Cartier's Tank; part 1 - The Extraordinary Models

Cartier's Tank; part 1 - The Extraordinary Models

The Tank by Cartier is unmistakable, Cartier’s most important model. While the Santos was the first watch and always immense popular, the Tank is for many thé watch to have. May be because it’s less outspoken than the Santos, may be because it’s more dressy and easier to wear and combine. Who knows, fact is that the Tank collection is the largest family within Cartier’s watch collection, with a huge variety of shapes and sizes. From steel to platinum, from gold to diamond set pieces. This week we’ll do a high light of some of the Tank models that are not that common, since they were produced in limited numbers, since long retired or since they are just temporarily not in the collection. Next week we’ll do a report on the current collection of Tank watches. So do stay tuned!

The Tank Normale designed in 1917, was Cartier’s first Tank model and was the start, of what became a huge collection of watches, that we can now consider as the most important line of the entire Cartier collection.


While the Tank Normale has never been produced in really large numbers, it has been available for many years. Still it’s a hard to find watch, especially in platinum or white gold and when offered it never last long on the shelf. Very distinctively watch, that has never been commercialised and enlarged to more fashionable dimensions plus the fact that it did not appear in Cartier’s legendary Collection Privée, Cartier Paris series. Quite remarkable, since all important models were re-launched in this series.

One of the Dandy watches, in the Catalogue, was without any doubts the Tank Cintrée that was launched 1921. No watch was so slim and curved like the Tank Cintreé. While the model was always produced in very small quantities, there have been many variations, different sizes, different materials, but almost always with Breguet style hands. This type of hands are very characteristic for the Cintrée and set the watch apart from it’s more commercial and more masculine build Tank Americaine, with it’s baton hands. Everything is more delegate, from the crown to the sharper corners and the more curved case, than from the Tank Americaine.



The most recent versions of the Tank Cintree were released in 2006 in yellow gold or platinum, limited editions of 150 and 50 pieces and a two time zone model, in white- or pink gold, that was produced for Asia in 2004, also limited to just 100 pieces.

1922 was the year that the Tank Chinoise was launched. Very different looking, square shaped Tank watch. Not for the first time – and certainly not the last – Cartier spotted inspiration in the arts of other cultures and borrowed features for use in jewellery and watchmaking. The watchmaker-jeweller was expanding its fields of interpretation and inspiration to Islamic art and India.The Tank Chinoise watch was created in 1922, at the height of this craze.


A very nice match are all the belt buckles, that Cartier designed to accompany the iconic models like the Tank Americaine, the LC Tank and this new buckle for the Tank Chinoise.

The totally original shape of the piece was inspired by the architecture of Chinese temple porticos. In counterpoint to the brancards, two horizontal bars straddle the watch face and slightly protrude on either side, mimicking the interplay of interlocking lintels left in full view. The balance of the forms shifts and re-centres on the square. In its devotion to clean, pared-down lines, Cartier saw geometry as intertwined with the perception of beauty.


Pictured here is a slightly larger re-issue of the nineties, with hand wound mechanical 437MC caliber by Piaget. Re-released in a larger version, with strongly domed crystal in platinum, but the watch was also available in pink gold. Both versions were not limited, but produced in a small production, of probably less than 250 pieces.

1928 was the year of the Tank without hands, the Tank a Guichets. With the advent of the train & automobile, speed was everything: the dial symbolised modernity. Louis Cartier based the aesthetic of the Tank à Guichets on a watchmaking complication, the jumping hour. In these perfectly pared-down watches, the glass, dial and hands were replaced by plaques pierced with apertures that displayed segments of the discs, one indicating the hours and the other minutes.


Cartier played around with the layout and form of the apertures, and with the positioning (at 12 o’clock or 3 o’clock) and style of the winding mechanism: sapphire cabochon, fluted or notched and flat crown. With restraint a priority, brushed platinum or yellow- and pink gold for the CPCP version, were generally used to give a matte appearance. Very hard to find watch and hopefully Cartier will produce an updated model in a larger case, one day.

One of he other few square Tank watches was the strange Tank Obus from 1929. With it’s really beautiful bullet lugs and different case construction, it does not have much to do with the shape of a Tank and one may wonder, why the model belongs to the Tank collection, since it’s looks come closer to the Quadrant model, that has the same kind of bullet lugs.

(Insert: Quadrant)

Unfortunately I do not have the answer yet and this is what makes Cartier’s history só interesting. The lugs / case construction is completely different from all other Tanks.


Case dimensions of the version pictured here, are just 23 x 29mm. The model is powered with the 427MC hand wound mechanical caliber and was never produced in larger dimensions.

The Tank Basculante, designed in 1932, was especially developed, to protect the glass during sport activities. This concern became all the more prominent in the 1930s, as it became increasingly fashionable to play sports.



The Tank Basculante, featured a case that pivoted lengthwise within an articulated framework; the integrated winding mechanism was positioned at 12 o’clock. The time could be displayed or masked at leisure. Although the Tank Basculante was often produced in yellow gold, like the one for the CPCP collection, the construction and purpose of the watch, made more sense in steel, IMHO.

Cartier re-released the Tank Mono Poussoir in 2006, in a pink- or white gold case measuring 34 x 42mm. Both limited to 100 pieces. The model was originally presented in 1935, but strange enough there is not much known about this vintage Tank. Personally I do know about one vintage version, from a picture that is featured in the book, ‘Le Temps de Cartier’. This re-issue from 2006 is long sold out, but pops up sometimes at auction. Interesting watch with a gorgeous hand wound mechanical caliber, display back and Breguet style hands.


The Tank Asymétrique watch that was first presented in 1936, turned the aesthetic of the early days of watchmaking on its head. The entire balance of the watch was shifted, with 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock moving into the corners and the winding mechanism placed at 2 o’clock. The watch may be taken to express the contradictions of an era,

TankAsymetrique copy

its aspirations for change or its rebellion against set rules. The Tank Asymetrique takes time to get used to, because of the dial, but when driving a car it’s ideal. There have been a few versions with different styles for the lugs. The model pictured here was a re-issue, that was launched in 2006, in a limited edition of 150pc in yellow gold.

The Tank Divan was a different beast, released in 2005 as a large model with automatic movement and a smaller models with a quartz calibers and available in gold, gold with diamonds, or steel case. The wide more horizontal model was may be not favoured by a really large crowd, since the Tank Divan was retired about five years later. Personally I like the watch a lot, but the more different the shape of a watch case is, the harder it is, to be loved by a large audience.


All these Tank watches are now history and can only be found at auctions around the world.
Next week we’ll highlight all the Tank watches of today in;

“Cartier’s Tank Watch; Part 2 – The Current Collection”