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 quirky yet fundamentally classically styled watch.
To understand the design origins of the Tank Asymétrique, we need to go back to the 1930s — 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 Tank Asymétrique we have here today is no ordinary one, this is the 150-piece limited edition Ref. 2842 released under the CPCP (Collection Privée Cartier Paris) collection based on the original Parallélogramme from 1936.
For context, the ’90s was an unconventional and murky time for watch brands, having just come out of the quartz crisis that decimated most of the industry. Brands were either experimenting like crazy or strictly conservative, wary of the fact they just survived the equivalent of a nuclear bomb. The industry was slowly coming back, with consumers beginning to take an interest in mechanical watches, and with this in mind, Cartier decided that it was time to improve its image as a true watchmaking brand.
The result was the Collection Privé Cartier Paris division, referred to simply as the CPCP. The CPCP was intended to be the premier mechanical watchmaking division of Cartier and looking back on it today, it was one of the best decisions they ever made. The philosophy was simple, the CPCP took iconic models that were already loved by many, and reproduced them with high-grade movements, working with bonafide watch manufactures such as Piaget, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Frédéric Piguet, Girard-Perregaux, and more.
The easiest way to differentiate a CPCP watch was by the dial, with all but one model (Tank Cintrée) featuring a ‘Cartier Paris’ inscription- an ode to its heritage. The dials were always crafted from solid gold and often featured a strong hand-turned guilloche pattern with Cartier’s signature ‘rosette’ in the middle of the dial beneath the handset.
Coming back to the case design of this Cartier Tank Asymétrique CPCP Ref. 2842. Its 26.5mm x 41mm x 7.5mm 18-carat yellow gold case features a distinctive triple-lug construction, a characteristic Cartier cabochon-set winding crown 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. Its off-white engine-turned guilloche dial houses applied black Roman numerals, a railway minute track, a set of blued steel hands and a secret Cartier signature at 7 o ‘clock. Powering it from within is the 18-jewelled, manual-winding Cal. 9770 MC with a power reserve of 38 hours.
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 a 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 design has lost its significance and real-life applicability, the design of the Tank Asymétrique remains ever relevant. 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 austere geometry into a whole new identity that is beautiful, unique, and refreshing.