Described as the “most useful piece of jewellery”, watches designed to be worn on the wrist became increasingly popular in 1920s Paris – as a recent Design Museum show explored – but it was earlier, in 1917, that Louis Cartier’s Tank first caused a stir. Not quite square, not quite rectangular, it broke with the curves of Art Nouveau to showcase clean geometric lines and an elegant aesthetic on the wrist.
The story goes that the watchmaker modelled the design of the watch on the heavy tanks of World War I: the brancards, the elongated flanks on the sides resemble the tracks that ran either side of the first military tanks. The case, or cockpit of the vehicle, is seamlessly integrated with the strap, creating a functional and sophisticated timepiece.
Neither masculine nor feminine, in the years since the wristwatch has made an utterly modern statement, seducing celebrities across generations. Sported by the likes of Sofia Coppola, Princess Diana and Andy Warhol, who claimed he didn’t wear a Cartier “to tell the time” and never winded it. To celebrate its centenary this year, the brand has announced a slew of new models based on three iconic versions – the Tank Louis Cartier, the Tank Américaine and the Tank Française; elsewhere the Tank Cintrée, that inspired the Américaine, also returns in a skeletonised haute horlogerie format.