​Charting the Progress of the Cartier Tank Wristwatch - Hashtag Legend

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​Charting the Progress of the Cartier Tank Wristwatch

Feb 09, 2017

Tank Chinoise wristwatch. N Walsh, Cartier collection (Courtesy of Cartier)

A square peg - or sometimes rectangular - in a round hole, the first Cartier Tank wristwatch took shape in 1917, in accordance with the design philosophy of Louis Cartier. Back then, wristwatches were a novelty. The Cartier Tank would start the transition in popular preference from pocket watches.

Until 1930, sales of wristwatches failed to match the number of pocket watches sold. The shift was aided by watchmaker Edmond Jaeger, a frequent collaborator with Cartier, who supplied the movement along with Breguet’s blue hands.

The first Tank was a prototype given to United States General John Pershing after the First World War. Cartier insists that the designer likened the watch to a Renault FT-17 light tank, another of the novelties of 1917, but historians believe this is a myth.

Design drawing for a watch created for Princess Mdivani, 1935. (Courtesy of Cartier New York archives)

Whatever the provenance of the name, in the 1926 film The Son of the Sheik, heart-throb Rudolph Valentino emerged from his tent wearing a Tank. It was the first product placement in the history of cinema.

The high-profile associations persisted and the Tank and its iterations (see Tank Chinoise, 1922, above) has been the timepiece of choice for some of the world’s most influential since: Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Jackie Onassis, Truman Capote, Yves Saint Laurent, Diana, Princess of Wales and, most recently, Michelle Obama, who wore a stainless-steel Tank Française for her White House portrait.

The Tank, like time, is unstoppable.

Conceptual drawing for the mini Tank Allongee. N. walsh, Cartier collection (Courtesy of Cartier)

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