About a year ago – actually it was at the Miami Beach Antique Show where I’ll be this week – I casually picked up a platinum Cartier Tank CPCP (Collection Privée Cartier Paris) from a certain gentleman dealer’s booth and slipped the deployant clasp on my wrist. It was also 11:59 a.m., give or take, about time for lunch.
“Oh, just wear it out to lunch, no worries,” that gentlemanly gentleman dealer said, even though I’d made no overtures at a purchase. (Note: that’s how they get you.) For the next hour or so, I strutted around sunny Miami Beach with tiny AAA UK Cartier Tank replica watches on my wrist. It was hot and my black-alligator-clad wrist was hotter, but it didn’t matter. I loved that damn Tank and bought it. And in the year since I’ve hardly taken it off my wrist.
See, I’d been into high quality Cartier fake watches for a while. A couple of years before what turned out to be a very expensive Miami Beach lunch, I’d snagged an eerily similar watch from a local watch retailer: a platinum Santos-Dumont CPCP from the later ’90s. Same metal, same super-thin manual F. Piguet caliber 21 inside, and pretty much the same dimensions, really. The retailer had just taken it in on a trade and still didn’t seem quite sure what it was. I’d always wanted something in platinum from Cartier – the most royal of jewelers, in the noblest of metals, I, only slightly delusional, thought. And I’d long bought into the legend of the best replica Cartier Santos-Dumont watches: In a hobby that glorifies firsts, what could possibly be better than the first men’s wristwatch from 1904, I thought. That Mr. Alberto Santos-Dumont himself was apparently an eccentric guy who got around Paris by hot air balloon made it more fun and had me looking up local low-flying aircraft regulations one boring afternoon with particularly clear skies.
“Oh, it seems like it needs a new battery,” the sales associate said, not knowing that the manual wind movement actually just needed a few turns, which, to be fair, I soon learned was quite difficult to do thanks to the Swiss made copy Cartier Santos-Dumont watches’ terribly teeny crown.
That sales associate mentioning a battery change was like smelling fresh McDonald’s fries – the aroma of a killer value was in the air, and the 1:1 Cartier replica watches was mine in less time than it takes me to swap out a couple of non-quick-release spring bars.
Soon after, I learned more about this particular platinum Santos-Dumont from Cartier’s CPCP, its collection from 1998 through 2008 that revisited its classic designs. Early on, I even read a story where Cartier’s then-head of development explained how difficult it was to manufacture these ultra-thin Santos-Dumont cases in platinum because each caseback was fitted with a hand-soldered platinum frame to secure the movement. For every case completed, one was discarded due to damage, meaning Cartier lost money on every one of these top fake Cartier watches sold. In a world where it feels like luxury brands are always holding one over on us, it felt nice to pretend I was getting back at Cartier, even if it was two decades later and surely Cartier’d forgotten all about it, probably more concerned with pressing matters like which Tank Leon Bridges should wear to the Met Gala (Cintrée, it turns out).
Anyway, I fell in love with that particular cheap replica Cartier Santos-Dumont watches. The brushed platinum case and those exposed screws on the bezel made it feel industrial, reminding you that, technically, this was also one of the original sport watches, made for Santos-Dumont who, depending on which country you ask, was literally the first airborne pilot. Measuring just 27 by 36mm, it felt like a postage stamp on my wrist, and just as thin too. Sure, the polished bezel was an absolute magnet for scratches, but that was part of the charm.
But while enjoying a burger or burrito for lunch (I can’t quite remember which) – much like Brandon always, always seems to be doing, I looked down at that Tank I now had on my wrist. Somehow, for a watch that, on paper was pretty similar, it felt immediately and totally different. The case is completely polished, with rounded curves and edges. Immediately, I traded the Santos-Dumont (and another watch) for that Tank.
Soon after releasing the Santos-Dumont in 1904 or so, Louis Cartier released the first Tank (in 1917), what’s now known as the Tank Normale. But it was the Tank’s second release, the Louis Cartier, that’d become a smash hit, kind of like Nirvana’s second album, Nevermind. Sometimes, it takes a couple of tries to get a chart-topper.
If you line the three up chronologically: Santos-Dumont, Tank Normale, Tank Louis, the evolution is clear. For those first couple of luxury super clone Cartier watches, Cartier relied heavily on all the early 20th-century industrial development around it – the Eiffel Tower and the Renault Tank, respectively. The Santos-Dumont is strong and industrial, with sharp right angles and beveled edges. The Tank Normale softens this a bit, but not much. Not much, compared to the Tank Louis, at least. Sure, taking those inspirations and turning them into jewelry shows flashes of elegance, but it wasn’t all the way there yet.
By the way, lest we give too much credit to designers of the ’70s for combining industrial and elegant ideas into a watch –you know the sport Cartier replica watches for sale I’m talking about – let’s just remember who had that idea at the beginning of the century.
But finally, with the Tank Louis, Cartier said screw it, let’s be Cartier. Let’s do all the elegance and sexiness and romance and lots and lots of panthers, all the things we wax lyrically about when we speak of Cartier, always in hushed tones of admiration like a pro golf announcer.
Sure, I probably saw too many photos of those American icons like Ali, Kennedy Onassis, and Warhol wearing the 2023 Cartier fake watches that subliminally impacted my consumerism in a way that needs more unpacking another day, but honestly, the impulse I had when I slid on the Tank felt more primeval, surely something ingrained since the early days of cavemen and cavewomen collectors: “Me like Tank, it smooth, it shiny.”
Unlike the Santos-Dumont or the Normale, the Tank Louis’ design is more elegant than industrial. It’s still a rectangle, but the case is more subtly curved and soft. It’s not feminine, it’s not masculine, it’s just freaking beautiful. This is Cartier – slim, elegant, polished, sexy Cartier. (By the way, Cartier would soon go further in this direction, introducing the China replica Cartier Tank Cintrée watches in 1921, with its curved, flowing profile.)
But that’s not quite the end of Cartier’s story, or mine. In the ’70s, other brands started leaning heavily into the industrial aesthetic – sharp edges, exposed screws, inspiration from things like ships and portholes. For its part, Cartier revisited the Santos-Dumont, transforming it into the Santos Carrée, a watch that’s so unabashedly and unapologetically ’80s it’s hard not to love.
And they weren’t the only ones to revisit the Santos form – I did too. Like with the Tank, I’m of the opinion – and this one’s a bit more controversial – that the second Santos, the Santos Galbée, is the best, for many of the same reasons as the Tank Louis. It’s softer. Curvier. Sexier. Cartier-er. And, because I have no self-control, I bought one. I chose a weird one with no-date and luminous numerals – the “2002 SIHH Limited Edition” – because it feels so anti-Cartier. Don’t worry, I kept the Tank too.
For a journey that started with a guy who felt like he was “getting back” at Cartier by wearing that money-losing platinum best quality fake Cartier Santos-Dumont watches, surely Cartier’s got more points on the scoreboard now. Like in Vegas, the Maison always wins.