Aviation, War Fronts, and Diamonds
It was 1847 and in the restless times of the French Revolution, the first chapter of a story began which could be entitled “The Path of Perseverance and Incredible Resourcefulness”. Louis-François Cartier opened his goldsmithing workshop and, a little over a decade later, the first Cartier boutique, which his son Alfred later moved to the prestigious Rue de la Paix in Paris.
The main characters of the story summarised in this article are Alfred’s sons; together, they took the Cartier name into the world and built the foundations for the rich legacy of this famous name. An especially important role was played by the oldest, Louis, who can be credited for a major part of the Cartier watch collection and, above all, for the fact that, today, watches are an almost essential part of the decoration of any man’s or woman’s wrist.
An especially important role was played by the oldest, Louis, who can be credited for a major part of the Cartier watch collection and, above all, for the fact that, today, watches are an almost essential part of the decoration of any man’s or woman’s wrist.
Cartier on the Wrist of a Bohemian Pilot
The story written by the House of Cartier deserves a protagonist such as was embodied by Louis Cartier: he was attractive, confident, and charming, he moved in high circles, excelled as a connoisseur of architecture and art, and, as a mentor, contributed generously to creative and motivated people with good ideas. The consequence of this lifestyle is the majority of Cartier watch-making creations that he designed himself or were inspired by him even after his death.
One of those who prompted the creation of an icon was the Brazilian bohemian Albert Santos-Dumont, whose life revolved around planning lavish parties in the villa he rented on the Champs Elysees, while his sporting focus was on competitive aviation. In general, races against the clock are troublesome since one has to fly over the finish line within a specific time. While socialising with Santos, Cartier often heard comments about the impracticality of the small and imprecise wristwatches of the time and thus decided to design a bohemian version of a wrist-worn time-measuring instrument for his friend following the example of the simple pilot’s watches of the time.
The simple, harmonious form derives from a square, and the main design goal was clear readability. A peculiarity of the case were the exposed screws for attaching the glass and integrated, instead of welded, lugs for the then leather strap, which was a conceptual base for the further development of many other wristwatches. On the rim of the dial, Cartier added big Roman numerals, while, as the brand’s hallmark, the winding crown was ornamented with a simple blue sapphire. In 1904, the icon named Santos de Cartier, the first men’s pilot’s watch to go into serial production, was born.
This was a particularly bold move since wristwatches were mostly considered to be a female fashion accessory at the time. Santos himself is partly responsible for the fact that today the Santos de Cartier watch is one of the most renowned wristwatches, as he found the notion of having a watch bearing his name extremely flattering. Therefore, he put a lot of energy into spreading the word about the watch and, through his own incentive, helped build today’s incredibly rich legacy of the Cartier brand.
Inspiration from the Battle Lines
The genius that was Louis Cartier is revealed primarily through the fact that he drew his inspiration from all possible directions—except classic watch-making. During the First World War, he was assigned to desk work due to his injured leg; on the merits of his own resourcefulness, he quickly climbed the ladder to less monotonous work and was granted permission to research various battle lines by car. In 1917, his duty to his homeland over, he started to devote his time to an idea which was born during his visits to different war fronts.
At the time, the French army was using Renault FT-17 tanks, which were extremely efficient due to several innovations. Cartier was not especially interested in that but was, however, intrigued by the shape of this specific vehicle: it was simultaneously angular and round and ideas for a new masterpiece were rushing through Louis’ head. The wristwatches of the time were generally defined by soft lines, and it comes as no surprise that the lines caught in the form of the Tank watch by Louis Cartier were their exact opposite. For the final touch, Cartier named the watch with the male article “le tank”, instead of the generally accepted female “la montre”.
The Tank is undoubtedly the most recognisable Cartier watch at present; in the 21st century, ladies and gentlemen find it thrilling for more or less the same reasons as in the past. The elegant lines of the case, which are simultaneously straight and rounded, and the strap, which perfectly blends into them, are the key components of the design formula which has been working for more than a century. The Tank watch is sporty and elegant at the same time and, thanks to the choice of forms, colours, and dimensions, can be worn by every wrist. It adds charm and refined aesthetics that are indeed simple, yet far from ascetic.
For the final touch, Cartier named the watch with the male article “le tank”, instead of the generally accepted female “la montre”.