Understanding 100 Years Of The Cartier Tank In Five Tank Watches

The Tank wristwatch marks it 100th birthday this year, and fortunately for all of us, Cartier has just debuted a range of Tank timepieces to mark the centenary of probably the only watch inspired by a war machine. We shall do our part in celebrating this remarkable anniversary with a chronological outline of the five most important historical Tank models, and how each has shaped the modern day Tank watch.

Louis Cartier created the Tank during the First World War, in the years 1916 to 1917, inspired by the Renault tanks that were used for the first time during the Great War. Though designed during the war, the first Cartier Tank was sold in 1919 or so, after the end of hostilities.

Among the very first designs was the Tank Normale, which as its name suggests, follows closely the shape of the armoured vehicle that inspired it. The straight, serious-looking case sides and lugs, creating almost a square form, are brightened up with the luxurious touch of a sapphire cabochon set into the crown, a signature feature of Cartier watches.

The high contrast dial with its prominent Roman numerals further enforce the severe attitude of the Tank, in line with the general mood of the era. It was an elegant watch that nonetheless silently communicated the wearer’s awareness of the calamities that had befallen humanity only recently.

Cartier Tank Normale

Cartier Tank Normale

 

A century on the Tank Normale finds its modern equivalent in the Tank Solo, which is also the entry-level Tank model today. Available as a smaller, 35 by 27mm quartz model, or a 31 by 41mm automatic, and either in steel or pink gold, the Tank Solo has the same straightforward aesthetic, high contrast dial and cabochon-set crown. The only notable difference is the fact that the hands have been updated to the sword hands found on most modern Cartier watches.

Cartier Tank Solo

Cartier Tank Solo

 

The Tank Louis Cartier was created in 1922 gets its name from the fact that the watch was the choice the designer himself, Louis Cartier himself. A less dramatic design when compared with the Tank Normale or Solo, but still a powerful designed timepiece. Slimmer, rounded brancards are matched with a slightly elongated, rectangular case and dial. It still reminds one of an armoured vehicle, but with refined, polished surfaces and more serene proportions.

The Tank Louis Cartier is very much alive in the modern day, remaining a well-balanced and accurate extension of the original. It’s available in several sizes from “Small” to “Large” and “XL”, rendering the watch ideal for both men and women. Apart from a quartz movement in the smallest models, Tank Louis Cartier watches feature hand-wound mechanical movements, with pink or white gold cases. And at the top end of the collection, it is also equipped with a beautifully skeletonised, highly unique hand-wound calibre.

Tank Louis Cartier

Tank Louis Cartier

 

Cintrée in French means “curved”, and that is what the Tank Cintrée is. Also designed in the early 1920s, the Tank Cintrée is the most elegant of all Tanks, with an extremely narrow and long case that’s also very slim. For the anniversary, Cartier made an extremely bold move by launching the Cintrée with a skeletonized, retro-futuristic movement, available in pink gold, platinum, or diamond-set platinum cases. The skeleton Tank represents is the modern, sublimely capable watchmaker Cartier flexing its muscles, demonstrated by the linear, hand-wound calibre that fills the elongated case of the Cintrée beautifully. The Cartier Tank has always been a statement watch that’s highly recognisable, but this unusual variant will be rarely encountered out in the wild, left only to be appreciated by connoisseurs.

Cartier Tank Cintrée

Cartier Tank Cintrée

 

The Tank Américaine was introduced in 1989 as a version of the Cintrée modernised for 21st century tastes and demand. With wider case sides and more restrained proportions, the Américaine has a pillar in the Tank collection since.

Only recently, and for the first time, Cartier has launched the Tank Américaine in steel, rendering it more affordable. Made available in three sizes, all without a date display, allowing the silvery dial and its black Roman numerals to exist uninterrupted. The sizes are 19mm by 34.9mm, 22.6mm by 41.6mm and 26.6mm by 45.1mm, for the Large, Medium and Small models respectively. The two larger models are powered by automatic ETA movements, while the smallest version has a quartz movement.

Cartier Tank Américaine

Cartier Tank Américaine

 

We have left the most fascinating Tank, one we could perhaps call the ultimate Tank that truly lives up to its name: the Tank á Guichet of 1928. Translating as “with window”, this has a jumping hours in a window along with a smaller aperture for the minutes – and that is all it offers. Everything else is literally shielded from the outside world, with a covered metal front and back and two brancards on the sides – it’s barely a stretch of the imagination to picture a turret on top.

The Tank á Guichet was the forerunner of modern day Tank watches with complications, which over the years have included the chronograph, tourbillon and dual time zone, and also the jump hour that was reissued at the turn of the century.

Cartier Tank á Guichet

Cartier Tank á Guichet

 

The Tank has been on track for a hundred years now and along the way it has represented as great a variety as any watch design could possibly hope for, while remaining timeless. The Cartier Tank is a versatile and remarkably powerful design.

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Victor TothVictor Toth – Czech Republic
Victor Toth is a Prague-based, professional photographer-turned-watch enthusiast and freelance journalist, whose journey into the complex world of fine watchmaking had begun a number of years ago. Over this time it has become his passion to share his understanding of the finer details of beautiful timepieces, all in an effort to encourage a more thorough appreciation of this wonderful and complex universe of fine mechanics.


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