Hands On: Cartier Privé Tank Normale

An ode to the original.

Since its introduction in 2018 with the Tank Cintrée, Cartier Privé has emerged as a favourite of enthusiasts because it delves into the brand’s rich history by reimagining iconic designs. That approach is exemplified in the latest addition to the collection, the Privé Tank Normale. Based on the 1917 original designed by Louis Cartier, the latest incarnation of the Tank Normale matches historical style with a touch of modernity.

Initial thoughts

Even amongst Cartier’s many famous case designs, the Tank stands out as especially iconic. The very first Tank was the Normale so it was only a matter of time before Cartier revived the original Normale, which had been out of production for some years.

The revived Tank Normale was clearly conceived with attention to detail. It looks much like the vintage original, but with a gently modernised dial as well as the heft and refinement of a modern timepiece. One especially pleasing detail that speaks to its creators’ eye for detail is the bevelled sapphire crystal that mimics the glass of the vintage original.

A standout feature of the Tank Normale is the bracelet, which is optional and expensive but looks good. Constructed with brick-like links, the bracelet evoke watches from the 1920s. The vintage aesthetic fits the Tank Normale perfectly, but the build quality is solidly modern. This is the first bracelet Cartier has offered for its high-end men’s watches in some time, and hopefully it won’t be the last.

As for the choice between strap or bracelet, the matching precious-metal bracelet is especially appealing. It enhances the aesthetics of the timepiece in practically every conceivable way, although to the detriment of affordability.

Starting at US$31,000 on a strap and US$46,600 on a bracelet, the Tank Normale falls within the expected price range relative to the rest of the Privé collection. And the price premium for the bracelet – the bracelet version is 50% more expensive than the strap version – is more or less in the ballpark for such things. So it is reasonably priced by Cartier standards, but not a value proposition by any means.

While there are certainly more affordable dress watches on the market, some of which are equally elegant, none have the iconic design and heritage of the Tank Normale.

Born in the shadow of a World War

The new Tank Normale is the latest incarnation of a wristwatch created 106 years ago during the First World War. The first conflict to utilise mechanised armaments on an industrial scale, the First World War saw the introduction of various weapons of war, including the tracked armoured vehicle that would come to be known as the tank.

Inspired by the Renault FT tanks employed by the French army, Louis Cartier penned the Tank Normale, a case design that is essentially the bird’s eye view of a tank. 

A Tank Normale in platinum with a mesh bracelet from 1920. Image – Christie’s

Enjoying a longevity that has made it one of the most coveted models created by the French jeweller, the Tank has undergone many facelifts and reincarnations over the century, resulting in a range of diverse shapes and sizes that are all Tank. The new Tank Normale picks up where the last iteration of the model left off, which was sometimes in the 1990s when the previous model was discontinued.

A stylish reinterpretation 

The appeal of the Tank Normale lies in the fact that is reinterprets the 1917 original, but gently. The new watch incorporates most of the original’s defining elements while subtly tweaking the design, just enough enough to make it a modern watch.

The dial, for instance, retains the typical Cartier features of Roman numerals and a railway minute track. But the numerals are slightly heavier and the railway track is wider, giving the watch a more masculine face, which is useful considering the compact case.

Likewise, the hands take a more modern form. Unlike most vintage, early 20th-century examples that feature Breguet hands, the Tank Normale uses the sword hands that are standard in contemporary Cartier watches.

Both versions of the watch use the same hands in different colours, resulting in a very different look. The yellow gold model has blued steel hands that deliver good legality, while the platinum version has rhodium-plated brass hands that are slightly less legible.

And the dial also includes something collectors will appreciate, a clever Easter egg has been hidden within the “VII” where the customary Cartier “secret signature” typically resides. Instead of the conventional signature, the numeral contains “1917”, a nod to the design’s historical origin.

The new Tank Normale also feels new because it has been scaled up modestly to suit current tastes. With a case measuring 32.6 mm by 25.7 mm, it is slightly larger than the vintage originals, like this example from 1920 measuring 31 mm by 23 mm.

The increase in size over the original is not huge, but enough that the new watch is not too small. In fact, the new Normale is quite compact by today’s standards, giving it an elegant, retro feel. It certainly caters well to anyone seeking a watch that has the proportions of a classical gentleman’s timepiece.

The case is finished neatly. The brancards are brushed on top but exhibit meticulously polished chamfers along their lengths, a refined detail that lengthens the watch visually. 

Another detail that keen-eyed enthusiasts will appreciate is the bevelled sapphire crystal that resembles the glass of vintage examples. Sitting slightly domed above the case, the crystal has wide, bevelled flanks that slightly distort the dial below although it doesn’t interference with reading the time.

But perhaps the most notable feature of the case is what’s attached to it. Perfectly vintage in style, the maillon bracelet is not strictly integrated but feels seamless enough. The oblong links complement the case form, while the brushed top surfaces of the case allow it to flow into the satin-finished bracelet.

Though it possesses a style that might pass for a vintage bracelet at a distance, it is heftier and more solid than vintage bracelets by a wide margin.

The bracelet is fitted with a single-fold clasp that sits in a recess on the reverse of the links, giving it a flatter and more comfortable profile on the wrist. The clasp, however, feels a little bulky relative to the rest of the watch, unlike the slender Cartier clasps of old. That said, it is extremely solid and surely more robust than the thinner clasps found on vintage watches.

An example of a 1920s Cartier bracelet, here on a period Tank Cintree

The bracelet is of course optional, with the versions on a bracelet limited to 100 in each metal. The Tank Normale is also available with an alligator strap – that’s a limited edition of 200 in each metal. 

The version with a strap. Image – Cartier

All variants of the Tank Normale are fitted with the manually-wound cal. 070. It’s a compact and round movement made by Le Temps Manufacture, a small movement maker that specialises in time-only movements, including several small calibres like the one found here.

With a diminutive size of 15.29 mm in diameter and height of 2.15 mm, the cal. 070 is a good fit for the small case, but brings with it a short power reserve of approximately 38 hours.

Although Cartier provides no images of the movement, it appears quite basic based on images available elsewhere. A fancier calibre would have been a plus, but the cal. 070 is acceptable since the Tank Normale is all about its external attributes – style and finishing – rather than its mechanics. 

Concluding thoughts

Since it sticks closely to the design of the original, the Tank Normale retains impeccably balanced proportions. The design blends modern and vintage elements, but not to excess, resulting in a simple but distinctive aesthetic. This can be nothing else but a Tank, and no other Tank but the Normale.

The bracelet is one of its most appealing features, and one that will hopefully be repeated for other models in the future.

Key facts and price

Cartier Privé Tank Normale 
Ref. CRWGTA0108 (yellow gold)
Ref. CRWGTA0110 (yellow gold with bracelet)
Ref. CRWGTA0109 (platinum)
Ref. CRWGTA0111 (platinum with bracelet)

Diameter: 32.6 mm by 25.7 mm
Height: 6.85 mm
Material: Yellow gold or platinum
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: Not applicable

Movement: Cal. 070
Features: Hours and minutes
Frequency: 25,200 beats per hour (3.5 Hz)
Winding: Manual
Power reserve: 38 hours

Strap: Alligator leather strap with pin buckle or matching bracelet

Limited edition: 600 pieces, with 200 in each metal on strap, and another 100 in each metal with a matching bracelet
At Cartier boutiques and retailers

Yellow gold: US$31,000; or 44,300 Singapore dollars
Yellow gold with bracelet: US$46,600; or 66,500 Singapore dollars

Platinum: US$34,900; or 49,800 Singapore dollars
Platinum with bracelet: US$53,500; or 76,500 Singapore dollars

Singapore dollars prices include taxes

For more, visit Cartier.com


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