diana received hers as a gift from her father, which is now being worn by her son Prince William. Andy Warhol, in an interview, said, “I don’t wear a Tank to tell the time. In fact, I never wind it. I wear a Tank because it’s the watch to wear.”
A century later, the Tank is as modern and essential as when it was first designed. In June 2017, Jackie Kennedy’s 1962 Cartier Tank reportedly sold at auction for $379,500 to Kim Kardashian.
For me, it’s the watch that urges me to take my father’s advice before he passed away, As I strap it around my wrist I can still hear him say “Don’ let time pass you by. Jump into every moment and live it!”