The whole point of the luxury good market is that it is aspirational and highly-coveted. For those fortunate enough to be able to access these items, be they watches, clothes accessories, cars or even guitars, they become members of an exclusive club of ownership. Of course, not everybody aspires to own such objects wholesale, but most people have a niche area in which they are interested. Often, however, historically brands had a need and sometimes a desire to make their products more accessible to the masses and this posed the difficult question, “how do we achieve this without cheapening or watering down the brand’s identity?
Step forward the diffusion line. In the fashion world this is pretty much standard practice. Giorgio Armani has Emporio Armani, Prada has Miu Miu and Donna Karan has DKNY. Car companies have tried it, with Ferrari trying the Dino and Porsche the 914, whilst guitar companies have a number of examples such as Fender’s Squier and Gibson’s Epiphone.
So too have watch companies offered more accessible lines, maybe most famously Rolex and Tudor and today’s topic, Cartier and their Must de Cartier line of Tanks.
The jewelers Tanks
In the 1970s Cartier had the reputation as one of the finest jewelers in the world and had three quarters of a century of excellence in watchmaking under its belt, thanks in a large part to the success of the Tank. The Tank is like a jazz standard in my mind, a classic theme that can be executed in different ways for different audiences. And like a Rolex Oyster or Gibson Les Paul, the essence of design is always there but with different tweaks and interpretations.
A vintage and prestige full 18kt gold Cartier Tank Jumbo Automatique from the 1970s. One of the best vintage Cartiers and highly collectable in our book. A total different price level then the Must de Cartier watches, but very close in style. Shop our Cartier Watch collection here...
A pair of vintage Cartier Tank from the end of 1960s owned by Hollywood Star Jean Howard in 18kt gold. Read all about their unique Story here...
Whilst Cartier was seen as the pinnacle of luxury jewellery, the brand wanted to have a wider appeal and bring a younger audience to breathe new life into the house. And so, the Must de Cartier line was launched in the mid 1970s and is regarded as being the vehicle that led Cartier to being the biggest luxury goods brand on the planet.
The Original Diffusion Tank
The line was the brainchild of Robert Hocq and Alain-Dominique Perrin. They decided that accessories and leather goods would bring in new customers, the important empahasis being that all the items must have the essence of Cartier. Alongside pens, wallets and other accessories and new fragrances, was the Must de Cartier Tank wristwatch. If there was one watch, or even one object, that was the essence of the brand it was the Tank. The Must de Cartier watches were based on the Tank Louis Cartier and were made from silver, which was gold plated – known as Vermeil. Vermeil is legally regulated and is considered one of the finest substitutes for solid gold. To qualify for the title, an object must be sterling silver with a minimum of 10k plating at 2.5 microns thick. This made the cases durable and much more desirable than a simply gold-plated watch.
The watch line was launched in 1976 and the cost was $500. The launch marked to key milestones for the brand. The first was that it was a non-precious metal watch, the first time in the brand’s history and it was also the first mass-produced watch. Prior to the Must line, the brand was producing around 3000 watches per year. By the end of the 70’s they were making in excess of 160,000 watches per year. And people loved them…all of them! There were quite a number of variations of dial, including faux-stone dials that resembled onxy and lapis. These lacquer dials were also made in wood and tortoiseshell effect for a pure 70s and 80s vibe. One of our favourite dial versions is the Trinity, where the dial has five stripes in a centre section, in yellow, white and rose gold.
Another cool dial is the Column dial, where the classic Cartier style Roman numerals are placed in two vertical columns on each side of the dial. Sounds like it wouldn’t work but check it out…its brilliant! You can buy it here...
All good things must come to an end and in the mid-2000s the brand ceased the line and up until a couple of years ago the Must Tanks were largely forgotten about. However, with the recent meteoric rise of Cartier watches of all shapes and sizes, interest in the vintage Must de Cartiers has exploded. So, it made sense that the brand decided to relaunch the line this year.
The Must is BackLike everyone’s favourite 80’s rock band reforming, the Must is back as the Tank Must and there are a number of dials and sizes available. The new watches are in steel and have been reimagined as truly gender-neutral watches for the 21st century watch market.
For 2021, the new watches are an amalgam of the old Must de Cartier Tank and the Tank Solo. The white dial, classic looking tank, is all about sustainability and the environment. The straps are made from recycled apple peels and the Roman numerals on the dial are photovoltaic or small solar panels. Each numeral has tiny perforations that allow light in to charge the quartz cells, meaning the watch doesn’t need batteries in the traditional sense and only needs servicing every 16 years.
The biggest news from the recent relaunch are the colourful dials. Much like Rolex’s Stella-esque dials from 2021, the Tank Must with green, blue or red lacquered dials have become one of the hottest watches on the market. Fitted with matching colour strap, the watches are inspired by the 70s and 80s vintage Musts and are eye-catching in every way. The steel case gives the watch a modern look and the blue cabochon winding crown is the perfect finishing touch that adds an old-world touch of elegance to the Must. Should you get one? Of course, you Must!