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The Cartier Tank still endures the test of time

MANTLE’s Associate Editor goes over the new Cartier Tanks and reflects on the line’s enduring popularity

Cartier had a strong lineup of timepieces for Watches and Wonders Geneva 2022. There’s the marvel of engineering that is the Cartier Masse Mystérieuse, its intricate skeleton, and spinning movement; the wild and bejeweled La Panthère and Indomptables de Cartier; and the warped, amorphous Métiers D’art, which is a work of art in itself. 

But what stole the show for me is the more understated Cartier Tank—not because it had an aesthetic edge over the more complex pieces, but simply because it still racks up the demand and admiration from longtime purveyors and watch newbies alike, even 105 years after it was made. 

Created by Louis Cartier in 1917, the Tank is defined by its distinct rectangular shape, flat vertical brancards, and a sapphire cabochon. The Tanks were also characterized by a bold Roman numeral dial, a chapter ring reminiscent of a railroad (incidentally, the motif is called a “chemin de fer” design, which is French for “railroad” or “railway”), and blued steel hands. 

Iterations like the Tank Must, Tank Louis, Tank Américane, and Tank Française have captivated dress watch aficionados over the past several decades, taking the classic Tank silhouette across a variety of designs, watch faces, straps (from steel to leather), among other modifications. And this year, Cartier does not disappoint with their new iterations. 

The Tank Must reintroduces itself in 2022 with three different variants. 

The first two have a deep black dial with only the French luxury brand’s name written on it, a stainless-steel case, a 6.6 mm steel crown with blue synthetic spinel cabochon, a quartz movement, and a black alligator leather strap. The only difference between the two is the size: one is a “small” model with a 22mm case, while the “large” one measures 25.5 mm. 

The third iteration is a variation of the previously-mentioned “large” model, but now fitted in a gold case with matching hands and printed logo. The 6.6mm crown is yellow gold, decked with a sapphire cabochon.

But the showstoppers for this year’s Tanks are the two new Tank Louis variations, which feature an innovative engraving technique that adds more depth and dimension to the timepieces’ faces. Available in Cartier’s signature red or anthracite grey, these new Tanks feature a simple geometric pattern that allows segments of the dial to change into a lighter or darker shade, depending on how and where the light hits them. 

Capping this simple yet striking design are four Roman numerals at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock, paying homage to the Tank’s earliest designs. The chemin de fer motif is markedly absent, keeping the focus on the shifting shades of the dial. 

The red Tank Louis is decked in yellow gold, while the anthracite gray one is clad in a pink gold case. Both watches are strapped in alligator leather, whose colors match those of their respective dials. 

That these understated timepieces still hold their ground, not just within this year’s wildly creative lineup (we are still thinking about the Masse Mystérieuse’s skeleton) but also amid over a century of watchmaking, further asserts the fact that simplicity—albeit with a few creative touches here and there—is a formula that always works within and even beyond luxury. The Cartier Tank seems to have mastered that formula, and we’re still excited to see how they’re going to tinker with it further.