In 1977 Mr Alain-Dominique Perrin, at that time managing director at Cartier and his team, realised the ‘Les Must de Cartier’ Tank. It may look antiquated today, with its vermeil silver case and simple quartz or mechanical wind movement,
however this watch, which paid tribute to the original ‘Tank Louis Cartier’ model, was ahead of its time, was launched with more than a dozen different dial options, like the well known plain blue or red versions.
This low budget Tank was a huge success, especially with the fashion crowd and trend setters, and it also attracted a whole new clientele. In fact, the ‘Les Must de Cartier’ Tanks were so popular and affordable that people bought two or three at a time. While these Must Tanks were available in a variety of unusual dial colours, creative diehards, wanted even more and had their straps custom made! The ‘Must de Cartier’ Tank was created and launched at a very affordable price to make it appeal during a time when the watch industry was experiencing a downturn.
Why was this series created?
It was in the Seventies when, mainly coming from Japan, the market was flooded with affordable digital watches and it soon became popular, especially with men. At that time too, Cartier was still producing its watches just in 18K gold or platinum and suffered from a decline in turnover, like other higher-priced Swiss brands. The Cartier collection was, from a price point of view, no match, for these new, low-priced electronic Japanese timepieces. Still, the watch to have and the watch Cartier had always been famous for, was the ’Tank Louis Cartier’ in 18K gold. Cartier realized that very well and came up with that brilliant idea, to create a watch that paid tribute to the original Tank, at a more affordable price. This was a radical decision.
It was the first time, since its beginning, in early 1900 that a Tank watch was built, in a non- precious metal: silver. But it had to retain a luxurious look and that was achieved with a gold-plated finish. The result was a gorgeous looking Tank, with a strong resemblance to the famous Tank LC. Wanting to maintain the integrity of the original, ‘La Maison’ gave the new Tank its own identity by making the dial of the watch different from the creamy white guilloche face of the original Tank Louis Cartier. The designers did not come up with only one different dial; more than a dozen different dials were presented, one more stunning than the other. Instead of picking only one, the marketing team decided to launch them all over a period of time.
The first ‘Must de Cartier’ Tanks were released with dials in plain red, or blue and one in black, without any numerals, just ‘The Must de Cartier’ logo, the double C and two gold vermeil hands. But later the versions in striped dials with three colours of gold, variations with fewer numerals, Arabic numerals and even a limited edition Art Deco dial. In addition, a very classic looking, non vermeil silver case Tank, with blue numerals, was added to the market. Next to these Tank models, that ran the ‘Les Must de Cartier’ show, there were also other great products in the ‘Les Must de Cartier’ line, such as, travel clocks, the well known oval lighters in various metals and finishes, pens, leather goods, the famous ‘Trinity’ or ‘Troisanneaux’ ring, various key rings etc.
The Tank watches that stood out in this series and are still sought after, are the ones with the red or the blue dials. From a technical point of view, these timepieces were pretty straight forward. The first pieces were delivered in 1977 with a mecha- nical hand wound ETA caliber. The models with quartz movement followed in 1982, but even models that have the same face, could have either caliber.
While the ‘Les ‘Must de Cartier’ Tanks are very affordable in the second market and are often irresistible, one needs to bear in mind that these Tanks do not come trouble free. After all those years, most of the watches found on the second hand market, need to be re-plated and often a new glass is needed.
Since Cartier does not support their ‘Must de Cartier’ line anymore, a watchmaker needs to be found to restore such a watch. If these obstacles can be over come, a Cartier Tank can be within reach.