Back in 2017, the Cartier Tank turned 100. Instead of the Parisian luxury house arranging a star-studded centenary celebration at a grand venue, they marked its birthday with several new variations. As the well-known watch expert Franco Cologni wrote in the preface of his 1998 book Cartier: The Tank Watch, the timepiece “is one of those V.I.O.s (Very Important Objects) which rank alongside the most famous of human V.I.P.s.” Princess Diana, Muhammad Ali and Andy Warhol have all stepped out onto the world stage with their horological V.I.P. Warhol once said: “I don't wear a Tank watch to tell the time. In fact, I never wind it. I wear a Tank because it's the watch to wear.”.
Louis Cartier was inspired to create the iconic dress watch by newspaper photographs of the Renault FT-17 tanks being used on the Western Front. Not a trace of stolen valor can be attributed to Cartier – he was an artistic soul in Paris, also drawing on the burgeoning Cubism movement for the shape of his design.
One of the first Tanks was a gift to Gen. John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, who was stationed in Paris during World War I. The Tank Normale is credited as being the grandfather of all Tanks. Its first variant, the Tank Cintrée followed in 1921.
The 1920s and 1930s were prolific decades for new models: Tank Louis Cartier (1922), Tank Chinoise (1992), Tank Obus (1923), Tank à Guichet (1928), Tank Etanché (1931), Tank Basculante (1932), Tank Monopusssoir (1935), and Tank Asymétrique (1936) – all released. But there wasn’t anything prolific about the number created. From the first Tank to 1969, less than 6,000 were ever made and sold.