Why Andy Warhol Was Obsessed With His Cartier Wristwatch

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A printing of a Polaroid self-portrait by Andy Warhol. Warhol wears a Cartier Tank wristwatch, c. 1970© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

“Actually I never even wind it.” We examine a Polaroid self-portrait taken by the most famous Pop artist of all time, featuring his favourite status symbol

Louis Cartier designed the Tank watch in 1917, inspired by the Renault tanks that the French jeweller saw in use on the Western Front during World War One. Its lugs – the part of the case joined to the strap – blend seamlessly into the edges of flat vertical ‘brancards’, providing the wristwatch with a uniquely minimalist and clean aesthetic. Naturally, such considered design garnered popular appeal with some of the chicest figureheads throughout history who possessed a particular reverence for beautiful objects.

In 1979, Cartier threw a party in New York with a guestlist that read as a ‘who’s who’ of the era’s socialite milieu. Truman Capote, wearing a black beret to conceal a recent hair transplant, rubbed shoulders with chiselled ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev and Hollywood actress Paulette Goddard, once married to Charlie Chaplin, dined on poached salmon and wild duck washed down with Krug champagne. Also in attendance were Bob Colacello and his friend, Andy Warhol, the editor and founder of Interview Magazine respectively.

“I don’t wear a Tank watch to tell the time. Actually I never even wind it” – Andy Warhol

Warhol had a penchant for collecting luxury watches and said of the Cartier Tank: “I don’t wear a Tank watch to tell the time. Actually I never even wind it. I wear a Tank because it is the watch to wear!” The design of his choice consisted of a gold cabochon crown fitted on a black alligator strap. In a typically Warhol-esque pre-cursor to the selfie, here we see a Polaroid portrait of the artist standing in front of a Rococo backdrop, his right arm crossed over his chest, wrist clad in his favoured timepiece. The artist’s off-centre gaze draws the eye away from his face and to his posed limb, where the watch becomes the central focus of the image.

We all know of the prophetic Warhol truism, “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” And even though he claimed to have never used his Cartier watch to note the time of day, his insight into chronology was evidently accurate nonetheless.

Cartier in Motion runs at The Design Museum, London until July 28, 2017.