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The Illustrious History of the Iconic Cartier Tank Watch

All-time classic.

In 1917 during World War I, Parisian jeweler Louis Cartier was inspired to create a new square cased timepiece based on the design of the French-made Renault FT-17 tanks fighting on the Western Front – an interesting beginning for what would become the world's most elegant wristwatch.

100 years later the Cartier Tank Watch, now available in numerous versions, shapes, and metals, still holds that honor, and a cool new book due out from Flammarion in a few weeks – now available for pre-order on Amazon – finally gives the, ahem, all-time classic its due.

As author renowned watch expert Franco Cologni notes in The Cartier Tank Watch, Monsieur Cartier presented the original Tank Watch to General John “Black Jack” Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force on the Western Front, in thanks for his heroic actions, but this was also a very clever bit of marketing. 

It went on to be the watch of choice for everyone from Cary Grant, Gary Cooper (below), Andy Warhol and Ralph Lauren, who later acquired Warhol's watch for his personal collection. Initially designed as a men's watch, it was also worn by the likes of Patti Smith and Jackie Kennedy, attesting to its universal appeal.

Coolest of all, it can be seen on the wrist of Steve McQueen in 1968's The Thomas Crown Affair, one of our favorite movies of all time. “The Tank is one of the few watches in horological history to be deservedly considered an icon in terms of both function and form,” Cologni writes in the lavishly illustrated 300-page volume

Eventually, every gentleman of style should own a Cartier Tank. But until then, this beautiful book is a pretty good substitute