Hands On: The Cartier Tank Francaise

Facelifted just right (for the most part).

Last month, Cartier relaunched the Tank Francaise, a bestseller in the 1990s and early 2000s and also  the first Tank to feature an integrated bracelet. Retaining the design elements of the 1996 original, the new Tank Francaise nonetheless sports a sleeker form and a more modern appearance overall. In many ways it’s not merely a remake but an entirely new watch.

Initial thoughts

When Cartier revealed the revamped Tank Francaise 27 years after the original, I was sceptical for several reasons. One because the original isn’t yet vintage enough to be a classic, but it is old enough that it might be stale. Another is the fact that it has been around for so long – the heyday of the original was the late 1990s but it remained in the catalogue until recently – the design feels too familiar.

So I naturally wondered if the brand would do it justice to the model in redesigning it. After checking out the new Tank Francaise, I can certainly say it is well done and just right (apart from a few minor shortcomings in execution, like the date on the large model).

The large model in steel

The new Tank Francaise retains the style of the original, so it still has a bit of retro, 1990s style but not too much so it manages to look current. It still has the look of the original, with a similar outline and profile, but now with cleaner lines and neater details like a recessed crown. Other details like the brushed finish and sticker-appliqué numerals on the dials adds texture and visual interest up close.

The large model is the only one with an automatic movement and date (so far)

That said, two shortcomings stand out for me. One is the date window on the larger model, which is too small and too far from the edge of the dial. It simply looks out of place and the design would have been better off without it. Another is the the fit of the bracelet end-links; there was more vertical play between the end-links and the case than expected.

More broadly, I hope the Tank Francaise line-up will have more mechanical offerings. Currently only the large model in steel has an automatic movement while all the rest are quartz. The convenience of quartz is undeniable but mechanical movements certainly appeal more to enthusiasts.

In terms of price, the Tank Francaise is fair value by Cartier standards. The large model with an automatic movement costs US$5,500, which places it amongst the most affordable mechanical Cartier watches. However, it is pricey compared to offerings from brands like Tudor or Longines, but the premium is arguably justified by the iconic nature of the Tank design and Cartier’s history as a maker of form watches.

Revamp redux

The original Tank Francaise was itself a revamp of earlier Tank designs, which number several dozen at least. All trace their origins to the very first Tank wristwatch designed in 1917 by Louis Cartier, who took inspiration from the Renault FT light tanks utilised by the French forces during the First World War. Revolutionary in design, the Tank was one of the first form wristwatches ever designed and has enjoyed incredible longevity as a timeless design that’s been constantly restyled to create new incarnations.

One such incarnation arrived in 1996 as the Tank Francaise as Cartier was transitioning away from the low-end Must watches. Characterised by an angular case, it was the first Tank to feature an integrated bracelet that continued the case design. It was first available in stainless steel or gold, as well as a combination of both, and later as a jewellery watch with diamonds and other precious stones on the case and bracelet.

An example of the original Tank Francaise, this one a small model from 2005 in steel and gold. Image – Sotheby’s

One of the “it” watches of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Tank Francaise was so successful that its sales swiftly reached one million units. Though its popularity faded in later years, the Tank Francaise in its original guise remained in the catalogue until recently, giving it an impressive lifespan of almost three decades.

Nips and tucks

The original Tank Francaise was naturally a watch of the 1990s. Its replacement, on the other hand, has the advantage of 21st century design and production techniques.

As a result, the revamped Tank Francaise boasts cleaner, sharped details. The dials are now entirely brushed, while the original had either a simple grained dial or fancier guilloche dial. And instead of the printed Roman numerals, the dials now feature reflective metallic appliqué stickers that give them a more dynamic look.

The dial finish varies subtly according to the case metal. The steel models feature a vertically-brushed, silvered dial with dark grey Roman numerals, while the gold version has a radially-brushed champagne-tone dial and black numerals. 

The steel version has a silvered dial with reflective, dark grey numerals

While the dial design has changed, the overall aesthetic is still classic Cartier with a railway minute track and blued steel sword hands. The look is appealing, but even though the brushed dials give the new Tank Francaise a more modern look, retaining the guilloche dial, at least on some variants, would have added more flavour to the line.

And in the gold the dial gets a pale champagne finish with reflective, black numerals

It’s worth noting the dial of the large model in steel, which is the only mechanical model and also the only one with a date. When the original Tank Francaise had a date, it would be at six for a symmetrical layout.

Now the date has been moved to the three o’clock position where it unfortunately looks awkward, both because of its position and small size – the date window is disproportionately small compared to the rest of the dial.

Just like the dial, the case and bracelet have been facelifted while preserving the look of the original. The adjustments to the case and bracelet design are individually minor, but together they give the watch a more streamlined and cohesive look.

Amongst the changes are redesigned links that allow the bracelet to flow better into the lines of the case. Another is the crown that sits in a shallow recess on the case side. This lowers the profile of the crown slightly, giving the watch a trimmer silhouette.

The only criticism of the bracelet lies in the end links that reveal a fair degree of play. This is made more obvious since the border between the end links and case on each side is unobscured, long, and horizontal.

Although the redesign results in a more streamlined watch, the new Tank Francaise feels upsized over the original, especially in its largest size. Compared to other Cartier models, the Tank Francaise is not quite as chunky as the equivalent Santos de Cartier, but is certainly more chunky than the Tank Louis Cartier or Santos Dumont.

None of the three sizes of the Tank Francaise are especially large watches, but they feel solid. This was probably intentional on the part of its designers who probably wanted to give it a substantial, bracelet-like feel on the wrist.

In typical Cartier style, the three sizes are labelled simply: small, medium, and large. Only the steel model is available in three sizes. The gold models are only in small or medium, with the option of diamonds on the bezel.

The Tank Francaise in steel

And in 18k yellow gold

Enthusiasts, however, might be disappointed that practically all of the Tank Francaise line-up is quartz (albeit “high-autonomy quartz” that has an eight-year battery life), except for the large model.

It’s powered by the  cal. 1853 MC, which is actually a Sellita SW100. Developed for ladies watches, it’s a no-frills automatic movement that’s a compact 17.2 mm in diameter, explaining its very short power reserve of 37 hours. The caliber is definitely an entry-level movement, but the Tank Francaise is priced as an entry-level Cartier.

The back of the steel model that conceals the Sellita base movement

Concluding thoughts

The revamp of the Tank Francaise was long overdue but done right for the most part. The changes were just right, resulting in a watch that still has the distinctive character of the original, but with neater details and a more hefty feel in hand. Some details, namely the date and end links, should have been executed better, but overall the new Tank Francaise accomplishes what it sets out to do, update a 1990s design to suit modern tastes and manufacturing standards. 

Key Facts and Price

Cartier Tank Francaise
Ref. CRWSTA0067 (large model, steel, automatic)
Ref. CRWSTA0074 (medium model, steel, quartz)
Ref. CRWSTA0065 (small model, steel, quartz)
Ref. CRWGTA0113 (medium model, yellow gold, quartz)
Ref. CRWGTA0114 (small model, yellow gold, quartz)

Diameter: Large 36.7 mm by 30.5 mm; medium 32 mm by 27 mm; small 25.7 mm by 21.2 mm
Height: Large 10.1 mm; medium 7.1 mm; small 6.8 mm
Material: Steel or 18k yellow gold
Water resistance: 30 m
Crystal: Sapphire

Movement: 1853 MC (Sellita SW100) for automatic model; or “high autonomy” quartz
Functions: Automatic has hours, minutes, seconds, and date; quartz has hours and minutes
Winding: Automatic
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 37 hours

Strap: Matching bracelet

Limited edition: No
At Cartier boutiques and retailers


Large, steel: US$5,500 or 7,700 Singapore dollars 
Medium, steel: US$4,450 or 6,300 Singapore dollars 
Small, steel: US$3,550 or 4,950 Singapore dollars

Medium, gold without diamonds: US$24,300 or 34,600 Singapore dollars 
Small, gold without diamonds: US$20,900 or 29,700 Singapore dollars

Medium, gold with diamonds: US$30,700 or 43,600 Singapore dollars
Small, gold with diamonds: US$27,500 or 39,200 Singapore dollars

For more, visit Cartier.com


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