A History Of The Cartier Tank In Pictures, 1917-2013

Inspired by the lumbering armoured vehicles which made their debut in the First World War, the Cartier Tank has evolved over the decades, yet remained essentially the same. It is one of the most enduring wristwatch designs ever.

The Cartier Tank celebrates its centenary in four years (or six, depending on the date regarded as its birth). One of the first form wristwatches, the Tank has grown and shrunk, and also had various complications added, though mostly simple ones. The Cartier Tank has multiplied into dozens of forms, maybe even hundreds, but all retain the basic format of wide brancards framing the dial on each side.

ouis Cartier devised the Tank in 1917, during the Great War, which saw the first modern tanks in action on the Western Front, or so the legend goes. Two years later the first Tank wristwatch was sold.

What follows is a sampling of Tank wristwatches over time, starting with one of the earliest known Tank watches, a Tank Normale from 1921. The vintage and discontinued Tank timepieces pictured here – there are a dozen in total – are all exceedingly rare and almost impossible to photograph in the metal. I was privileged to be able to photograph and examine these up close last year.

Tank Normale, Cartier Paris, c. 1920 In platinum with yellow gold case back, sapphire cabochon on crown, leather strap Cartier was a pioneer in using platinum for jewellery, and subsequently in watches.
Tank, Cartier Paris, c. 1921 Platinum, set with rose-cut diamonds, satin strap
Tank Louis Cartier, Cartier, c. 1925 Platinum with white gold back, sapphire cabochon, leather strap This is probably the archetypal Tank wristwatch. Note the extremely poorly printed original dial (which is also in poor condition), early Cartier watches had beautiful cases and styling but mostly terrible dial quality.
Tank Cintrée, Cartier Paris, c. 1924 Platinum, yellow gold, pink gold, sapphire, leather strap So named because of the curved case, Cintrée means curved.
Tank Normale, Cartier Paris, c. 1927 Platinum, pink gold, sapphire cabochon, white gold mesh bracelet
Tank à guichets jumping hours, Cartier Paris, c. 1928 Yellow gold, pink gold, leather strap Bought by Sir Bhupinder Singh, Maharajah of Patiala, a great patron of Cartier.
Tank Cintrée, Cartier London, c. 1929 Yellow gold, pink gold, sapphire cabochon, leather strap Sold to Fred Astaire who presented it as a gift to Felix in 1929, as indicated by engraving on the case back
Tank Chinoise, Cartier, c. 1930 Yellow gold, sapphire, leather strap
Reversible “basculante” watch, Cartier Paris, c. 1936 Yellow gold, pink gold, leather strap Though Cartier reissued the Tank Basculante in 2000, in the form of a Tank Louis Cartier, the original reversible form watch was not a Tank but just a rectangular watch.
Tank with eight-day movement, Cartier, c. 1938 Yellow gold, pink gold, leather strap This is not strictly a Tank due to the case shape; the lugs have a sharp downward curve when viewed from the side. This is one of my favourites because it has an outstanding LeCoultre movement and is also quite modern in size due to the large calibre.
Tank à vis, Cartier, c. 2002 Yellow gold, sapphire, leather strap Part of the Collection Privée Cartier Paris, this Tank displays two independent time zones.
Tank Louis Cartier Noctambule, Cartier, c. 2006 Platinum, white gold, sapphire, leather strap A piece unique made for the Cartier’s own archives collection, with the bridges of the skeleton movement coated with Luminova so the movement glows in the dark.
Tank Louis Cartier XL, c. 2012 Rose gold, diamonds, leather strap This is the thinnest Cartier wristwatch ever, with a height of just 5.1 mm.
Tank Anglaise, c. 2013 Rose gold, leather strap A radically new form for the Tank was unveiled in 2012 with the Tank Anglaise which sports a crown integrated into the case brancard.

The very latest Tank to join the family is the new Tank MC, demonstrating the continued longevity of this classic.

Back to top.

You may also enjoy these.