object study: the cartier tank

Jackie Wearing Tank Watch

It has always been a wish of mine to buy a proper, timeless "forever" watch for myself, and this is the last of the watches I'm considering.

It might be a cliché to name the Cartier Tank as one of my dream watches - it's classic to the point of ubiquity, it's certainly not the most original of choices. But when it comes to watches, I have always loved clean, simple design, and ever since I took my first good look at a Cartier Tank (the Tank Louis Cartier to be exact), I've loved its spare elegance and its crisp pre-Art Deco lines.

tank3
Left: the Tank Solo, introduced introduced in 2004, and the Tank Louis Cartier, created in 1917 and offered for sale in 1922

Anything with heritage interests me. The Tank isn't the first wristwatch to be invented; it wasn't even Cartier's first wristwatch. But in the early days of a watch worn on the wrist to afford freedom to its wearers, the Tank stood out for its sleek, geometrical design - the square face instead of round, its simplicity and its foreshadowing of the Art Deco hallmarks in a time where the more elaborate Art Nouveau style was in vogue. It was all straight lines and no curves with an industrial air. The first Tanks were placed in shops in 1919, but they look every bit as modern today, and have inspired countless copies since. Great design endures.

There have been over 30 variations of the Tank, some more elaborate than others, sone with tiny tweaks, but for the most part, they are remarkably unchanged from its ancestors. I like how the new Cartier Tank Solo is largely identical to the classic Tank introduced at the beginning of the 20th century - there was nothing superfluous about the original design and therefore it doesn't need anything more. It's perfect the way it is, for both men and women - the Tank has been worn by Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Warren Beatty, Andy Warhol, the late Princess Diana. Fashion designers seemed unusually fond of it: Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Balmain, Hubert De Givenchy, and Pierre Cardin all wore one.

I went to Cartier a couple of times this year to have a good look at the Tank Solo. It has the signature sapphire blue sword-shaped hands and cabochon winding crown, the graphic Roman numerals, the same flat-edged sides - a beautiful little Art Deco grid on my wrist, in polished steel for that air of utility and modernity. The other Tanks are beautiful in their own right, but the Tank Solo is the closest to the original, with the simplicity that makes it perfect for everyday use.

I've always loved watches for their combination of utility and aesthetics, and I've treasured every watch I've ever received. In posts here and here, I've gone on about other watches I've admired and loved, but I think the Tank Solo stands out for the way it looks absolutely right once I slip it on. It looks like it's already part of my life.

A watch is on my list this year, since I finally saved up a "ballpark sum" for it, and I have a good feeling this could be it.

P.S.: This article on Vanityfair.com by Laura Jacobs nicely sums up the historical significance of the Cartier Tank.

Pictures from cartier.com, vanity fair.com

Comments

Fleurette said…
I look forward to following your watch purchase. Cartier tank is one of my favorites too, but I prefer Carier tank americaine.

What do you think of IWC Portugese and Omega de ville prestige? I also yearn for these!
emma said…
I like that watch too, but my Dad (who is very knowledgeable about watches) says the mechanics are poor, compared to brands like IWC and Omega, for instance. He also says Roman numerals were designed for engraving, and look foolish on a watch face. I sometimes wonder if I haven't just been brainwashed into liking it, after seeing it in a million photos of stylish people...
Aïssa said…
The pic of Jackie beautifully sums up the lux and simplicity of the Tank. Good luck with the purchase!
lin said…
Fleurette: My mother is after me to consider something from Omega, since they're known for their craftsmanship, even amongst their more affordable models, whether quartz or mechanical. But I have never been wild about their designs, which I admit is a big factor for me. But if you like that Omega, it's probably a sound investment in quality. She has a Seamaster and it's been running smoothly since I was 10.

I don't know much about IWC but that model you mentioned is beautiful! Again, design-wise, I don't go for chronographs or complications, but IWC is highly respected for their mechanics as well so something by them, whatever design you choose in the end, is probably a good buy.

emma: Your dad and my mum should meet - my mum is sceptical about cartier as well! :) I admit if if were going for mechanics first, I could should buy seiko or citizen at a fraction of the price and get a quartz watch of comparable quality. At least, according to a few of the watch forums I've been haunting...

But I am hopelessly drawn to design of the Cartier (and hopefully not just because of the famous people who have worn it). I think in terms of mechanics, investment-wise it is probably not the best value for money choice. But design-wise, it scores with me, and I think the quality, while not quite up to mark for true collectors or connoisseurs, it's still of a certain standard. So much to think about!

Aissa: The Tank's simple lines are one of the biggest draws for me. Thanks!
Kate said…
I had a watch similar to this when I was a child - my first adult watch! It was from Marks and Spencer and I was so proud of it.

My watch is a big clunky D&G thing. I love how it adds to workwear and smarter outfits, but I'd love a tiny watch with a leather strap to wear casually, as my D&G looks funny with bracelet-length sleeves.

I'm looking forward to seeing what you choose!
If Jane said…
gorgeous! i fully support!
onlycoolcats said…
Cartier is classic, but I prefer more masculine watches.
miss sophie said…
ah, the investment (time)piece! this is a momentous grown-up style purchase. i'm procrastinating on making a decision on timepieces for another few years...maybe when i'm 30 (!). i don't think you could possibly go wrong with a Cartier piece. it's also kind of strange to see the 'originator' of all those knockoff watches that have come after it...which is probably why you're now looking at it with that feeling of classic ubiquity. really looking forward to seeing which watch you end up getting!

btw, i just tagged you in my latest post, '5 things'. :D

http://lesantimodernes.blogspot.com/2011/01/5-things.html
It's a beautiful watch no doubt. Very delicate and timeless. I saw a man once use a ribbon band on his tank.

I've long had this idea of having a "proper" timepiece as a wedding gift. So I kill the idea out of my head when I entertain the idea of getting one. I remember a friend mentioned how she thought the tank was my style, which has grown on me when I see it Angelina or Emmanuelle, but on my own I was always drawn to the pasha.
lin said…
Kate: I remember my first watch too - something red and plastic and child-appropriate from Casio. I love all my childhood watches, especially the colourful Swatches.

If Jane: Thanks!

onlycoolcats: My last watch was a masculine, strapping thing too. But I realised I suit something more dainty - the rest of me is tom boy-ish enough!

miss sophie: I figured 30 wasn't too far off (I turn 27 this year) and it was about time! Thanks for the tag, will get to it soon!

Pret a Porter P: I once entertained that idea too. I've always thought I'd rather exchange a good watch than an engagement ring, and have simple wedding bands. But I ran out of patience :)

I did not know Emmanuelle Alt wore one, I shall pay closer attention! And the Pasha is very beautiful, but like all the automatic/winding pieces, it's quite expensive for me.

The pasha has sense of drama and boldness I think you could pull off very well.
Jake Schwartz said…
I don’t think it’s a cliché to name Cartier’s The Tank as your dream watch. Designs like that are timeless. It’s actually a good choice if you want to buy a timepiece you could wear for a lifetime; you can even pass it to your children as a heirloom. Anyway, I hope you managed so save up a suffice amount for this gem. Have a nice day!

Jake Schwartz @ Gold Fever Catch it!

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