There’s no doubt that it’s one of the most imitated (if not the most imitated) watches in the world: the Cartier Tank, first introduced in 1918, has a shape which probably millions would recognize without necessarily realizing that it is a specific watch, by a particular company, made at a very particular point in time.
The story of the Tank’s origins and how it got its name are perhaps apocryphal, but no less interesting for that. Legend has it (the story of the Tank’s origins has been passed down at Cartier by word of mouth, although no known written verification exists) that the first Tank watch was a prototype, designed by Louis Cartier and inspired by the profile of the first tanks used by the Allied powers in the First World War. (Which tank varies, apparently, depending on what version of the story you hear. Sometimes the Renault FT tank is cited; sometimes the story mentions the British Mark I tanks, first used at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.) Either tank might plausibly have inspired the shape of the Tank watch, which was distinguishable by its use of vertical brancards (French for “stretcher”) which form the flanks of the case and which also act as the attachment point for the strap. The brancardsallowed the Tank watch to assume a dramatic, geometric shape which up until then hadn’t been seen in watchmaking, and which made it an icon of early Art Deco design, which made extensive use of rectilinear geometry that prefigured the high Modernist, post World War II architectural style.