If you follow any watch blogs or magazines, odds are that you are already aware that this year is the 100th anniversary of the Cartier Tank. Much has been written about the six new versions of the Tank Louis Cartier that were unveiled a few months back, and for good reason: to many people, the Cartier Tank is the Platonic ideal of a dress watch. I have a personal soft spot for the iconic model as well — I fell in love with the watch’s quadrilateral design at a young age and it drove my watch obsession that continues to this day. Rather than discuss what the Tank’s centenary might mean going forward like so many others already have, I’d like to highlight three uncommon Tanks that have largely disappeared from the public eye but are some of the most unexpected watches Cartier ever produced.
The Cartier Tank á Guichet
If you paid attention to the Phillips Winning Icons auction that featured Paul Newman’s record-breaking Rolex Daytona, you may have noticed something curious about Lot 31. That 1931 Cartier Tank á Guichet ended up selling for $131,250, but the real story behind the unorthodox design goes back three years earlier to 1928 when the watch was created with a jumping hour in response to a growing interest in watches with a numerical display. Unlike modern jumping hour and minute watches — think the A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk — the Tank á Guichet doesn’t even have a visible dial. Rather, it featured a large expanse of metal with two tiny windows (guichets) that displayed the hour and minute. Cartier released multiple versions of the watch that often featured very different placement of the windows and crowns, sometimes the crown would be at 12 or 3 o’clock and the minute opening would be at 12 or 6 o’clock. These watches are exceedingly rare and someday I’d love to see a modern interpretation of this surprisingly masculine take on the Tank.
The Cartier Tank Asymétrique
While watches that are angled to this degree are common in both auto and aviation timepieces, it’s extremely rare to see a dress watch with the feature. The idea behind the turned dial is that the watch becomes more legible if your hand is on the wheel of a car or airplane. I’m still not sure what the value is on having the watch turned to this extent during a cocktail party or dinner, but maybe it had a specific purpose in mind when it was introduced in 1936. Regardless of its functionality, it’s just a handsome timepiece that inverts the idea of a Tank on its head. The rotation of the dial ends up placing 6 and 12 o’clock in the corners, and the overall sobriety of the Asymétrique serves as a departure from the decidedly avant-garde Tank á Guichet.
The Tank Must de Cartier
You may remember this watch from the late 1970’s when the Swiss timepiece industry was still in the throes of the Quartz Crisis. The Les Must de Cartier collection came at a time when popular opinion was highly critical of luxury goods. Cartier — being one of the world’s largest luxury Maisons — took this opportunity to release its first-ever line of quartz watches. They were an instant success and became recognizable around the world for having colorful lacquered dials with no numerals. The Must de Cartier helped reinvigorate the brand and introduced them to a much larger, aspirational clientele.