The Cartier Tank watch is a marvel of fine watchmaking. Simplistic and elegant, it is the pinnacle of French watchmaking brought forth by the most prominent jeweler of the century.
Rarely are jewelers capable of producing such a refined timepiece that critics and collectors revere. Cartier has managed to create one of the finest timepieces in history and arguably, one of the most iconic.
The Cartier Tank is unlike most luxury watches on the market. It is offered in a vast selection of styles and movements that enable it to be proffered at various price points capable of meeting almost every budget. The options seem virtually infinite as one can select from a range of precious metals, movements, complications and straps. Designed for the most elegant gentleman, it is, all things considered, a classic dress watch, capable of being paired harmoniously with everything from casual attire to black tie. A favorite timepiece amongst aristocrats, royalty and businessmen, the Tank’s prices range based on the collection, the model and the movement from just shy of a few thousand dollars, upwards of almost half a million.
History of the Tank
The Tank is a very historic timepiece that dates back to the early 1900s. Although there are many watchmakers that hung their shingle centuries ago, there are few that have continued to produce the same model for such a lengthy period.
Louis Cartier designed the original Tank in the year 1917 as a gift for General John Pershing of the American Expeditionary Force two years before it hit the public marketplace. When creating the timepiece, Cartier drew inspiration from the Renault tanks that he saw on the Western Front. It was a novel creation because, unlike most timepieces of the day, it managed to seamlessly integrate the lugs into the vertical brancards of the casing. It was an instant classic due to its hard edges, crisp lines and clean aesthetic appeal.
A year after presenting its prototype to General Pershing, Louis Cartier announced his newest timepiece and took it to market in early 1919 where a limited run of just six Tank watches were available for sale.
The public interest grew and soon the Cartier Tank was the watch of royals. In 1921, Cartier introduced a second model called the Tank Cintrée which was the slimmest timepiece on the market with curves that were unheard of. By 1922, Cartier introduced yet another new model called the Tank Chinoise followed by the Tank Louis which proved to be equally popular. Not to be outdone by other watchmakers, Cartier introduced yet another collection in 1928 called the Tank a Guichets which was the first model without hands. Then came the odd Tank Obus one year later in mid-1929. In 1932, Cartier who often partnered with other experts including movement designers at LeCoultre created the Tank Basculante, which was designed in similar fashion to the JLC Reverso and intended for use while playing sports. More and more collections were born over the years with a significant new model called the Tank Américaine collection introduced in 1989. Then, in 1996, Cartier announced yet another pinnacle of the current collection, this time, called the Tank Française. Since then, new models have continued to grace the boutiques and stores that sell fine timepieces to the world’s most discerning gentlemen. Unlike most watches that have been around for significant periods of history, the Tank has managed to maintain its unique appearance with every model focusing on the key features that identify the unique timepiece.
- A Chemin de Fer chapter ring
- A square and rectangular shape
- Bold dials with Roman numerals
- A distinctly beautiful sapphire cabochon surmounted crown
- Blue steel hands shaped like swords
Remarkably, with an astounding 45-models presently available in its six current collections, Cartier has managed to make all of them uniquely attractive and yet easily identifiable to even the untrained eye.
Today, the Tank is sold around the world and has become one of the most renowned collector pieces amongst horology aficionados. Unlike many luxury timepieces, the watch is popular with all kinds of demographics including various royals, world leaders, military officers, celebrities, fashion designers and corporate tycoons.
It is especially popular with the business community as well as the contemporary artist due to its clean lines and simplicity.
Currently, Cartier offers six collections of the Tank watch for a total of 45 individual models.
The largest collection in the Cartier portfolio, the Tank Anglaise comes in seventeen different models, all of which are designed to the same principles in mind. The Anglaise is one of the most unique Tank collections because it offers a distinct variation of the features commonly found in the timepiece. It is a perfect recreation of the alignment of the very first Tank watch offered to the public in 1919. Using a winding mechanism that’s incorporated into the case, it is more concentrated than the other collections with a reinforced crispness to the lines of the watch and a more streamlined appearance overall. It is an artistic interpretation of the first Tank but with a contemporary twist that leaves you speechless in the very best of ways.
Ranging in price from just $4850 for a small version made from steel, the base model is just as exquisite to the naked eye as any other. The reason they manage to get the price so low is due to the Cartier 057 quartz movement inside the case. Cartier is one of the few luxury watchmakers to offer quartz timepieces which opens the brand up to a much larger customer base and allows them to be attainable by almost everyone. Of course, the Anglaise collection only gets better as prices jump upwards of an astounding $168,000 for a large, 18-karat white gold model that’s paved with 112 brilliant-cut diamonds in the most simplistic fashion imaginable. Unlike other watches that are covered in diamonds, Cartier has managed to achieve the impossible and makes a timepiece that’s striking and yet somehow unpretentious.
Between the lowest price and the highest, there is a significant range of 14 other watches in steel, yellow, pink and white gold that range in price from just over $6000 upwards of $128,000. Of course, there is also the pinnacle of the collection; the Riviera whose price is only available upon request and application.
Tank Louis Cartier
A personal timepiece of the great Louis Cartier, his namesake watch is the standard by which all Tank models are set. Quintessentially art deco, it features rounded lugs as opposed to the vogue rectangular ones. It is a small, four model collection, ranging in price from $9850 to $58,500. Two of the models are classically inspired large and extra-large Tanks with the additional two models featuring skeleton cases allowing you to see the movement at work. The two lower priced models come in 18k yellow ($9850) and pink ($14,100) gold. The more expensive skeleton models are available in pink and white gold, respectively.
Click here to get your own Tank Louis Cartier for just over $8,000.
Another four model collection, the Tank Américaine is known for its elongated case with a very striking curve that wraps around your wrist effortlessly. It’s a rather fun play on geometry that showcases the harmony between classic linear shapes and round edges.
The four models range in price from just $13,200 to $16,800 with the lower priced watches available in pink ($13,200) and yellow ($15,800) gold. The higher priced models come in pink ($15,800) and white ($16,800) gold. All of the models feature a date aperture that is always a nice feature in any timepiece.
Click here to get a Tank Américaine watch for yourself.
The Tank Française is a single model collection that brings a sportier and more modern appearance to a classically French timepiece. Featuring a yellow gold and steel chain-link bracelet instead of the more elegant leather straps, the Tank Française is a bolder statement that can be worn with business attire but should probably be reserved for a more casual outfit. Sticking to its more contemporary roots, the Française is a larger timepiece but is undeniably still a Tank.
Click here to get a Tank Française in only stainless steel for just $3795.
The Tank MC is the second most extensive collection of thirteen different models that range in price from $6750 to $96,500.
The MC line is Cartier’s most robust design with larger cases and a bold square shape. It’s the power watch of the Maison. What’s really wonderful about this collection, is that even the least expensive watch that is only a couple of thousand more than the quartz timepieces features a 1904-PS MC mechanical movement with automatic winding. For those with smaller budgets who can save a few thousand dollars and still want a luxury timepiece, this is the model we recommend. It is arguably more sporty than the iconic Tank watch with its calendar aperture at the 3 o’clock marker and a small second counter at 6 o’clock.
As the prices rise, chronograph functions become available in the MC collection. It is one of the boldest collections with multiple options to select from and various colors, materials and complications. In fact, there is even a blue-dial model for $7000 and a chocolate brown version for $21,100.
Click here to get a Cartier Tank MC in gold with a chronograph for $19,900.
The Tank Solo is, by and large, the best entry level Cartier collection for a more modest budget. There are six models available in the collection and the prices begin at just $2550 making it one of the least expensive luxury watches in the world. Granted, it is a quartz movement that powers the timepiece, there are automatic movements in the same collection that range from just $3450 to $8200. For those looking to acquire an elegant timepiece on a small budget, this might be the very best option if you’re set on a Cartier.
Click here to get an entry-level Cartier Tank Solo for just over $2100.
Where to Buy a Tank
There are many places one can purchase a Cartier Tank. In fact, they are almost as easy to procure as Rolex or Omega. There are really three types of places to buy new and vintage Tanks.
- Authorized Retailers
- Grey Market Retailers
- Private Sellers
Cartier not only sells its collections on its official website, but it also has numerous boutiques around the world and continues to authorize third-party retailers to sell their jewellery and watches. Obviously, we recommend purchasing your new and vintage Tank from an authorized seller whether it be through Cartier directly or one of their representatives. By doing so, you can ensure you’re purchasing an authentic and working timepiece that will be covered under any applicable warranties. Since Cartier watches are priced very appropriately (for the most part) and are often one of the most counterfeited timepieces sold online, it goes without saying that if this is an investment purchase, you may want to pay the extra cost to ensure you don’t get taken advantage of after the deal is done.
Grey Market Retailers
A grey market retailer is any commercial seller that isn’t authorized by the brand to sell their product. The difference between grey market and the black market is simple: black market dealers are selling stolen products.
There are two distinct benefits to purchase from a grey market dealer:
- You’ll end up saving money on the final purchase price.
- You can usually negotiate the price.
Of course, with reward, there is a certain level of risk involved. These are just a few of the risks you want to keep in mind:
- Your watch will not be covered by manufacturer warranty. Any warrant you receive will be directly from the seller and is void if the vendor goes out of business.
- Your watch, although described as new-in-box, may actually be a previously worn timepiece that was repackaged.
- For the hundreds of grey market dealers there just a handful of notable ones. You really need to make sure that you do your homework, so you don’t end up with a counterfeit watch or a timepiece that isn’t in pristine condition.
When it comes to grey market sellers, we highly recommend sticking with the various auction houses such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Antiquorum. Your next best bet will be well-reviewed jewellers followed by online stores. For the most part, the auction houses and reputable jewelry stores will only sell vintage and pre-owned watches.
The third place to purchase a Cartier Tank is through a private seller. These can be individuals, sole proprietors, independent jewellers or estate managers. In many cases, these watches will be pre-owned. The benefit is that you can often find the best deal. The drawback is that it’s the riskiest way to purchase a watch.
Most private sellers will sell these watches on consignment, in newspapers and circulars or online using websites such as eBay, Craigslist and watch forums.
To learn more about how to buy a Cartier Tank on eBay, click here for our eBay buying guide.
To learn how to purchase any vintage luxury watch in detail, click here.
Reputable online platforms such as Amazon offer a 30 day no questions asked return policy. So you can order the watch, inspect it in person and take all the time you want without a sales person watching you, have it appraised and if something is wrong you can return it.
How to Wear a Tank
The Tank is a very versatile timepiece. Unlike most dress watches, the Tank is water-resistant which allows you to wear it in a more casual environment. Of course, it’s not a diving watch, so we don’t recommend exposing it to water on purpose.
The standard rule of the Tank is to wear what it appears to match. If you have a Tank Française or a metal Tank Solo, it will work handsomely with casual wear and even sportswear. However, you can dress it up and pair it with a blazer or even a suit for the Solo with a leather strap.
If you own a quintessential Tank dress watch made of yellow or pink gold with an alligator strap, we highly recommend reserving it as a dress watch and pairing it with business attire. Of course, the Tank is one of the few timepieces that some men argue can be worn with black tie. If you do decide to wear it with your dinner jacket or tuxedo, be sure that it’s an appropriate gold Tank watch and not a steel one. Furthermore, the higher priced diamond-cut Tanks should be reserved solely for appropriate occasions or as a collector piece that’s kept in the vault. Most watches that are emblazoned with diamonds are far too ostentatious for black tie or even business attire. Unless of course you work in the entertainment industry. However, the Tank, unlike many of the other diamond watches in existence, has managed to do a fairly superb job of minimizing its extravagance. Somehow, they’ve kept it somewhat simplistic in comparison to others, so it’s not necessarily a faux-pas to wear it out and about. We would just suggest you do what you feel is comfortable and appropriate for the occasion.
The Tank watch is a substantial investment in luxury timekeeping. It is one of the most iconic dress watches ever made and stays away from trends that eventually parish to remain sophisticated and elegant as the decades pass.
Do you own a Cartier Tank? What’s your favorite model?