Precision: Keeping an eye on time, October 2017

Powerful players in the watch world


The pocket watch has enjoyed a bit of a resurgence in recent years, often finding a home nestled in the tweed waistcoat of a man with an overly coiffed beard. But individual eccentricity aside, a mass migration of the watch from wrist back to pocket seems unlikely.

In terms of longevity, however, the pocket watch is still way in the lead. Watches have been around for more than 500 years, and for the vast majority of that time they have been of the pocket variety. At the turn of the 20th century, the only watch you might possibly have seen worn on a wrist was as part of an ornate piece of ladies’ jewellery. No man would have been seen dead wearing a wristwatch.

But as the 20th century descended into whole new levels of warfare, putting a hand into a pocket to check the time was not something a chap was always in a position to do. So strapping the watch to the wrist was something done out of necessity rather than choice, and the first wristwatches were nothing more than pocket watches with straps fitted to them.

One of the earliest series-produced watches that was actually designed to live on the wrist was the Cartier Tank, which celebrates its 100th birthday this year. It was created in 1917 with a shape that was inspired by the aerial view of the Renault tanks that had recently rolled into combat on the Western Front.

The singular yet incredibly elegant Tank, with rectangular dial and straight, protruding lugs, is undoubtedly one of the greatest watch designs of all time. Over the century, the Tank has remained as one of the most timelessly stylish watches for both men and women, boosted by an endless list of celebrity admirers from Fred Astaire and Cary Grant, to Lady Diana and Michelle Obama.

The steel-cased Tank is also Cartier’s most accessible automatic watch, with prices starting just under £3000. In an era of when people are regularly paying supercar money for watches, that is not at all bad for a piece of watch royalty. And one with such enduring appeal, it is likely to be around for as long as people keep wearing watches on their wrists.

Prices for the Cartier Solo XL Automatic start at £2860. The Solo XL with a stainless steel bracelet (pictured) costs £3050.


When Wayde van Niekerk won the 400-metre gold at the Rio Olympics last year – beating Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old record in the process – he did so while wearing a complicated, eye-catching, yet incredibly light Richard Mille watch. The company is now paying tribute to the South African. It has an in-house automatic movement and a case machined from an ultra-light composite material developed by Richard Mille. £POA


Designer Simon Jordan has produced a limited-edition watch in tribute to the 70th anniversary of Franco Cortese’s historic first race win for Ferrari in the 1947 Terme di Caracalla in Rome. The caseback of the chronograph carries an engraving of the famous street circuit, which hosted the Rome Grand Prix between 1947 and 1951. It has a Swiss quartz movement in a 44mm steel case. With either a black or white dial, limited to 125 pieces each. £995