Review: Cartier Tank Collection

Cartier’s Tank line is one of the classics of modern watchmaking. Still in production in its original model and numerous others, Tank has an art nouveau look that captivates with its timeless charm.

In the world of jewelry and watchmaking, it would be hard to find a more esteemed name than Cartier. Founded in Paris in 1847, this firm soon became a favorite of Princess Mathilde, niece of Napoleon I and cousin of Emperor Napoleon III. As the 19th century moved into the 20th, Cartier became the official purveyor for the royal families of England, Spain, Portugal, Russia, Siam, Serbia, Belgium and Egypt. Along the way, they pioneered the use of platinum in jewelry, invented the first “mystery clock” with an invisible mechanism and created the fabulous Cartier Imperial Egg for Tsar Nicholas II.

By the time the company reached the roaring ‘20s, it was a recognized trendsetter for the art nouveau movement. One of the creations in its fashion repertoire was the Tank watch. Launched in 1919, this superb timepiece was in production through one of the most flamboyant and colorful eras of modern history, and its look perfectly captures the mood of the time.

The classic Tank design uses a rectangular case with sleek, rounded edges and corners. Instead of a conventional bezel, the border surrounding the dial is an extension of the over-sized lugs forming rectangular bars running down either side of the face. The dial has angled Roman numerals surrounding an inner band with small hour markers and sometimes a date window at the three o’clock position. The crown is knurled and set with a blue cabochon. An unusual touch is a knurled ring for turning the crown that extends through a slit in the case. The bracelet is metal link and as wide as the face.

Various models use stainless steel, rose gold or yellow gold either singly or in combination. A particularly striking touch seen on some Tanks is the alternation of steel and gold links in the metal bracelet. Other variations are mother-of-pearl or flinque texturing on some of the faces and the addition of diamonds on the face or case.

Interestingly, the line is divided into American, French and English versions. Each has a slightly different look with the American versions looking casual but snappy, the English rounded and congenial and the French severe and resolute. Supposedly this was a commentary on the way these nations saw each other in the 1920s, but each style has its good points and all are still in production.

When you’re wearing a Tank, it’s easy to see why it’s been so popular. It’s a bit of history, but it’s also a beautiful, unique style statement.