A cornerstone of Cartier collection timepieces is the Tank. Cartier has an extremely early tank from 1920 even though the first Tank was released earlier in 1917 during WWI. While the details aren’t completely clear, most seem to agree that Louis Cartier was inspired by the design of tank treads he observed in World War I. Production was slow during the war, but production sped up a bit after it was over in 1919. The collection spawned many successful variations of the Tank which can be purchased from Cartier today.
The early 1920 Tank is surprisingly modern in a brushed platinum case with clean lines matched to a leather strap. Perhaps too small for today’s tastes, it represents something modern watch lovers would have no qualms wearing. Another interesting Tank watch is one from 1925 and is a Tank L.C. (for Louis Cartier). Originally launched in 1922, this particular Tank L.C. is in platinum and white gold with a rarely seen bracelet.
Another unique early Tank is a 1924 Tank Cintree which represents an elongated rectangular case. The case is also curved and was only available in precious metals. In fact each of these timepieces was only offered in gold or platinum – which was not at all uncommon at the time given who was purchasing wristwatches.
The most exclusive historical timepiece in this collection is a Cartier Tortue a Repetition Minutes (minute repeater) from 1928. In a Tortue-style case, the simple Cartier dial sits over a minute repeater movement. Cartier did not produce movements until much later and like most brands at the time was working with special suppliers who were beginning to produce the smaller mechanical movements necessary to put in wristwatches. These Swiss suppliers varied but included brands such as LeCoultre.
Cartier no doubt has captured an enduring style and sense of elegance in their timepieces today. What I find so impressive is that the core look was something devised so long ago almost from when they started making timepieces. It is true that among women’s jewelry pieces they experimented more with regards to design, but when it comes down to it, Cartier not only helped invent the wristwatch, but also helped set the tone for timeless wristwatch design. Early Cartier watches are extremely rare – mostly collectors and Cartier themselves ardently acquire any that they can find. Still they represent an extremely important and seminal part of the men’s wristwatch as we know it. cartier.com