How Cartier’s Tiniest New Tank Made Big Waves At Watches And Wonders

Who knew something so tiny could elicit such a massive response? Within minutes of my posting a wrist shot of Cartier’s delightfully small new Tank Louis that the French maison unveiled in Geneva at Watches & Wonders earlier this week, I was inundated with uniformly enthusiastic DMs. “Thissss one,” one friend wrote. “I want,” chimed in another. More than a few asked the most important question: What was its MSRP? When I told a colleague the E.U. price was set at €6,500 (just over RM33,000)—a lot to ask for a minuscule piece of gold, with a quartz movement, no less—he didn’t hesitate. “10,000% buying,” he typed back.

It’s not surprising that Cartier would sneak in a covetable new watch at what is arguably the world’s most glamorous trade show. The French house does it every year, more or less. What is surprising is that such a tiny timepiece would appeal to so wide a variety of people: Young, old, gay, straight, male, female, or otherwise identified all seemed to swoon. My Instagram followers aren’t exactly a perfect sample set, but they are people who care about style and watches, undoubtedly the type for whom this tiny piece was made. And many of the retailers I spoke with—as well as collectors, journalists, and even publicists who don’t work for Cartier—brought it up in conversation throughout the week. This watch may be small in size, but it has a huge buzz around it.

While Cartier has made diminutive tanks in the past, this one is the first to reach the a regular collection in many years. Perhaps counterintuitively, the eponymous Tank Louis was the second iteration of Mr. Cartier’s famous Tank watch. Compared to the first, known as the Tank Normale, the Tank Louis sported round outer corners and slightly narrower sides called brancards—French for “stretcher” and used to designate the two wooden poles of a horse cart which someone seemed to believe this watch resembled. The Tank Louis got its nickname because it was its creator’s favorite iteration, so the staff in the Paris atelier started calling the revised one the Tank Louis, and the first became known humbly as the Tank Normale.

Though it remains unconfirmed whether Louis Cartier drew inspiration from military tanks or simply named the watch after he’d already created it, he eventually dedicated his rectangular watch to the Renault tanks that helped the French army succeed during World War I. Chances are Cartier—like most French civilians—hadn’t seen those sequestered secret weapons until they rolled in a victory parade along the Champs d’Elysee and captured the fascination of the world. Whatever happened, the shape of the watch is what you’d see looking down at a Tank from the cockpit of a fighter jet, so the name worked. Sure beats “horse cart.”

The Tank Louis Mini is one of three sizes in the series, measuring just 24 mm x 16.5 mm. The current small version measures 29.5 mm x 22 mm, while the case of the large is 33.7 mm x 25.5 mm. All three of these watches are more compact than most of the timepieces you see on men’s wrists these days.

But what we know about men’s watches, and watches broadly, is that they’re generally getting smaller in recent years. While a handful of brands will still sell you a thick, 44 mm hockey puck stuffed with complications, there’s a definite shift among discerning collectors for smaller, dressier, and more elegant timepieces. We observed as much during the 2023 edition of Watches & Wonders, when multiple brands offered novelties in the 34 mm to 37 mm range, which many men and women consider the sweet spot. Multiple guys told Robb Report at the time that their case size preferences were trending downward.

The mini takes that trend to extremes. And even though it’s small, the watch—and its immediate popularity—makes a big statement about where watch design is heading next.


Previously published on Robb Report USA

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