The Rebirth of an Icon

by Katherine Arteche
Photos by Darren Gabriel Leow
01 Sep 2021

It goes without saying that the revival of the Cartier Tank Must is a definite must-have

For an icon to be an icon, it must be worthy of praise. For instance, the reason some people fantasize about the idea of possessing a Fabergé egg is to experience a taste of Russian royalty. Meanwhile, the closest one can possibly get to emulating James Bond is to keep up with the latest Aston Martin supercar he’s driving. When it comes to the Cartier Tank, the watch doesn’t really need an introduction, for it’s about who you become, or what you want to be, when you put it on.

Tank Must watch, large model, SolarBeat™ photovoltaic movement, steel, strap made with non-animal leather; Panthère de Cartier solitaire board, resin and blown glass

For someone to don the Tank, one would assume you had to have an elegant look required to keep up with it. Its understated aesthetics drew the likes of French actor Alain Delon, the poster boy of effortless charm and style, and the ever-poised Jackie Kennedy, whose similar demeanor was definitely First Lady material.

But least one be mistaken, the Tank wasn’t made for a person in mind. It bears a design that can very well stand on its own, be it laying idly on an oak shelf or wrapped around one’s wrist, neither of which would deter the watch from looking anything less than exquisite. Even the great Muhammad Ali wore the Tank and it did not look out of place. In fact, there’s an evident shift of emotion when your eyes move over from boxing glove to watch (and no, he didn’t box with it, we think). As for Andy Warhol, who was an avid watch collector, he expressed that he only wore his Tank as an accessory and never even bothered winding it.

(Related: The iconic Ballon Bleu de Cartier now has your perfect size


The Tank That Made It

When Louis Cartier created the Tank in 1917, its design was derived from a less favorable muse — a French war tank, specifically the Renault FT-17, which bore distinguishable squarish treads and protruding rivets.

When it was first made, the Tank was given to an American war general. The squarish watch was a utilitarian instrument and easy to read; Roman numerals bordered the perimeter and blued steel Breguet hands elegantly gestured at the hours and minutes.

Several variations of the Tank have come, gone, and evolved over the decades. However, the year 1977 was an important one as the Must de Cartier was first unveiled and was created with the purpose of becoming an entry-level range that dutifully carried the Tank code design.

In addition, it was the first Cartier timepiece offered in gold-plated sterling silver. The square canvas bore nothing more than a pair of hands and maison inscriptions. By this time, anyone who wore their Tank for the same reason Warhol did would’ve gotten away with it, whether the time was correctly set or not.

The original Cartier Tank Must in 1977

Modern Revival

The 2021 revival of the timepiece isn’t a mere replica. Today, the watch features sustainability (the introduction of a photovoltaic dial and the use of non-animal leather) and color. While blue has been the go-to shade to lend watches a pop of color, Cartier also includes versions in green and the maison’s signature shade of red.

In a similar fashion to how it was first made, non-precious metals house the movements (automatic and manual-winding movements for larger models, and quartz for small models, with the photovoltaic version available in both sizes), thus preserving and reintroducing this entry-level lineup to collectors, old and new.

As an honorary mention, two new gold models of the Tank Louis Cartier also join the lineup, featuring Art Deco-style sector dials that are reminiscent of the Tank watches Les Must de Cartier produced at the time.

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