Cartier is responsible for some of the most recognizable and successful wristwatches in the history of modern horology. The definitive expert on watch design, the French maison has always been a leader in challenging conventional approaches to watchmaking while pioneering new styling as a fixture in the broader fashion world.
Cartier is rightly viewed as the epitome of class and sophistication. When you see someone wearing one of their watches, you tend to imbue that person with the gravitas and respect that’s associated with the brand. Few watches have played a larger role in solidifying this brand identity than the Tank. Undoubtedly the most iconic watch in Cartier’s history and conceived based on a simple idea, it’s evolved to take myriad forms over the years, with over a dozen sub-designs that each has its own identity and presence. After the release of the Tank, the watch space was changed forever.
Here, we’re going to demystify this important model, first reviewing its inspiration and history, and then moving on to cover its many iterations. Hopefully, by the end of this piece, you’ll have a good understanding of just how significant Cartier’s icon is both culturally and from a design perspective. Let’s get started.
A History of the Cartier Tank
The First Cartier Tank: Tank Normale (1917)
The Tank was invented by Louis Cartier, grandson of company founder Louis-François Cartier, in 1917. According to lore, Louis wanted to make a watch that was much more masculine than anything else on the market. The unique rectangular design was directly influenced by the still-raging First World War — specifically by a French military tank, the Renault FT-17.
Considering the elegance and refined aesthetics of the Cartier Tank as we know it, it’s ironic that the watch was so heavily based upon the look of an armored, overbuilt military vehicle, which prioritizes brute force and solidity over aesthetics and beauty. That said, Cartier as a design superpower has demonstrated time and time again that inspiration takes many forms, and in this case, Louis Cartier pulled a variety of details from the Renault FT-17 that remain intrinsically connected to the Tank design language to this day.
Renault FT-17 Tank - (Image by Phaidon)
The Renault itself was a notable tank. In addition to being the first to feature a fully rotating turret, the FT-17 was characterized by its relatively unique design language, a hallmark of a new era of military vehicular construction. Cartier was likewise making its own waves in the world of design. At the time of the Tank’s release in the early 20th century, dedicated wristwatches were just beginning to supplant pocket watches — another result of the First World War. Additionally, watchmaking houses were experimenting with flowing curves and soft lines — the direct antithesis of the Cartier Tank’s appearance.
An early 1919 Cartier Tank inspired by the Renault FT-17 - (Image by Wristcheck)
The very first Cartier Tank was the Normale. Although the watch itself is rectangular, the dial is square, with case sides that double as the bezel and are referred to as ‘brancards’. These early Tank models featured flat-topped brancards and slabbed sides, maintaining the Renault-influenced “tank” presence. Many of the other characteristic design elements of the Tank were introduced on the Normale, including the 'Roman' numeral dial, blued steel hands, blue cabochon crown, and ‘railroad’ minute track. The strap integrates perfectly into the elongated brancards, meshing with the case seamlessly.
In the beginning, Cartier was likely viewed as an iconoclast with regards to the Tank. It isn’t clear that the model was immediately accepted, and many considered its look to be overly progressive and potentially heretical. (Indeed, as late as 1910 The New York Times had dismissed wristwatches — ‘strap watches’ — as a “silly-ass fad,” whereas the paper changed its tune in 1916, admitting that they were here to stay.) That said, with time, opinion swung to the opposite extreme, as many other brands scrambled to join the rectangular, wrist-borne party.
While other Tank models are arguably better known today, the Normale broke the proverbial mold, laying the necessary foundation upon which Cartier could explore more creative iterations. Additionally, the design of the Normale is the closest to the Renault inspiration, while designs that followed seem more inspired by the Normale rather than the Renault FT-17. This is a double-edged sword: As regards bold, utilitarian looks, later Tank iterations lost much of the presence of the Normale. However, later iterations are certainly more elegant and refined. Thus, when collectors think of the Tank, many actually picture the Tank Louis Cartier rather than the Normale.
Louis Cartier supposedly gave one of the first Tank watches to General John Pershing, commander of U.S. Expeditionary Forces, in 1918 - (Image by Town & Country)
Further accentuating the Tank’s military connections, the very first prototype of the Normale was supposedly gifted to General John Pershing in 1918. No one knows the whereabouts of this original prototype, but it would make for quite a hot piece at auction if it ever resurfaces! Few could have guessed the design revolution that this single prototype inspired in the following years.
Recently, Cartier has remade the Normale several times to pay homage to the model that started a horological revolution. These new iterations come on the multi-link bracelet of the original, typically in precious metal. However, though the Normale remains quite popular, nothing overshadows the Tank Louis…
Cartier Tank Louis Cartier (1922)
Cartier Tank Louis Cartier - IN THE SHOP
The Tank Louis Cartier is arguably the “standard” form for the Tank. Born in the early 1920s, it was essentially a modified Tank Normale that maintained much of that watch’s underlying DNA, albeit with a number of noticeable modifications: Instead of the squared brancards with flattened tops and sharper edges that were characteristic of the Normale, the Tank Louis now had a rounded outer edge, much more scalloping, and a more delicate presence overall. This new design language became the standard aesthetic for the Tank, and we don’t really see the Normale’s more squarish looks again until the Tank Chinoise, which we’ll cover later on. (Another important change was that the watch was now elongated, losing the square dial in favor of a rectangular layout throughout.)
The idea of the Tank as the classy, rectangular men’s dress watch comes from the Tank Louis Cartier. It could be argued that nearly every rectangular watch is in some way influenced by the look of this timepiece, and, for better or worse, each is compared to Cartier’s original. (Perhaps the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso is the exception.)
Andy Warhol wearing a Tank Louis Cartier. (Image by Vintage Watch Spotter)
Reflecting the significant role the Tank Louis Cartier has played in the maison’s history, an equally noteworthy list of celebrities have worn the watch: Andy Warhol, Jackie Kennedy, Yves Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein and Frank Sinatra all called the Tank Louis Cartier their own. (You’ll notice that among the celebrities are a number of important fashion fixtures, which gives even further legitimacy to the Tank as a style icon.)
The Tank Louis has used a number of movements, from manually wound to automatic to quartz. The most noteworthy movement is likely the Piguet Calibre 21 from the 1970s; ultra-thin and appealing to enthusiasts, they were exceptionally capable and well-built. Thus, while there are automatic and quartz variants that will capture the underlying design of the Tank Louis Cartier, the best way to experience the model from a purist’s standpoint would arguably be via a manually-wound reference. (Most would agree that a classic dress watch is usually manually wound, and when you’re buying a Tank, you’re going for a classy, dressy look.)
Another detail found on many Tank Louis Cartier models is a guilloché dial center. These beautifully elevate the dial aesthetics, and if you can find one like this, go for it — they aren’t too common in good condition! Alongside the Tank Louis Cartier, Cartier debuted the Cartier Tank Allongée in 1922, which is essentially a stretched-out or “elongated” version. Featuring slightly narrower brancards and flat, stretched dials, they’re fairly rare today. Far more common is another “elongated” design, the Cartier Tank Cintrée.
Cartier Tank Cintrée (1921)
Cartier Tank Cintreé - IN THE SHOP
In 1921, Cartier ventured into further unchartered territory. In just a few years, they had challenged the norms of the watch industry and proven the viability of a rectangular “masculine” timepiece, redefining the dress watch segment and inspiring a budding fashion trend. Reinforced by the now-positive press, Cartier boldly trudged on, introducing the avant-garde Tank Cintrée.
The new model line featured a cambered profile, elongated case, and stylized numerals. The rectangular case was accentuated by thinning the width and increasing the overall length of the timepiece. While this could have the unfortunate result of making the watch unwearable, Cartier scalloped the case back to conform with the wrist. Thus, while the Cintrée had a broader profile than the Tank Louis Cartier or Normale, it nonetheless wears wonderfully. To match the cambered case back, the dial side and crystal were also curved to match.
Nevertheless, the Cintrée posed a mechanical issue for Cartier in the 1920s. The cambered case meant that the movement had very little room in which to be situated, as the dial will effectively impact the movement on its periphery if said movement is too large. Thus, in order to fit the movement, Cartier enlisted the help of Edmond Jaeger, who created an ultra-thin calibre to reside within the challenging case. The caseback, however, is flat, and is recessed into the case.
Sword Hands on Cartier Tank Cintrée Ladies - IN THE SHOP
To further underscore the curved aesthetics of the Cintrée, Cartier elongated the Roman numerals on the dial as well as the ‘railroad’ minutes track, intentionally distorting the typeface to highlight the distinct case profile. Early in Cintrée production, the dial was set with ‘Breguet’ hands, although following the initial models, Cartier swapped these out for more conventional ‘sword’ hands.
Although the Cintrée collection was dormant for several years, Cartier decided to revisit many of its most famous models, and the Cintrée was reintroduced in platinum, rose gold, and yellow gold in 2018. Then, in 2021, in celebration of the model's 100th anniversary, Cartier released a limited-edition, yellow gold version in just 150 examples. Over the years, various other references have featured guilloché dials, changed Cartier logos, different typefaces, and other ornamentation.
The Tank Cintrée is a niche product catering to an enthusiast’s market that is quite different from that of the Tank Louis Cartier. Whereas the Tank LC could be a ‘one-watch collection’ for many, the Cintrée is generally an acquired taste that comes later in a collecting journey. It’s a funky design, to be sure, but one that should be handled in person in order to truly appreciate the beauty of its domed dial and case. Indeed, this could be a watch that one dismisses until putting it on the wrist. Which would be too bad, as it’s supremely comfortable and incredibly unique!
Cartier Tank Chinoise (1922)
By 1922, Cartier was comfortable moving on to yet another Tank iteration, and this time, it came in the form of the Tank Chinoise. In Europe in the 1900s, a new trend was emerging, with greater East Asian influence on both architecture and fashion following the end of the First World War and the formation of the Chinese Nationalist Republic.
The 1922 Tank Chinoise returned to the square case of the Normale, although its brancards were quite different in profile. Unlike the Tank Normale and Tank Louis Cartier, which have two brancards on either side of the dial, the Chinoise has four, with upper and lower brancards overlapping the sides. The convention of the period was to have soldered-on lugs affixed after case construction — thus, this sort of case/lug hybrid system was quite unique for the era.
The inspiration for the additional pronounced brancards on the Chinoise comes from the porticoes of East Asian temples. These entranceways have large pillars and decorative tops, which is said to be reflected in the layout of the case.
Cartier Tank Chinoise 'Extra Plat' - IN THE SHOP
Historically, the Chinoise has largely been kept in obscurity, manufactured originally in small numbers before disappearing from the greater Tank collection altogether. In 2004, Cartier released a limited edition as part of the Collection Privée Cartier Paris assemblage of reissues of classic Cartier designs. Then, in 2022, as the Privée Collection began creating new reimaginings for collectors, Cartier released a Tank Chinoise for modern audiences. Unlike the original, the new generation is rectangular, but it’s also superbly finished, with contrasting brushed and polished elements across the case. Further, the original Chinoise (just like the Cintrée) had Breguet hands, while the new models have blued sword hands — a theme among the Cartier collections.
Cartier Tank À Guichet (1928)
Cartier Tank Á Guichet - (Image by Phillips)
Next up is a rather obscure variant that’s less well known than the models we’ve covered thus far. Unlike the other Tank variants, which were generally made available to all customers of Cartier, the 1928’s Tank à Guichet was reserved for a very small subset of VIP clients — including both Duke Ellington and the Maharaja of Patiala. While the Tank à Guichet features the brancards of a Tank Normale, this is where the similarities between these two models end.
Duke Ellingon wearing Cartier Tank Á Guichet - (Images by Cartier)
The Tank à Guichet features a ‘digital’ jump hour display unlike anything else in the Tank collections, while the rest of what would be the dial of the watch is the same metal as that of the case. (Interestingly, this means that this Tank is ‘armored,’ much like a battle tank.) This fascinating complication is a bit of a departure from the norm for Cartier.
Other than the original, small production beginning in 1928, six examples were made in 1996, followed by a 150-piece limited edition in 1997, and, finally, 100 examples in 2005. Thus, all told, it is estimated that less than 1,000 examples of the Tank à Guichet exist in the entire world across all iterations, including the original 1928 pieces. Therefore, when these come up for sale, they are both highly coveted and in turn, highly priced.
Cartier Tank Basculante (1933)
Cartier Tank Basculante Mécanique - IN THE SHOP
While Cartier certainly set the stage for rectangular watches, there is one timepiece the maison produced that seems to rest in the shadows of another — and that is the Tank Basculante.
For context, in 1931, Jaeger-LeCoultre rolled out the Reverso, designed with a special, flipping case mechanism that would allow the wearer to protect the watch crystal while playing sports. Just a year later, Cartier released the Basculante. The Basculante also featured a flipping mechanism, reversing the dial and caseback top over bottom within a frame and achieving the same effect as the JLC through a different method.
Cartier Tank Obus Savonette - (Image by Monaco Legend Actions)
The Basculante is certainly a controversial piece. Many feel that Cartier never should have ventured into this territory at all, but we believe that this piece has a distinctly Cartier identity to it, with the Tank’s classic dial layout and an underlying elegance that matches many of its other models. Furthermore, Cartier did, in a way, beat JLC to the punch: As early as 1926, the brand launched the Tank Obus Savonette, which had a cover that hinged over the dial. Thus, even prior to the Reverso and Basculante, Cartier had been experimenting with protecting the crystals of their watches.
Several other beautiful details are present on the Basculante. In spite of the fact that this piece has lost its ordinary crown position — it’s moved to 12 o’clock to accommodate the hinged case — a blue sapphire cabochon is still present. Furthermore, many references feature the full guilloché dials we discussed earlier. These dials are finely finished; so much so that upon first glance, you may not even notice that guilloché is present at all. In the sunlight, however, the dial positively pops.
The Basculante is much thinner than the Reverso, and can also double as a clock in its intermediate, mid-flip positioning. It’s a beautiful design, and has been revisited rarely by Cartier — most notably around 1997 in the Collection Privée Cartier Paris.
Cartier Tank Monopoussoir Chronograph (1935)
Cartier Tank Monopoussoir Chronograph - IN THE SHOP
Our first complicated piece in the mix, 1935’s Tank Monopoussoir Chronograph demonstrates that in addition to killer design, Cartier has put out some watches with notable movements. A monopusher chronograph is incredibly complicated to execute properly, since all functions (start, stop and reset) are controlled from a single pusher — which in this case, is also a crown. It was imperative for Cartier to opt for this system, however, in order to maintain the minimalist design of the Tank. With added pushers, the case flanks would be interrupted, and the dressy aesthetic would be lost.
Typically flaunting a guilloché dial, the Monopoussoir Chronograph only interrupts the typical Tank layout to add chronograph dual registers. Much like the original Normale, it has beveled edges on the brancards rather than the rounded ones of the Tank Louis.
Following the limited production of the Monopoussoir Chronograph in the ‘30s, the model returned as part of the Collection Privée Cartier Paris in 2008 in the form of 100 rose gold and 100 white gold examples. These recreations feature exhibition casebacks, which help shed light on the impressive complexity of the movement.
Said movement, the Calibre 045, was conceived by a world-class team of developers, including F.P. Journe, Denis Flageollet of De Bethune, and Vianney Halter. In order to prevent the chronograph hand from "jumping" upon activation (as is common on vertical clutch chronographs), the Calibre 045 was instead given a clutch system alongside a swivel pin, which ensures crisp operation without jolts. This is a very serious movement to match a very serious watch!
Tank Mc Watch Large Model, Automatic Movement - (Image by Mayors)
For a slightly different take on a Tank chronograph, consider the 2013 Tank MC Chronograph. Launched with Cartier’s first in-house, automatic-winding Calibre 1904 MC, it does away with the monopusher and embraces the traditional, dual-pusher style. Whereas the Tank Monopoussoir Chronograph is a dressier model, the Tank MC has a decidedly sporty quality in spite of its precious-metal case.
Cartier Tank Asymétrique (1936)
Cartier Tank Asymétrique - (Image by Sotheby's)
When Cartier first presented the Asymétrique in 1936 — the last Tank released in Louis Cartier’s lifetime — it was not intended as a Tank model at all, but rather a standalone timepiece referred to as the Parallelogram. (The goal was to target the driver’s market with an off-kilter dial, much like the original Vacheron Constantin Americain from 1921.) Over time, however, with the ever increasing success of the Tank collection, the Parallelogram was later rebranded as the Tank Asymétrique in 1996, making for one of the funkiest models in the generally traditional collection.
In 1999, Cartier created two sets of watches produced in left-handed and right-handed versions, each in a 99-piece limited run to commemorate the Macau Handover - (Image by Revolution Watch)
In 1999, Cartier created left- and right-hand versions as limited runs of 99 pieces each, as the 30 degree-offset dial is really only advantageous when driving as a righty. In 2020, the Asymétrique was once again revived within the beloved Privée collection and given another chance in the spotlight, with 100 pieces each in platinum, yellow gold, and red gold being quickly snatched up by collectors. People continue to love the more playful take on the classic Tank Louis, and as a result, these have done quite well.
Another design detail of note is that some references — particularly newer versions — feature a triple lug that looks almost like a belt buckle and is meant to stabilize the strap. This detail is not extended to every example, but it does add an extra level of intrigue to the design language. Furthermore, many older models featured the guilloché dials we have come to know and love from Cartier. Today, most have satin sunburst dials or skeletonized dials.
Cartier Tank Must de Cartier (1977)
Cartier Must de Cartier - (Image by Sotheby's)
Next, we fast forward all the way to 1977. By this point, several dynamics have changed within the watch industry: Firstly, the Tank had been around for over 50 years, and was already considered an icon. Further, the quartz movement had recently been introduced by Seiko, raising serious concerns about luxury brands’ ability to compete with the pricing of less expensive battery-powered models. Cartier’s response was the 1977 Must de Cartier collection, a line that remains in production to this day. (This collection had actually launched back in 1973, albeit sans watches.)
A number of alterations were made to the Tank in order to create a more affordable alternative to the mechanical models that the maison was offering. Must de Cartier models now featured either quartz or ETA-based mechanical movements. Additionally, rather than being made of solid gold, as was the brand’s convention for years, the Must line featured gold plating over a silver base. This helped to dramatically decrease costs on these watches without abandoning the design of the successful model.
Cartier Tank Must de Cartier - IN THE SHOP
Although the Quartz Crisis passed and Cartier maintained its status as a high-end product manufacturer, the brand reintroduced the Must line in 2021 to maintain a more affordable option for collectors. We have since seen the addition of Solar Beat models using high-performance, solar-powered quartz movements that absorb light through the numerals on the dial; many are fashioned with steel cases to keep costs down, while others feature the colorful lacquered dials made famous by models from the 1970s-1990s. For those who wish to explore the Tank collection without investing in the conventional precious-metal and mechanical-movement options, the Must line provides an optimal solution. More specifically, within the realm of quartz watches, the Solar Beat movement in particular is one of the most sophisticated such calibres.
In more modern times, Cartier has built out a second collection alongside the Must referred to as the Tank Solo, which launched in 2004. These quartz pieces, which were a bit larger than many of their vintage counterparts, are incredibly popular for their accessibility. Their design, meanwhile, distills the Tank down to its essence, with a steel case, blue hands, Roman dial, and classic sapphire cabochon, and is an excellent alternative to more expensive variants. Indeed, it's perfect for those who don’t feel the need to have a mechanical watch.
Cartier Tank Américaine (1989)
Cartier Tank Americaine - IN THE SHOP
Next up is another classic within the Tank family, the Tank Américaine, which was introduced in 1989 as a modernized version of the Cintrée. Slightly less extreme in its architecture than the Cintrée, it still preserves that model’s defining curved case.
Cartier Tank Americaine - (Image by Sotheby's)
The early Américaine examples were quartz powered, with either subsidiary seconds or a moonphase at 6 o’clock. These early references didn’t prove as popular as Cartier hoped, but interest piqued when the brand launched a larger men’s piece with a mechanical movement in 1993. Unlike the Cintrée — which was curved front and back — these Américaine models were curved on the dial side but had practically flat casebacks. Following their 1993 success, Cartier began producing more and more variations in more metals. Tank Américaine models suddenly had chronographs, tourbillons, and more!
Cartier Tank Americaine Steel - (Image by Robb Report)
In 2017, in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the Tank, Cartier produced the Américaine in steel for the very first time. This model combined the elegance of the Tank design language, with its classic black Roman numerals and blued hands, with a utilitarian metal that collectors don’t have to worry about babying in day-to-day wearing conditions.
In recent years, the Américaine has continued to enjoy a special popularity, and as a sort of more affordable Cintrée, has garnered a slightly younger audience.
Cartier Tank Française (1996)
Cartier Tank Française 18k - IN THE SHOP
Inspired by the Tank Normale, the 1996 Tank Française returned to a squarer case design while adopting a more modern presence with a link bracelet. Most would agree that the Française is also quite a bit sportier than the other Tanks we’ve covered so far — even more so than the Basculante, which was originally intended as a sports watch. This sportier presence means that it can work well as an everyday offering in both casual and dressier environments. Its bracelet, made to look like the tracks of a tank, also calls upon the heritage of the greater collection.
In terms of market positioning, the Française occupies a more accessible spot in the catalog, where its purpose is to provide a good entry point — particularly for women — into the greater Cartier oeuvre. Most models thus feature quartz movements, although some of the larger models sport automatic calibres.
The beauty of the Française is that for under $4,000, one gains access to all the intrigue of a Tank, including the romanticism and appeal of the name. (Of course, the Tank Must is arguably more of an iconic choice, and is priced under the Française, but the latter makes for a compelling alternative.) There’s no doubt that the core of the Tank family will always remain the Louis Cartier, Cintrée, and the Americaine. That being said, the Française provides one of the few opportunities to access that DNA for a fraction of the price — though precious-metal versions now exist for those who wish to splurge.
Cartier Tank Anglaise (2012)
Cartier Tank Anglaise - IN THE SHOP
Released in 2012, the Cartier Tank Anglaise is by far the most modern of the Tank designs. A much bolder case profile with thicker brancards, chunkier wrist presence, and a slight curve help distinguish this model from other Tanks. Additionally, Cartier embedded the crown within the right brancard in a rather unique manner. One can speculate as to why this was done, but we’d wager it has to do with preserving the symmetry of the case — by embedding the crown in the flank, there is no protruding crown. (Perhaps you don’t consider a protruding crown to be particularly problematic from a symmetry standpoint, but to Cartier, it is entirely possible that addressing this was a priority.)
Cartier Tank Anglaise - (Image by Forbes)
Beyond the modernist case, the dial —with its guilloché background, 'Roman' numeral indices, and date at 3 o’clock — could easily have been placed within any Cartier timepiece. This blending of new and old Cartier design is notable, and based on how well the combination works, we see that even as the maison updates aesthetics and provides new options, they never truly stray far from the core of their philosophy. Rather than seeming anachronistic, the Anglaise simply works.
While the large Anglaise model came with an ETA caliber, the XL notably featured an in-house Cartier Calibre 1904 MC automatic movement. Their bracelets, which matched their case metals, perhaps left something to be desired; much like those of other Cartier timepieces, the design is relatively unexciting, which is odd considering the pedigree of the brand. These bracelets are not objectively bad, and are in no way poorly made, but considering the maison’s iconic case designs, as well as their reputation for jewelry and watch design in general, we do feel they are lagging a bit behind in this department.
The Three Epicenters of Tank Production and Their Significance
The three Cartier brothers who would establish the brand’s three global bases in Paris, New York and London with their father, Alfred, taken in 1922. (Image by Francesca Cartier Brickell.)
When the Cartier family arrived at its third generation, the three brothers divided the responsibility of managing their vast empire — Louis, the oldest son, took over the Paris branch; the middle son, Pierre, oversaw New York; and the youngest, Jacques, kept his eye on London. These three locations were home to the original flagship boutiques and constituted the epicenters for Cartier collecting. Over time, Cartier named one model to represent each pillar of the brand’s outposts, which is the reason for the worldly naming practices: Americaine for New York, Française for Paris, and Anglaise for London.
BOUTIQUE CARTIER PARIS - 13 RUE DE LA PAIX - (Image by Beyond The Dial)
In addition to serving as satellites for Cartier sales purposes, the three locations also served as production bases for the Tank and other collections. In Paris, under the watch of Louis Cartier, the French flagship produced the Tank beginning in 1919. Louis managed the operation from 1903 to 1942, and during that period, movements were supplied from JLC, Piguet, Piaget, and later, the THA. Since Louis was truly the father of the Tank — which was his brainchild —Tanks that are stamped with the Paris hallmarks on dials or on casebacks are especially desirable in the present day.
Cartier's Fifth Avenue Mansion New York - (Image by Ephemeral New York)
Unlike Paris, the New York location — which was managed by Pierre Cartier from 1909-1942 — didn’t start producing Tanks until 1921. (At that time, coinciding roughly with the beginning of Tank production, Cartier and Jaeger formed the European Watch and Clock Company (EWC), from which they supplied their movements until the 1960s.)
In 1962, the New York branch was sold outside of the family to the syndicate that owned Black, Starr, & Frost, Ltd., a Fifth Avenue jeweler. New York clientele was particularly enamored with the more fashion-forward Tank designs, and thus, the Cintrée was often sold there. Similarly, the Tank Américaine, which represents the modernized Cintrée, was named for the American division for this reason. As you can see, the naming convention of Cartier was more thoughtful and contemplative than you might expect.
Similarly, New York pushed the obscure Grand Tank — in essence a Tank with stick indices rather than a Roman dial — in the 1950s. This reflected the New York spirit of individualism and separation from the traditional confines of European fashion, and underscores the importance of Cartier having separate branches to serve the unique desires and demands of its diverse client base.
Cartier’s flagship store London on 175-177 New Bond Street at the beginning of the 20th century. (Image by Branding Nerd)
London was by far the latest to join the show, and Jacques actually never oversaw Tank production — though England did manufacture Tanks beginning in the 1950s, which were made almost exclusively with JLC calibers. Upon Jacques’s death in 1941 in occupied France, his son Jean-Jacques Cartier took over management, and ran the boutique until 1974. Jean-Jacques had a special love for watches, and as a result, he was quite enamored with the Tank models, working hard to modernize and adapt the design language. He was also the man behind the ever-successful Cartier Crash model.
As England was a relative latecomer to the Tank production process, its output was quite limited over the years, and in turn, English Tanks are quite desirable. As you may notice, each boutique has a subset of its production that remains highly collectable, making it important to understand where your piece falls in the historical and geographic distributions of production.
Who wore a Cartier Tank?
Steve McQueen wearing a Cartier Tank Cintrée in The Thomas Crown Affair - (Image by He Spoke Style)
Duke Ellington, Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Muhamad Ali, Stewart Granger, Steve McQueen, Jacqueline Kennedy, Princess Diana, and many others all wore the Cartier Tank and played a pivotal role in popularizing it as a design and fashion icon.
Why is the Cartier Tank so popular?
The Cartier Tank constituted an entirely new aesthetic and popularized the look of the rectangular watch — not to mention the wristwatch — as a fashion icon. Furthermore, as more and more celebrities began to wear one, the general public began to view the Tank as a symbol of elegance, wealth, and achievement.
How much does a Cartier Tank cost?
The Cartier Tank is available at a wide range of prices, from roughly $3,000 for a quartz-powered version to to tens of thousands of dollars for more collectible, manually-wound variants. No matter one’s budget, there is a Tank offering to suit it.
What is the most iconic Cartier Tank?
Cartier Tank Louis Cartier - IN THE SHOP
The Tank Louis Cartier is the benchmark for the Tank’s design language. Though the Tank has taken many other forms over the years, all other models — except for the earlier Normale — serve as a play on the DNA of the Louis; furthermore, when brands attempt to replicate the Tank’s aesthetics, it’s the Tank Louis Cartier that they are targeting.
An Enduring Design
As one of the eternal fixtures in the watch industry, the Cartier Tank demonstrates the eternal appeal of classic dress watches. Cartier has made dozens of small variations to the Tank design language, all while maintaining the underlying DNA of the collection over the course of more than 100 years. Each piece is clearly a Tank, even as sizing and geometry have shifted from reference to reference. If there’s one model family that demonstrates Cartier’s adapting of an underlying aesthetic to appeal to different markets and collector personalities — indeed, its utter mastery of watch design — it’s the Tank. Tremendously diverse but always identifiable, the Tank remains a definitive classic, and one of the most important and beloved dress watches in history.