Creation Of A Cult Object; the ‘Must de Cartier Tank’!

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,

1977 ‘Must de Cartier’ Tank next to the CPCP ‘Tank Louis Cartier’ in platinum

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.

‘Must de Cartier Tank’ with the Worldwide guarantee card


The back of a mechanical ‘Must de Cartier’ Tank.

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.  

‘Must de Cartier Tank’ 1977

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.

10 thoughts on “Creation Of A Cult Object; the ‘Must de Cartier Tank’!

  1. Were these available in the 70’s in only one size? My parents gifted me one in late 70’s. It seems small now.?

    1. Hi Myles,

      The quartz was initially made in a ladies and slightly larger mens size, while the mechanical version was available in mens size only.

  2. After holding on to my Mom’s black dial Le Must for years, I finally sent it for service last week and will get it back in about a month. It is quite expensive to restore, but as she hadn’t used it in years and it was just sitting in a drawer tarnished, many things need to be repaired including the crystal, the dial, the strap/buckle, etc. I took it to the Cartier shop and they are able to do the repairs. Crossing fingers that the final product looks better than what I gave in.

    1. You are really lucky.
      One of the Boutiques here in Europe told me that Cartier is not doing any service on the Must de Cartier watches.
      Sometimes I wish that these Boutique ladies knew where they are talking about.

      1. Cartier Boston on Newbury Street still services these. They’ve been handling mine for years and I just dropped it off last week for service.

        1. Hi Jennifer, how often do you get yours serviced? Do you only do it to repair or also for maintenance? I inherited mine from my mother who stopped wearing hers decades ago and got it fixed this past week but wasn’t to maintain it now. Thanks for any advice.

      2. Hi George, I just recieved mine back (only took 2 weeks) and it looks great and seems to work great. I went to the shop in Geneva, Switzerland, if that is anywhere near you for repairs.

        1. Hi Anita,
          Thank you for the tip. I am often in Geneva and I am glad that Cartier is doing this service.
          I would say, if several BTQ’s are doing this service, they all should.

  3. Maybe try another boutique? I was quite embarrassed bringing this piece in considering what state it was in. The lady at the service counter said they get a lot of these to restore and to not be embarrassed. I am really surprised they told you they couldn’t.

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