Story of My Life: The Cartier Tank Celebrates 100 Years

Catherine Deneuve, 1984 | ©Cartier

The iconic “Tank” watch by Cartier commemorates its 100 years of existence this month. Julia Knolle on Sofia Coppolas’ and Lady Di’s favorite accessory

The Cartier Tank is celebrating its 100th birthday this September. A hundred years is a really long time … so much history has happened in the world and yet we’re still happy to wear this watch on our wrists – and that, at the end of the day, is what makes a classic.

I like hearing the story behind this iconic design, the reason why the watchmaker created this extraordinary model – and in this case, it’s especially exciting: At the beginning of the 20th century, time was generally told from a rounded form. The Tank’s rectangular shape is aligned with that of a military tank seen from above. The roman numerals follow a geometrically arranged track that is reminiscent of the railways. Louis Cartier was coming up with this design as the world was nearing the end of World War I.

Cartier’s watch model characterized an avant-garde style that would pave the way for Art Deco, which would experience its heyday in mid-1920s France. To emphasize how different this legendary watchmaker and his company’s thinking was: The Tank was conceived from the beginning as a timepiece for both women and men. This versatility has been proven over the years by a long line of illustrious wearers: Gary Cooper, Catherine Deneuve, Lady Di, Sofia Coppola, Alain Delon, Gunter Sachs, Andy Warhol, and Yves Saint Laurent all wore the Tank.

There have also been some modifications to the original design over the years. The thought that this design could persist through all that time is very comforting, that it survived the fashion of the wild 80s, was seen so often on so many wonderful women whose style we adored, whose outfits served as inspiration for the next day…or who were even the reason to change your own wardrobe, to identify as speaking the same language and as sharing the same (good) taste.

My favorite version is and will indisputably remain the one with the gold housing and black leather strap – a so-called “push present” given by a man to his wife for a very special birth on October 21st, 1982. I’ll give you three guesses who that was.

The Cartier Tank is available its website here. Further inspirations can be also found on their Instagram account (@cartier) here.

Translation: Melissa Frost

Julia co-founded one of the first fashion blogs in Germany in 2007 and became a freelance consultant for digital strategies after publishing her first book in 2010. After an eventful four years with Condé Nast working mainly in the digital department of Vogue Germany, she decided to launch her own online magazine with her dream partner, Veronika Heilbrunner. She is based in Berlin and loves to read books.