After a two-year stint with Sotheby’s New York in the early 1970s, Harry Fane spent a further two years dealing in contemporary American Art. It was there, and through the influence of a close friend that his interests shifted to 20th century objets d’art.

While initially non-specific, Harry and his partner soon found a niche for the works of art created by Cartier, pre-1960. Since 1980, Harry Fane has bought and sold some of the most beautiful and important jewels, watches and art made by Cartier. Harry’s secret passion is for the Cartier Tank and continues to take great pleasure in finding ever more rare examples with great provenance.

Here Harry shares some thoughts on his collection and the Cartier Tank.

Where does your interest in watches originate from?

It was an evolutionary process really. My family is involved in the art world and that’s how I started working for Sotheby’s. To be brutally honest, I was not madly enamored with the job, but my partner at the time introduced me to the wonderful world of Cartier and its fascinating history.

As an objets d’art dealer it wasn’t long before I progressed to wristwatches — fundamentally an appreciation of the aesthetic.

What was the first watch you owned?

You may be surprised to hear that it wasn’t a Cartier Tank! It was actually a classic, a 1972 ‘Pepsi’ Rolex GMT Master.

London Tank

Is there a specific watch that you are more drawn towards?

My interest is almost exclusively in vintage Cartier. As a historian and expert in the subject matter, my draw towards Cartier was inevitable.

I just love extraordinary jewellery, including watches. I am particularly fascinated by the history and origin of the Tank watch.

It was a watch made to celebrate the participation of a tank in WWI made by the Renault factory. A machine of war, which looked wide and elongated from an aerial view. This is reflected in the design of the watch with its wide parallel lines.

The Tank Normale was the first of the classic Tanks that Cartier made. Between 1917 and 1960 we know that there were around 1,800 Tank watches made by Cartier Paris, with perhaps another 500 between London and New York.

How many Tanks do you figure you’ve collected by now?

I genuinely love and try to retain as many as I can. Currently, I have around 35 Tank watches. However, I tend to buy more than I sell. To me they are extremely rare objects of beauty.

Is there anything you don’t like about collecting these vintage Tank watches?

At times, they can be unreliable and show faulty behaviour. Also, because these are vintage watches tend to be difficult to repair.

Sadly, there are very few exceptionally fine repairers who can actually tend to such vintage watches. And, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the right people to entrust such fragile objects to.

There is also great potential for people to fake them.

Tank Normale

Of all the Tanks you own, which would you say are your favorites?

I have a great affection for the 1920s Tank Cintree in my collection. I also have a Crash from the 1960s, which was made in London that is very special to me. If I had to choose a third, it would have to be my Tank JC, which has a very specific dial, featuring elongated numerals without the chemin de fer minute track.

Is there a watch out there in the world that you’d like to make part of your collection?

Interesting question! It would probably have to be a [Cartier] watch with great provenance. Perhaps one that was owned by the Maharaja of Jaipur at some time, or Muhammad Ali, Clark Gable or even the great man himself, Louis Cartier!

I know for a fact that Louis Cartier gave Charles Jacqueau — his right hand man — a Tank Watch at one time. I did actually own that one at one point but I ended up selling it to the Cartier Museum.

I guess you could say that this is the perennial tension between being a dealer and a collector.

How do you decide which watch to acquire next?

That’s a very easy one. It must be rare and it must be the best of its examples out there. Say for instance in the case of the Tank, it must be the best example of its kind, made between 1917 to 1960, in pristine condition.

Editor’s Note: For more from the interviewer, go on to mrwatchmaster.com

Tank Cintree

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