Hans Gruber in Die Hard wears a Cartier Tank better than anyone elseLuke Benedictus
The Cartier Tank is hardly a watch lacking in high-profile endorsements. From Andy Warhol to Mohammad Ali and Fred Astaire to Steve McQueen, many great men have fallen for its square-jawed linearity, Roman numerals and cabochon crown that looks like an erotic police siren. But, let’s face it, the bad guys are always more interesting. The character that makes me want to buy into the Tank’s slightly louche, Parisian elegance is the best Hollywood villain of all time.
In the 1988 action classic Die Hard, Alan Rickman gives a masterfully understated performance as Hans Gruber, a deadpan villain with a neatly groomed beard. Gruber is self-contained, calculating and terminally jaded, acting as though he’s really rather bored with having to mastermind convoluted heists for $640m.
Gruber’s character is distinguished by a bone-dry fatalism that colours his best lines: “I’m going to count to three; there will not be a four”; “He won’t be joining us for the rest of his life.” A particular highlight is the walkie-talkie conversation he has with Bruce Willis in an attempt to size up his opponent: “You know my name, but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne? Rambo? Marshal Dillon?”
How Gruber dresses is a visual contrast to Willis’ blood-smeared singlet and lack of shoes. He is an immaculately manicured villain in a charcoal double-breasted suit. But that look was entirely his own making. Die Hard may have been Rickman’s first movie role, but his theatre background made him confident about voicing opinions about the script.
Originally, Gruber was meant to be clad in full terrorist gear but he left a note for producer Joel Silver suggesting it would be more interesting for his character to wear a suit and pretend to be a hostage in one scene. Rickman told The Guardian: “I got Joel saying, ‘Get the hell out of here, you’ll wear what you’re told.’ But when I came back, I was handed a new script. It showed that it pays to have a little bit of theatre training.”
Gruber’s attire is important, too, because it contributes to his European sensibility as a world-weary aesthete. He has a discerning eye and notices clothes, commenting on the fact that he owns the same suit that Takagi is wearing (“John Phillips, London. Rumour has it Arafat buys his there too”). Given this distinguished look, Gruber required a suitable timepiece to slip under the cuff of his business shirt. A gold Cartier Tank on a black leather strap is an unimpeachable choice.
Except that he almost wore a TAG Heuer. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Die Hard screenwriter Steven E. de Souza explained, the 12 terrorists were all meant to wear the same watch. “Originally, they get off the truck, the camera craned up, you saw them in a circle and Alan Rickman says, ‘Synchronize your watches,’” de Souza said. “They all put their arms out in a circle with the camera moving down and they all had the same Tag Heuer watch.”
Thankfully the plot ended up changing due to continuity issues and so Gruber managed to upgrade. His eventual choice is again a nice counterpoint to that of Willis’ John McClane who wears a TAG Heuer Professional 3000 Quartz, a pragmatic chronograph that suits his rugged approach (yippee-ki-yay). Gruber, however, is cut from a different cloth – a pointedly luxurious one, too, no doubt sourced from Dormeuil. With its air of quiet panache, the Cartier Tank is a watch far more befitting Gruber’s unique brand of debonair nihilism.