A Century of the Cartier Tank

vintage cartier tank watchIn the world of watches, change comes frequently.  Part of the reason is competition; you have to keep making new things to stay ahead of everyone else.

Another part is wanting to offer something new to your customers.  People may be loyal to one brand, but if they’ve already purchased what you have to offer, they’re going to go buy something from someone else.  That’s why companies are always offering “new and improved” versions of their products.

In the world of watches, companies often just get rid of certain models altogether and replace them with new ones.  That way, they’ve always got something new to sell.

There are exceptions, though, and one of the more interesting exceptions comes from jeweler and watchmaker Cartier.  Their iconic “tank watch” is now 100 years old, and keeping anything in production for a century is pretty astonishing, and it’s even more so in the world of watches.

Louis Cartier designed the tank watch during World War I, and the design was said to be inspired by the shape of the Renault tanks that the French army used at the time.  The watch is fairly simple in design, shaped like a rectangle and offering Roman numerals on the face.

cartier tank watchWhat’s particularly interesting about the tank watch, however, is that it has never been marketed as either a men’s watch or a women’s watch.  It’s just a watch, and if you visit the Cartier Website, you’ll see Tank listed under both men’s watches and women’s watches – and both links go to the same page.

While the Tank watch has been sold for a century now, it isn’t without its innovation.  Obviously, all Tank watches sold 100 years ago were manually wound mechanical timepieces.  You can still buy those, but you can also buy automatic, self-winding versions of the Tank.  The least expensive versions of the watch have quartz movements.

Aside from that, there are still a wide variety to choose from.  There are currently 89 different versions of the Tank available, including simple, stainless steel cases and leather straps to diamond-studded models and limited edition models that feature a flying tourbillon.

They’ve got something for everyone, but it all fits into that rectangular form factor.  While the Tank watch has always been marketed as a gender-neutral watch, there are going to be some models that will appeal more to men than women and others that women will likely favor over men.  Most men tend to shy away from a small watch with diamonds, for example, and it’s likely that most of the diamond-covered versions of the Tank find their way to the wrists of women.

But many men have famously worn the Tank over the years, including Andy Warhol, Elton John, and actor Gary Cooper.  Angelina Jolie and the late Princess of Wales, Diana, were often seen in public wearing a Tank.   Jackie Kennedy’s own Tank watch recently sold for nearly $400,000 at auction.

While Cartier isn’t always the first name people think of when fine watches come to mind, the Tank is truly iconic.  Chances are good that you’ll still be able to buy one 100 years from now.