Susannah Lovis

The History Of Cartier Watches


The History Of Cartier Watches

While Rolex may be the first brand to come to mind when thinking of luxury and iconic watches, the ‘jeweller of kings’ Cartier offers beautiful high-end timepieces set to impress. While there are the classic mainstays of luxury watches, Cartier goes a step above. Those looking for a Cartier watch are looking not only for the quality materials and excellent craftsmanship but also for the heritage and history that comes with the brand.

Cartier Santos: The beginning of the wristwatch era

In 1903, Cartier changed the course of timepieces by creating what is perceived by many as the first ever wristwatch.

Louis-Francois Cartier was close friends with the pilot, Alberto Santos-Dumont, who complained that there was no easy way to read the time while flying. Cartier subsequently designed a small and practical wristwatch that was ideal for pilots.

The design of this first Cartier wristwatch, named Santos De Cartier, featured a classic square watch face. This not only set it apart from traditional round pocket watches but the square shape was designed so it was comfortable to wear on the wrist while flying.

While many men of this time were purposing their pocket watches into wristwatches using wire lugs, what made the Cartier Santos so ground-breaking was that the wristwatch was designed as a fully integrated wristwatch rather than repurposing a pocket watch.

There is debate whether the Cartier Santos is the first wristwatch, but it’s generally agreed that this iconic watch was the first watch designed for pilots. While Santos-Dumont first wore this watch in 1903, it wasn’t until 1911 that this design was available for the public to purchase.

Cartier Tank: Trend-setting angular designs

In 1917, Cartier introduced the Tank watch. Cartier Tank is built on the innovation of the Santos watch by drawing on the angles of the watch face to create an iconic rectangular watch face that the Cartier Tank is now known for.

When the Cartier Tank watch was first designed, Louis Cartier took inspiration from the two-person Renault FT-17 tanks used in the First World War, with the watch set to mirror a bird’s eye view of the cockpit. The shape is rectangular, with modern lines which were in stark contrast to other watches available at the time.

The original Cartier Tank was a rarity, with only six watches being produced in 1919. However, its popularity created a strong celebrity following. Andy Warhol and Jacqueline Kennedy were both fans of the Cartier Tank. Andy Warhol was famously quoted as not winding his watch for the time; he simply wore the watch as it was ‘the watch to wear’.

Cartier Tank Louis Cartier: The collector’s watch

After the initial Tank design came the Tank Louis Cartier in 1922. Some of the watches in production from this design feature precious metals and a sapphire cabochon for elegance and sophistication, and this is the one Louis Cartier wore himself.

The rectangular watch face is around the size of a postage stamp while still featuring roman numerals and sharp, sword-like hands for precision time reading.

The Tank Louis Cartier is seen as a collector’s piece, as it is one of the oldest Cartier watches in production. Furthermore, there are a few special pieces produced which are highly desired, including watches with pearl crowns as well as watches with skeleton cases to allow the wearer to see the precision movement inside.

Tank Américaine, Anglaise and Française: How the range expanded

Following on from the Tank Louis Cartier, the Tank Américaine was born. This watch design pays homage to the First World War and was gifted to the commander-in-chief of the American troops who helped to liberate France. However, the design was only made available to purchase in its launch in 1989.

The Tank Américaine has a slightly longer and narrower watch face. The design is also curved to sit more comfortably on the wrist. It also has a water-resistant case and an innovative folding buckle. There are several options, both in yellow or white gold, with diamonds or other precious stones. There is also the choice of both quartz and mechanical movement. However, most commonly, this watch comes with a leather strap and a yellow gold case.

As well as the Américaine, Cartier introduced the chunkier Tank Anglaise, which debuted in 2012, as well as a sportier version of the Tank, the Tank Française. The Française, launched in 1996, is suitable as both a sports and dress watch and comes complete with a two-tone bracelet and a modern finish. The Anglaise, on the other hand, features a quartz movement and case-incorporated winding mechanism.

Cartier Panthere: Symbolising the House of Cartier

While Cartier began adorning watches with their signature panther symbol back in 1914, the Cartier Panthere watch was not launched until 1983. The first Panthere watch in 1914 was quite an eye-catching piece with decorations of onyx stones and sparkling white diamonds. In 1983, a sense of this opulence continues with the Cartier Panthere watch, considered the most glamorous Cartier piece.

The Cartier Panthere watch maintains the classic roman numerals and blue sword-shaped hand but features a blue sapphire winding crown in its square case. What sets the Panthere apart is its link bracelet, designed to resemble a brick pattern which is not only an attractive design but makes the bracelet supple, so it is comfortable to wear.

While these are just a few of the watches in the Cartier collection, they’ve all been prominent points in the brand’s history, creating the legacy and ensuring that pieces created 100 years ago are still iconic and desired today.

Own your piece of the Cartier history, browse our collection of pre-owned Cartier watches here.

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