Thursday August 30, 2012
Timeless appeal from Cartier
By FIONA HO
Much like its predecessors, Tank Anglaise, the latest addition to Cartier’s iconic Tank watches, is the epitome of elegance.
IT is hard to decide, while sipping on a flute of golden champagne, what to ogle at first: the lantern-red setting that has enveloped the Shanghai Exhibition Centre, now soaring like a great, enchanted castle in the night, or the streams of prettied and polished who’s who in the Chinese fashion and entertainment world.
Having my breath taken away, this writer was bowled over by the lavish proceedings at the launch of Cartier’s Tank Anglaise, the latest addition to its iconic Tank watch series in Shanghai, China.
The affair, appropriately themed the “Never Stop – Cartier Tank Party” was attended by Cartier’s international president and CEO Bernard Fornas, regional managing director of Cartier North Asia Nigel Luk and managing director of Cartier China Josephine Chien.
Hong Kong actor Andy Lau and Italian sex siren Monica Bellucci (of The Matrix fame) added star power to the event held by the French high-end jewellery and watch brand.
Since 1917, Cartier has designed and fashioned the iconic Tank watches, a series known for its elegance and classicism that only seems to get trendier with time.
The story goes that Louis Cartier himself, the third-generation descendant of the Cartier family, had modelled the design of the Tank based on the top view of an Allied tank. The watch’s brancards are remarkably like the parallel treads of a tank, while the case represented the cockpit of the vehicle.
Essentially, the Tank watch is defined by its elegant parallel brancards, the Roman numerals on its face, its chemin-de-fer chapter ring, and its blued-steel sword-shaped hands.
The line, famed for its minimalist, pared-down designs, has long been a collector’s item and a coveted piece for watch enthusiasts all over the world. The Tank is also said to be the most influential watch design in the 20th century.
For nearly 100 years now, the Tank family has evolved and been innovated from the 1922 Tank Chinoise, which derives much of its aesthetics from the architecture of Chinese temple porticos; the playful Tank Asymetrique (1936), which shifts the entire balance of the watch with the 12 o’clock and 6 o’ clock moving into the corners and winding mechanism placed at 2 o’ clock; the elongated, slightly arched Tank Americaine (1989), the first Cartier watch to offer a curved, water-resistance case; and the Tank Francaise (1996). In a bold departure from its predecessors, the Tank Francaise was set in a chain-link bracelet.
At the launch, guests were taken through a Tank time tunnel, lined with 36 window presentations that were infused with rare design manuscripts and art installations. From beyond the clear glass panels, the watches looked like elements of an art exhibition, and in a way, they are.
The Tank Anglaise, named in tribute to London, where one of its flagship boutique currently resides (alongside Paris and New York), is said to embody the pioneering spirit of the Tank.
“The idea of calling it the Tank Anglaise came about while we were looking at watches after the Second World War at Cartier. We realised we have the Tank Americaine, the Tank Francaise, but we didn’t have a Tank Anglaise despite the fact that London is very important in our history,” Pierre Rainero, the brand’s director of image, style and heritage tells the South-East Asian media at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Shanghai.
This is a pure, distilled Tank that features a concentrated form and emboldened lines. Like its predecessors, the Anglaise is another monument to chic simplicity.
Its winding mechanism blends seamlessly into the brancard, in line with the aesthetic demands of Louis Cartier in his quest for streamlined design.
At the same time, the Tank Anglaise echoes the forms of the Tank Americaine and the Tank Francaise, united in a joint tribute to the brand’s three historical flagship boutiques.
In juxtaposing contemporary appeal alongside the brand’s signature elements of minimalism and timelessness, Rainero says a design’s capacity for evolution is key to any successful range.
“We select designs that will allow room for evolutions and that we think will have a long life.
“I like to say that we are ‘open doors’. We don’t like designs that are ‘closed doors’, where no evolution is possible,” Rainero elaborates.
Obviously, the Tank attests to the criteria. “The Tank is a watch with parallel lines; we can include the case in line with straps or a bracelet depending on the model; proportions can also evolve. The proportion of the case, for instance, can be square, rectangular, many different shapes.
“That’s why we are quite happy with the Tank Anglaise. It is not only a variation of the former Tanks. By combining the elements of the Tank Americaine and the Tank Francaise, it is an anecdote in terms of variation and that’s quite strong.”
While the brand takes constant measures to update its style, maintaining its core values remains a prime concern. As Rainero puts it: “We don’t see ourselves as a museum brand; we are always active. But everything we do has to be appropriate and correspond to our values and not be forced into doing something we don’t want just to be modern.
“We have to be consistent, relevant to what we are, and be appropriate to the value of our objects. Also, every time we have a new ‘star’, the object becomes the representation of our values. We want the object we create to express our vision in terms of style and also to exhibit the link between the contemporary creations and the creations of the past.”
Rainero, a modest but sturdy presence in the flesh, joined Cartier in 1984 as international advertising manager, before becoming the marketing manager for Cartier Italy in 1987, in Milan. In 1990, he returned to Paris as research and strategy director at Cartier International.
Later, he was promoted as communications director and became a member of the creation committee, headed by Alain-Dominique Perrin, president of Cartier, in 1995. He was additionally made responsible for the artistic direction of Cartier products in1999.
In 2001, Rainero assumed his current role as artistic, image and strategy director for Cartier, supervising all contemporary Cartier designs, communications issues and strategy. Since June 2003, the Heritage Department has been added under his purview. Under his command, the three archive departments of Paris, London and New York have been merged under the same management, along with research and documentation activities.
Despite his 28-year tenure with Cartier, Raneiro says he never tires of his job. “I didn’t ask myself that question – do I leave or not because I didn’t have time. I’ve always enjoyed what I was doing, and I did many different things, so I never got bored.
“I think one of those things that make you leave your job is where everything is predictable. At Cartier, it has never been predictable; we surprise our customers and also the organisation moves and changes with a sort of dynamism, which is intrinsical and cultural within Cartier.”
On the brand’s style, the director elaborates: “It’s a huge, huge question. Philosophically, we refuse to write a bible on our style because our vision of style is something that should be dynamic and should evolve.
“The best comparison we have found so far is to compare it with a living language; it means that you have a vocabulary, you have grammar and that your language evolves with the people – not just internally but also our customers.
“Also, we integrate the fact that we want to create objects that are desirable, and desirability is linked with two factors – beauty, as in our objective to make beautiful objects, and the people’s desire of the object when they imagine themselves living with the object.
He concedes: “If it’s only beautiful, they will put it away on the shelf. We want to create objects that live with the people and I think that’s the secret of desire.”
Despite Cartier’s innate association with the rich and the famous, Rainero had insisted that Cartier does not impose a lifestyle on its wearers. “Every potential customer has to invent that lifestyle,” he was quoted as saying in a previous interview.
Here, he elaborates on the rationale behind that claim. “If the watch is for a man and a woman decides to wear it, it’s her freedom and we respect that. The way of life that goes with it is your decision, not ours. We don’t impose a lifestyle that goes with our items.”
The Tank Anglaise reveals a fresh proportion and is available in three ladies’ and three men’s sizes in varying shades of gold.
“As you might have noticed, there is no angle in this watch. It’s quite round and that’s very different from many other Tanks in history.
“In terms of shape, finding the (right) design of the bracelet has not been easy because we have so many designs; much more complicated designs. But the idea of having a ‘pure case’ led us also to decide on having a ‘pure bracelet’ in terms of shape.”
The iconic Tank line has been donned by celebrities throughout the ages, including the legendary boxing king Muhammad Ali, singer Ingrid Bergman, designer Yves Saint Laurent and Andy Warhol, the American art-world icon who famously said: “I don’t wear a Tank watch to tell the time. In fact, I never wind it. I wear a Tank watch because it’s the watch to wear.”
While celebrity endorsement has always played a big part in Cartier’s advertising strategy, Rainero points out, half-smilingly: “The Tank was selling with or without celebrities. That’s the strength of the object. If you think of the revolution that the Tank represents in the watch-making world, I think obviously, it attracted people with an ‘original’ sense of style; people with strong feelings about style and it became the epitome of elegance.”
In that vein, Raineo tells the tale behind the brand’s power-charged tagline, “Never Stop Tank”: “It’s a metaphor of our philosophy in terms of creation, like the ‘open doors’ concept that I explained.
“The Tank is really an example of that philosophy in terms of design. We create one shape with the idea of looking for a strong design. It means that a strong design never stops and can change through generations and through time.
“Also, in terms of philosophy and creation, we never stop. We don’t rely on the existing designs; we try to always bring something new.”
● The Tank Anglaise, priced from RM95,000, is available at the Cartier boutique in Suria KLCC. For more information, log on to cartier.com.