Amongst the most famous watches lies a handful of timepieces that have stood the test of time for over an entire century. Released in 1917 and inspired by the tanks Louis Cartier saw on the western front in WWI, the Cartier Tank is a classic timepiece that has become one of the famed French jewellery Maison's most important collections. Over its long and storied past, it has taken on many different shapes, styles, sizes, colours, and so much more. In keeping with Cartier's devotion to the creative, the Tank Asymétrique was first released in 1936 as a classically styled watch that features its own ode to the unique and wonderful.
For context, the 1930s were an interesting period for Cartier due to the Art Deco movement, which saw the iconic Tank design undergo a multitude of variations. Among these was the Tank Asymétrique, which was known as the “Parallélogramme” or “Losange” at the time as it fundamentally deviates from its conventional rectangular case shape. It was deemed as a radical yet innovative design that was unlike anything the traditional watch market had seen at the time. The Privé Tank Asymétrique we have on offer here today heavily borrows the aesthetic and design cues of the former. It features a distinctive triple-lug construction and a 30-degree slanted dial and case which offsets every hour marker by one hour clockwise. As such, the vertical equator spans from 11 o'clock to 4 o'clock, and the horizontal spans from 8 o'clock to 2 o'clock - making for quite a unique time-reading experience on the wrist.
The Cartier Privé Tank Asymétrique we have here is a limited edition of 100 pieces worldwide. It uses a 47.15mm x 26.2mm x 6.38mm 18-carat red gold case with a characteristic Cartier cabochon-set winding crown. Accordingly, the anthracite-coloured dial here features a radial-brushed finish with alternating hour markers just like the original, but this time with a much more refined, serif typeface as well as tiny little dots at 6 and 12 o’clock that act as visual guides for the user as to the dial’s orientation upon first glance. As a result of this unconventional case shape, there wasn’t much usable space within the case, so Cartier ended up utilizing an ultra-thin, 19-jewelled, manual-wind Cartier Cal. 1917 MC which has a 38-hour power reserve.
The original Tank Asymétrique was initially introduced to drivers as a way of easing the task of reading the time, the dial's offset design appears to take the conventional layout once viewed while the wearing arm is outstretched like it would be while holding a steering wheel. An eccentric niche within watchmaking, these elegant driver's watches hark back to the time when dash-mounted clocks in cars were rare, and taking one hand off the wheel to check the time may prove to be dangerous given the absence of power-steering.
That being said, even after all these years when the use case for such a specific and unique design has evidently lost its significance and real-life applicability, the design of the Tank Asymétrique still remains a strong statement piece to have ever graced the catalogues of the most celebrated French jewellery house. Why? Well, I think the magic of the Tank Asymétrique’s aesthetic and design lies in the way it tastefully leverages its unorthodox concept, and its’ very austere geometry, into a whole new identity that is beautiful, unique, and refreshing. In other words, the Tank Asymétrique is whimsical in design but extremely refined in execution and that expression itself, speaks to the heart of many watch enthusiasts, collectors, and connoisseurs around the world.