Introducing the Cartier Tank MustBy Wei Koh
During a recent online digital press conference, Cartier President and CEO Cyrille Vigneron was posed a question that effectively asked, “Why don’t you create new designs rather than focus on historic icons?”
To give some context, Vigneron is the man who has guided Cartier to its current success and, even more impressively, has made his maison a true power player amongst the horological heavyweights (Cartier is ranked third after only Rolex and Omega, according to the latest report by Morgan Stanley and LuxeConsult). And as such, the question misses the mark; it fails to recognize what Vigneron has done to guide Cartier to its greatest success in its 117-year history in the timepiece sector. Because Vigneron has understood what it is that we as Cartier lovers want to buy and made precisely those types of watches. As famed Cartier collector and author Nick Foulkes explains, “It is as if Vigneron has the capacity to reach into the public’s collective consciousness and extract from it precisely the watches we desire and make them a reality.”
Says Michael Tay, group managing director of Singapore’s preeminent watch retailer The Hour Glass, “This was a process that was based on exacting research done by Vigneron and speaks of an extraordinary humility for a man who is in charge of one of the most famous luxury houses in the world. But what he did was to create a dialogue and listen to what people wanted to buy. Then he did an even better job than they could have hoped for when he created these watches.”
Says Vigneron in response to the question, “Of course we have new designs, but at Cartier we are fortunate enough to have so many iconic models which are today as relevant as they were when they were created, in many cases, over a century ago. So it is my responsibility to empower each of these icons in succession because these are, first of all, the true equity of Cartier and, second, the designs that collectors would most want to have.”
Cases in point: the 150-piece Tank Cintrée 100th Anniversary Limited Edition that was stealth-launched at the beginning of this year and created a frenzy that broke the Internet, with collectors clamoring to be included on the selected clients list. The three-year waiting list for a Crash at Cartier London. Even very recent Cartier limited edition watches such as the 2018 Tank Cintrées are selling for considerably over retail price on the secondary market — that is, if you can find one.
Like many other brands, Cartier had gotten swept up in the trend for oversized complicated watches a few years ago, but under Vigneron, technical innovation serves the needs of design and elegance at Cartier today. This has always been what Cartier was about and now, it is once again the primary focus. Says Cartier collector Roni Madhvani, “Cartier follows a philosophy that is the inverse of the Bauhaus creed that form should follow function. At Cartier, function must follow form — that is the key to Cartier’s success and the creation of beauty before all else.” Even the charming skeleton versions of the Tank Cintrée, Crash, Asymétrique and now Cloche all serve to create beauty and style while being technically innovative.
A major change for Cartier and the entire luxury watch industry, and something that Vigneron has pioneered in his typically modest, understated way, is the focus on modern ethics and values. These are deeply encoded in the new Tank Must collection which launches this year.
“What is clear is that we are in a fight for the survival of our planet. For Millennials and Generation Z, the focus on the underlying ethics of any brand has increased significantly. But more than that, we now need to emphasize de-consumption. As an entire race, we need to consume less energy, less food, less clothing and produce far less waste, because it is clear our planet cannot support the old ways of human behavior,” Vigneron explains. “At Cartier, this is extremely important to us. How can you create physical beauty if your underlying ethics do not correspond? At Cartier, we use 95 percent recycled gold. We are committed to reducing consumption and waste in every field that we can.” This commitment motivated Vigneron and Cartier to create the luxury watch industry’s first solar powered timepiece.
Says Vigneron, “Yes, it is solar powered but it is also beautiful. In terms of quality and finish, it is as well executed and as perfect as any watch we have ever made. There are tiny perforations in the Roman numerals that allow light to pass through the dial and power the cells driving the watch. There is no battery in this watch, and it will only need to be serviced every 16 years. I look at it this way. A mechanical watch is already an incredibly efficient and ethical object as it only consumes the energy given to it when you wear and wind it. But at Cartier, we also have many quartz watches which is a way to make our brand more accessible to more people. If we are able to reinvent quartz so that we are less dependent on batteries, then this is a direction we had to follow.”
Reinventing the Tank Must
The genius, of course, is that there is no better watch family to carry the banner for Cartier’s commitment to ethics than the new Tank Must family, a range of unisex watches that seemed genetically engineered to dominate social media like no other timepiece. Anyone that is a fan of Cartier’s history will, of course, be enamored with Cartier’s Les Must story. After the brand was reunified by Robert Hocq, he tapped a young, brilliant Alain-Dominique Perrin to create Les Must de Cartier. Beginning in 1976, this secondary brand was critical in connecting Cartier to an all-new generation and proliferated the name Cartier around the globe on a far more massive scale than ever before. In other words, Les Must took Cartier from being the King of Jewelers to becoming one of the world’s greatest luxury juggernauts. The Les Must product, which included lighters and pens, also featured a stunning series of Tank watches based on the Tank Louis Cartier. These watches had gilt-silver cases plated in gold, with wonderfully daring dials in red, blue, green and black. They were the perfect Cartier watches for the disco era and became symbols of upward mobility and the irreverent hedonism that characterized that decade.
Says Revolution UK editor-in-chief Ross Povey, “The Les Must de Cartier Tank was sort of the Porsche 914 or Ferrari Dino of the watch world. It was associated with a more expensive model, but was a kind of diffusion product engineered to reach a wider audience and a younger generation. What is incredible is that these watches have now become super collectable in the same way the 914 and the Dino are collectable. A few years ago, you could buy a nice one for a few hundred pounds; now they start well over one thousand pounds.”
Why is the Tank Must so perfectly engineered to become social media’s next runaway star? It is instantly identifiable, incredibly eye-catching especially in the red, blue and green dial versions and genuinely unisex in terms of size and design. Starting at SGD3,800 for those gorgeous colored dial watches, it is also extremely accessible in price. It is in this family that you will find the new Tank Must replete with solar powered movement. So, Vigneron first identified a past icon and understood its potential for the modern market, then redesigned the watches to suit the tastes of today’s audience and symbolize the ethics that he believes are critical for the future of the planet.
Another reason for the Tank Must’s potential success is the way it is utterly and completely gender neutral. Says Vigneron, “The recent years have been a period of accelerated change, and we can see that even the way young people want to identify themselves no longer has to do with traditional gender roles. As such, the Tank Must is a watch that was created totally without a gender in mind and is truly a timepiece that looks perfect on any wrist.”
Indeed, Vigneron has reached into the past to find precisely the right inspiration, to create a modern Tank Must that on every level, style, price and ethics is precisely the right watch for the modern consumer. And this is precisely his brilliance. Says Vigneron, “Sixty-two percent of our clients are Millennials and 22 percent of them are Gen Z, so we must be aware of their tastes and their values. But I also like the idea that there is no specific age for a Tank Must customer. It could be someone older who wants something charming, fun and uplifting to wear, or it could be someone younger who is purchasing their first Cartier. Either way, I want them to experience the relevance and vibrancy of our maison even with designs that reach back to 1917, as is the case of the Tank. That is one of the objectives of Cartier — to build bridges with everyone.”
The 2021 Models
From an overarching perspective, the Tank Must is the merger of two of Cartier’s icons, the Tank Solo and the vintage Tank Les Must de Cartier. The objective is very clear: the Tank Must is intended to be the gateway into the brand; a watch that can be purchased and worn by much younger fans based on its appeal and accessibility. But that means it had to be beautiful. Accordingly, Vigneron and The Design Team, as it is called, worked on rounding the edges of the Tank’s famous brancards to make the watch more sensual and appealing. There is also a heightened dynamic tension between the rectangular opening of the dial and this smoother form. It is available on a steel bracelet that can be rapidly interchanged with a black leather strap and, as Cartier’s own images demonstrate, it is a genuinely genderless timepiece looking great on both male and female wrists. The most eye-catching members of the new family are the monochrome colored dials inspired by similar Les Must de Cartier models from the ’80s. These watches can be recognized from across the room and most definitely will explode off the pages of Instagram.
It is, of course, a collection that had me smitten, in particular the red model, and it is interesting that while I was initially slightly disappointed these were quartz and not manual wind watches, in the end I found myself not really caring, especially once I considered the accessible price point. Then, of course, there is the solar powered Tank Must. Many of us probably own G-Shocks with similar technology, but what is incredible is the way this watch looks exactly like a pure elegant Tank. As mentioned, the openings in the Roman numerals allow solar power to pass through to photovoltaic cells. This was a movement that was developed in-house at Cartier and took two years to integrate into the Tank with no sacrifice to the watch’s elegance. Says Vigneron, “At Cartier, technology and innovation must always serve the need for beauty without compromise.” The solar powered Tank Must is extrapolated over two sizes, large and small, and comes with straps made from recycled apple peels.
Next up are two gold models named Tank Louis Cartier, both featuring stunning dials of the type seen in Les Must de Cartier watches. There is a nice image of this kind of dial in Franco Cologni’s book The Cartier Tank Watch on page 158. The dials are revisionist Deco, with a delicacy in design yet a vibrant energy thanks to the contrasting hues used. These are manual wind watches with yellow or pink gold cases.
There are three sizes to the Tank Must basic model in steel. The Extra-Large watch gets a mechanical automatic winding movement and can be identified by the date window at six o’clock; the Large and Small models are both quartz. All three of these can be quickly interchanged with steel bracelets. Finally, there are extremely aggressively priced steel and diamond-set models in Large and Small sizes costing from 4,100 Singapore dollars.
The final comment I have relates to the pricing of the Cartier Tank Must. It has become commonplace in luxury watches that we all relish new releases only to be stopped in our tracks by sticker shock. Vigneron has created the opposite effect. Look at the colored dial Tank Must watches at 3,950 Singapore dollars. They are, to my mind, value propositions, and I think from both an ethical and a commercial perspective, the pricing is a brilliant strategy. Like much of what Vigneron does, it is a demonstration that ethics, capitalism and beauty can all coexist if you lead your brand correctly.
Cartier Tank Must
Movement: Extra -large model: Mechanical manufacture movement 1847 MC; Quartz movement in large and small model
Case & Dial: Steel case; crown set with a blue synthetic spinel cabochon
Strap: Black grained calf leather strap/ interchangeable steel bracelet
Leather strap: SGD 3,550 for small model; SGD 3,750 for large model; SGD 5,100 for extra-large model
Steel bracelet: SGD 4,100 for small model, SGD 4,250 for large model and SGD 5,600 for extra-large
Cartier Tank Must (Diamond)
Movement: Large model: Mechanical manufacture movement 1847 MC; Quartz movement in small model
Case & Dial: Steel case set with 42 brilliant cut diamonds in large model and 40 diamonds in small model; crown set with a blue synthetic spinel cabochon
Strap: Black smooth calf leather strap
Price: SGD 8,600 for small model; SGD 9,800 for large model
Cartier Tank Must (Solarbeat Photovoltaic Movement)
Movement: Solarbeat Photovoltaic movement
Case & Dial: Steel case; crown set with a blue synthetic spinel cabochon
Strap: Non-animal straps
Price: SGD 3,550 for small model with black/green strap; SGD 3,750 for large model with black/blue strap
Cartier Tank Must (Coloured Dial)
Movement: Quartz movement
Case & Dial: Steel case; crown set with a blue synthetic spinel cabochon; dials in red/blue/green lacquer
Strap: Burgundy/blue/green alligator leather strap
Price: SGD 3,950
Tank Louise Cartier
Movement: Manual winding 1917 MC; 38 hours of power reserve
Case & Dial: 18k yellow gold/pink gold case; crown set with a sapphire cabochon; Strap: Burgundy/blue alligator leather strap
Price: SGD 18,800