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Cartier Tank: The Story of an Icon

Posted by Hosai Tarin on Jul 9, 2018 3:45:04 PM

Cartier Tank watches

The Cartier Tank is a watch with a past. It has a sense of prestige and history that gives it a special place in the heart of watch lovers around the globe.

This prestige has grown over time, built up through exceptional craftsmanship, inimitable style, and a crowd of iconic wearers.

A giant of the horological world, the Cartier Tank, remains today, as it did decades (and even a century ago), “the watch to wear.”

Today, we take a closer look at the Cartier Tank, examining its violent inspirations and brand evolution, alongside famous wearers and our favourite models.

Step inside the world of the Cartier Tank and get to know one of your favourite icons a little better.

Andy Warhol quote


A Brief History of Cartier 

The roots of Cartier stretch back to 1847, when Louis-François Cartier took over his teacher’s old workshop in Paris to begin his own business.

The shop grew a small but steady following in Paris, becoming a family firm as Louis-François’ son and then grandsons, nurtured and grew the jewellery brand.

It was his grandsons, Louis, Pierre, and Jacques who truly established Cartier on the global scene. Then in the early 1900s, Louis made history by creating their first men’s wristwatch, the Santos.

At this time, Cartier also entered into an exclusive partnership with Edmond Jaeger, providing them with access to some of the finest movements available.

The company flourished as a watchmaker and was very quickly designing some of the most sought-after watches in the world, with branches in London, St Petersburg, and New York.

The Baignoire and Tortue are two of Cartier’s other early, successful models, both of which remain in production today.

Cartier Tortue and Baignoire watches

Cartier Tortue and Cartier Baignoire


The Birth of the Tank

The inspiration for the tank came from an unlikely place, the battlefields of World War I. Louis Cartier was inspired by the revolutionary design of the french Renault combat tanks, with their uncompromising angles and unique rolling tracks.

World War I tanks inspired the Cartier Tank watch

World War I tanks inspired the Cartier Tank watch

He fused this inspiration with his love of Art Nouveau in 1917 to create a watch that was ahead of its time in both form and function.

The rectangular case represented an almost complete break with accepted timepiece design at the time. While the brushed platinum face, roman numerals, and cabochon cut sapphire as a crown, created a clean yet luxurious finish.

The Cartier Tank made its debut at a suitably militaristic occasion. The very first Cartier Tank was presented by Louis Cartier in 1918 as a victory watch to the American general, John Pershing, on the arrival of American troops in France.

Cartier Tank watch

Cartier Tank Normale Watch


The Tank Evolution

The Tank story picks up the pace from the 1920s onwards when Cartier began to offer a platinum model for sale in their Parisian branch. Six were sold in 1920, and this model was given the name, the Tank Normale.

But Cartier certainly didn’t take any time to sit back and enjoy their success. They released a more curvaceous model, the Tank Cintreé in 1921, followed just a year later by the Tank Chinoise (inspired by the opulent design of Chinese temples).

Cartier Tank Chinoise watch

Cartier Tank Chinoise

1922 saw the introduction of the Tank Reversible (later known as Tank Basculante), designed with polo players in mind.

1936 Cartier Tank Basculante watch

Cartier Tank Basculante, 1936


Later that decade, in 1928, the Cartier Tank à Guichets was another watch that was truly ahead of its time, becoming the very first Tank to incorporate a mechanical, digital time display. It remains a rare and sought-after classic.

1920's Cartier Tank à Guichets watch

1920's Cartier Tank à Guichets

Other models followed, including the water-resistant Etanché in 1931 and later the Tank Américaine, Tank Française and Tank Anglaise, in 1989, 1996, and 2012 respectively.

Over the last hundred years, the Cartier Tank has had a huge number of incarnations, many of which remain desirable today.


Pre-owned Cartier Tank Collection


The Current Cartier Tank Collection

Today, there are 37 individual Cartier Tank models available, spread across seven distinct collections. You can explore these collections, and perhaps, find your favourite Tank, below:


Tank Anglaise

This popular collection contains seven unique models. It looks back to the very earliest Tanks with a perfect recreation of the original alignment, albeit with some contemporary twists on the original models.

This collection features some quartz movements and has a number of models which offer a more affordable entry point into the brand.

Available in small, medium and large with a broad range of bracelet options. Prices start from £4,200. If you want a classic Tank with limited fuss, this may be the collection for you. 

Cartier Tank Anglaise watch - W5310009

Cartier Tank Anglaise


Ref: W5310009


Tank Louis Cartier

Tank Louis Cartier is inspired by the personal watch of Louis Cartier, the watch by which all other Tank models are measures. This collection includes just six models and features a strong Art Deco influence.

Notably, the collection showcases rounded lugs as opposed to rectangular ones, creating a distinctive silhouette. Two of the models also feature a skeleton case, allowing the beautiful movement to be seen and admired.

Prices start from £8,450. This is the Tank for watch collectors who are all about the details.

Tank Louis Cartier - WGTA0011

Tank Louis Cartier


Ref: WGTA0011


Tank Française

A larger and more distinctively sporty collection than other Cartier offerings, the Française feels like a very modern take on the Tank. This is a single model collection, with a distinctive, robust 18 karat gold and steel metal bracelet.

This is a great choice for casual wear but can also add a distinctive flair to a formal or business look. Choose this watch if you want a timepiece to get you noticed.

Although there is only one gold and steel model in the current collection, you can find other variations of the Tank Francaise in the pre-owned market



Cartier Tank Française 


Ref: W51005Q4


Tank MC

Like the Tank Anglaise, this is a broad collection, containing 11 models. A larger, squarer and more robust case gives the MC a distinctive personality that feels at home with modern watch trends.

This collection also offers great scope for customisation in terms of strap, colour, and dial. Despite its modern sensibility, it remains a classic Cartier Tank at its heart with the same attention to quality and design that you can find in every Cartier watch range.

Wear this for a modern take on a classic watch. Prices start from £5,800.

Cartier Tank MC - W5330003

Cartier Tank MC


Ref: W5330003


Tank Solo

The Solo collection was introduced in 2004 and focuses on the simplicity and elegance of early Tanks. Featuring six models, each aligned with the classic design principles of the Cartier Tank, it is also surprisingly affordable.

Prices range from just over £2000 to £7000, making it one of the most budget-friendly luxury watches around. Choose the Tank Solo for the classic Tank look without the hefty price tag.

Cartier Tank Solo watch - W5200014

Cartier Tank Solo


Ref: W5200014



This collection contains just three models, featuring an elongated case and distinctive curved shape that sits comfortably around the wrist. It plays with the relationship between curved lines and geometric angles, resulting in a sophisticated and elegant timepiece.

The Américaine has a useful date window and prices start at £4,950. If you want a clean, classic Tank that will take you anywhere, this is it.

Cartier Tank Americaine watch - WSTA0018

Cartier Tank Americaine


Ref: WSTA0018


Tank Cintrée

The most recent vintage revival of the Cartier Tank line is the Cintrée, and this beautiful collection was definitely worth the wait. With just three models available in a show-stopping skeleton design, this is a luxury watch with serious wrist appeal.

Available only in platinum and 18 karat rose gold, it’s not a timepiece that is going to be kind to your budget, but when it’s this beautiful, who cares? This is the statement watch of a lifetime. Prices start at £55,500.

 Cartier Tank Cintree watch - WHTA0009

 Cartier Tank Cintree


Ref: WHTA0009


Famous Cartier Lovers

The Cartier Tank has been a hit with the great and the good from the very start. Its most notable early, silver screen appearance coming via silent film star, Rudolph Valentino, who insisted on wearing his Tank during a performance in ‘The Son of the Sheik’ in 1926.

It may not have been the perfect fit for the character or the costume, but it cemented the Cartier Tank as a Hollywood favourite.

Later, the Tank was a favourite of Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Andy Warhol and even JFK.

Andy Warhol wearing his Tank Louis Cartier

Andy Warhol wearing his Tank Louis Cartier

And it isn’t just great men who love the Cartier Tank. Princess Diana and Jaqueline Kennedy were both regular Tank wearers, while today Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie have been spotted in this iconic watch.


Princess Diana wearing her Tank Louis Cartier

Princess Diana wearing her Tank Louis Cartier


Kim Kardashian is also a fan. In 2017 she bought Jackie Kennedy's vintage Cartier gold tank at a Christies auction. Jackie wore the watch throughout her life, from 1963 to her passing in 1994. Kim paid a whopping $379,500 to own this glamorous piece of history. 

The list of celebrity Cartier Tank wearers is simply too long to list but it is definitely a timepiece with serious star appeal.

Jackie Kennedy's vintage Tank Louis Cartier watch, purchased for $379,500 by Kim Kardashian at a Christies auction in 2017

Jackie Kennedy's vintage Cartier Tank Louis Cartier watch, which was purchased for $379,500 by Kim Kardashian at a Christies auction.


Why Pick a Cartier Tank?

The Cartier Tank is as relevant today as it was in 1917. A classic and timeless piece that can be worn by anyone to go anywhere. It works for daytime or evening, for formal or relaxed. It has that timeless ‘it’ factor that is hard to pin down but impossible to ignore.

A Cartier Tank also often represents a solid investment, although its best to take advice on that from a watch specialist before purchasing any timepiece with that in mind.

 Pre-owned Cartier Tank Collection

Essentially, it’s a watch that you will love and enjoy for years to come. A classic that will never go out of style.

Fallen in love with the Cartier Tank? We might have just the watch you are looking for. At Burrells, we are specialists in pre-owned Cartier watches.

Pop into one of our boutiques and speak to our friendly team or visit our online store today. You might discover a watch that is your perfect match.


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