In Conversation with George Cramer on the Cartier Tank

Ralph Lauren at his Bedford, NY estate with his Cartier Tank peeking out from under his jacket sleeve (Image: Bruce Weber, 1998)
Ralph Lauren at his Bedford, NY estate with his Cartier Tank peeking out from under his jacket sleeve (Image: Bruce Weber, 1998)

Over the course of the year, I’ve found a great friend and teacher in the man we all know as, George Cramer. From him, I’ve learnt much about, not only Cartier’s watchmaking history, but quite a bit about horology itself.

So, on the occasion of the Cartier Tank’s 100th anniversary, there was no one better to ask about the significance that the milestone holds for Cartier, and as well, in the history of watchmaking.

George, let’s allow the readers to get to know you a little better first. Tell us how and when your love for watches was triggered.

Oh, I remember that very well. It was just after the duo-tone, steel and gold, Santos was launched in 1978. For me the Santos, which may be was the first watch in two tone, was so new and different looking, with it’s square case and golden screws. It was the watch to have, especially among the designers at the advertising agency I was working for. But it wasn’t until 1985 that I was able to buy one.

The Cartier Santos
George Cramer's first ever Cartier, the Cartier Santos, which he purchased in 1985 (© George Cramer)

Did you start collecting with Cartier?

No actually I didn’t. The Santos was my second watch. My parents gave me a Tissot, on my 18th birthday. But, I suppose that was a functional possession for me, rather than the start of a collection.

How long have you been collecting Cartier watches?

I wouldn’t dare call myself a collector, but it would have to have started with my purchase of that Santos, in 1985. The jeweler where I bought the watch, gave me so much information about the history of Cartier that I became very interested and started to follow the brand as closely as I could, by visiting their exhibitions around the world. Five years later, I bought my second Cartier, the Tank Américaine, which was a watch that was quite large for the time.

The Cartier Tank Américaine
The Cartier Tank Américaine on George Cramer's wrist (© George Cramer)

It seems that you prefer Cartier, over other watchmakers. Can you enlighten us?

It, indeed, may look like the case, on the contrary I admire the work of many other watchmakers. I particularly love the work of Urwerk. It would be crazy not to love what Grönefeld, Moser, MCT, De Bethune, Van Cleef & Arpels, to name a few, are presenting today.

But it must be said that it’s all a matter of personal preference. Not all watchmakers’ creations will suit me a hundred percent, no matter how good and beautiful their watches may be. Cartier for me is a total concept and more than just watches. Don’t even get me started on their cufflinks…

Urwerk UR 103.03
George Cramer's Urwerk UR 103.03

What are some of your favorite creations from Cartier and why?

The mystery movement watches (and clocks), like the Rotonde Mystérieuse for instance are watches that I find so typically Cartier and so inspiring. I love how Cartier reconstructed that movement from the past, with today’s technology. Same goes for the Day & Night clocks and watches. The Rotonde ‘Day & Night’ from the CPCP collection and the older Pasha ‘Jour et Nuit’ from around 1998, are unique looking watches.

The Tortue is an absolute favorite of mine, also because it lends itself for so many different calibers.

The hunt for a special watch always makes for a special story. And most of the times these hunts are never easy. Over your years of collecting, you must’ve had at least one interesting experience that you could share with us?

That’s true, collectors often do things that are not always wise. The “spur of the moment” is a dangerous poison. I am certainly no exception.

But often you just have to stick out your neck in order to get what you want. For instance, my Tank Cintrée with red unreadable Arabic numerals, came to my attention via an online dealer, on the other side of the world.

I had never seen the watch before, in print or in the flesh, nor had I heard about the dealer. But I just smelled that it was a custom-made piece. I had to sell my trusty white gold Tank Américaine at once — that I still regret very much — in order to finance the Tank Cintrée, which I then bought online instantly. A few months later when I showed the watch at the Paris Boutique, it was confirmed that my instinct was right, it was a special-order watch.

Cartier Tank Cintrée. Custom order.

A post shared by George Cramer (@george.cramer) on

The iconic Tank celebrates its 100th birthday this year. Beyond the significant anniversary year, why is the Tank an important watch to celebrate?

The Tank watch is Cartier’s most iconic men’s watch and the different models became the largest series within the Cartier’s collection of watches, with a variety of models that suit men and women in all ages in more variations than any of the other watch that Cartier created.

What are some of your favorite Tank watches and why?

Oh, you’re giving me a tough time now, Sumit… this one’s hard to answer. What I today think my favorite is, will be forgotten tomorrow, besides that, some Tanks that I love the most, are not always the ones that I wear often.

So, to come back to your question, the Tank a Guichéts, the Tank Cintrée and the Tank Asymétrique, are really my favorite Tank watches. But the one that gets the most wrist time, is the Tank Louis Cartier in platinum, in its classic size.

Tank à Guichet
The Tank à Guichet (© George Cramer)
Tank Asymétrique
The Tank Asymétrique (© George Cramer)

Saturday at the beach, but not alone. Cartier Tank Louis Cartier.

A post shared by George Cramer (@george.cramer) on

There are many celebrities and power icons in history who have worn the Tank, who is your favorite and why do you think this person exemplifies the class and elegance that the Tank stands for?

Ralph Lauren, for me, is the American style icon. The man looks just great when he is wearing a Tank. Pair that with that iconic Prince de Galles suit that I have in my mind, and you have magic.

Another power icon for me is Duke Ellington. I always got goose bumps when I saw photographs of this great musician, wearing that small and pretty weird looking, yellow gold Tank à Guichets. He exemplifies how good and classy, small watches can look.

Ralph Lauren at his Bedford, NY estate with his Cartier Tank peeking out from under his jacket sleeve (Image: Bruce Weber, 1998)
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington and his Tank.

What do you think would be the perfect Tank watch to announce, as a reissue in celebrating the Tanks 100th birthday?

While in my opinion it should be the Tank Normale — since this is the model that is now 100 years old and is after all the role model, for all other Tanks —  I think Cartier will be wise and select a watch that’s more known and loved by collectors.

The Louis Cartier Tank has been one of the most famous Tanks and is popular among both men and women. This watch could be a good choice, especially since there is no absolute ideal version at the moment. I am really looking forward to what Cartier will bring this year.

The Tank Normale (© George Cramer)
The Tank Normale (© George Cramer)

Tell us about your dream Tank and why it would be such? It can be something from long ago in Cartiers heritage, or something that doesn’t necessarily exist just yet.

Hmm… that one’s easy enough to say. What I would love to see is a slightly larger Tank Normale, in platinum on a bracelet, with not a guilloche dial, but lacquered dial, in a yellowish hue.

And a second dream Tank would be, if I may, a steel every day Tank with a mechanical caliber and a simple moon phase. Something along the lines of the Drive de Cartier. Something affordable that could be worn to work every day.