Cartier Tank – the world’s most iconic non-round watch

Cartier Tank 1

Although some watch enthusiasts consider Cartier more of a jewelry brand than a watch brand, the French luxury giant actually has a significant place in horological history. Cartier is responsible for creating the concept of the wristwatch as we know it today. Their first men’s wristwatch, the 1904 Cartier Santos, is also the first modern timepiece designed to be specifically worn on the wrist. Today I want to talk about another of their iconic watches – the Cartier Tank. Together with the Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso, the Cartier Tank is considered to be the world’s most iconic non-round watch.

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The Cartier Tank takes inspiration from the Renault tanks of WWI


Timeless and elegant, the Cartier Tank was first introduced in 1917 as a gift to the American general John Pershing. When designing the watch, Louis Cartier was inspired by the WWI tanks, particularly the French Renault Tanks. With its elegant proportions, hard edges, and lugs integrated into the case, the Cartier Tank was an instant success. The watch officially entered production in 1919 when only six models were made. The second model was the 1921 Cartier Tank Cintrée. Featuring a very slim design (the slimmest watch on the market at the time), it was also the first model to be available with Arabic numerals. Just year later, Cartier introduced its third Tank – the Tank Chinoise. Inspired by the architecture of Chinese temples, this version was the first one with a square case.

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The original 1920’s Cartier Tank


In 1928 Cartier introduced the Tank a Guichets. Unlike previous versions, this model did not feature a traditional dial with 12 numerals. Instead, it only had two apertures to display the hours and minutes. The hours were displayed via a jumping disc while the minutes featured a classical rotating disc. Another interesting model from this era was the 1932 Cartier Tank Basculante. Featuring a reversible case, the watch was, just like the JLC’s Reverso, intended for intended for use while playing sports. The year 1936 saw the introduction of an unusual model called the Tank Asymétrique. This watch also featured a rectangular shape but, unlike any other Tank before, its dial and strap attachment were asymmetrical.

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At the time, the Cartier Tank Cintrée was the slimmest watch on the market

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The 1932 Cartier Tank Basculante is the only model with a reversible case



Over the next few decades there were no significant updates to the Cartier Tank. After the death of Pierre Cartier in 1964, the Parisian brand was sold to a group of investors led by Robert Hocq and Joseph Kanoui in 1972. Together, the two opened new markets and introduced a new concept “Les Must de Cartier” (Cartier, it’s a must) to attract new customers. The 1970’s and 1980’s were decades when Cartier began using the quartz technology.  One particularly interesting watch from this era was the Cartier Tank Must. Some of the models featured more affordable Vermeil (silver with gold plating) cases and colorful dials (red, blue, black) with no numerals at all.

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With the 1970’s and 1980’s, Cartier began introducing more affordable models featuring Vermeil (silver with gold plating) cases and colorful dials with no numbers at all


The end of the 1980’s marked the beginning of a new modern era for Cartier and its flagship model. In 1989, the brand presented the Tank Americaine. Visually, this model was evocative of the historic 1921 Tank Cintrée. The next new model was the 1996 Tank Francaise which introduced a more sportier and modern appearance to the collection. The Tank Francaise was followed by the 2004 Tank Solo. The collection’s entry model, the Tank Solo is visually most similar to the original Tank introduced in 1919. In 2012 Cartier introduced two more models: Tank Louis Cartier (inspired by the watch worn by Louis Cartier himself) and Tank Anglaise (crown integrated into the case). The latest addition to the series was the 2013 Tank MC.

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Cartier’s current Tank lineup


Over the past 100 years, Cartier Tank has been produced in many different variations but the main features have stayed the same: A Chemin de Fer (railway) chapter ring, crown decorated with a blue sapphire, square and rectangular shape, bold dials with Roman numerals, and blued steel hands. A classic among the classics, the Cartier Tank is a favorite among royalty, aristocrats and businessmen. Throughout the years, the watch was born by many celebrities including Jackie Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Andy Warhol, Angelina Jolie, Princess Caroline of Monaco, Mick Jagger, Michelle Obama and many others.

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Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was one of the most known Cartier Tank owners



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