When it comes to classic watches with true cross-generational appeal then it’s hard to go past the Cartier Tank. Just take the multitude of famous wrists that it has adorned over the years. As Andy Warhol proclaimed, “I don’t wear a Tank to tell the time. In fact, I never wind it. I wear a Tank because it’s the watch to wear.”
Few will have subscribed to Warhol’s eccentric refusal to wind his watch, but plenty of others have shared his taste for horological design. Rudolph Valentino, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Muhammad Ali all wore a Cartier Tank, as did the writer Truman Capote who, in a famous exchange, tried to give one away to a journalist after objecting to his interviewer’s unsightly timepiece. “Take that ugly watch off your wrist, and put on that one,” Capote reputedly said, offering the Tank off his own wrist. When the journalist was embarrassed by the generosity of the gesture, Capote shrugged it off, “I beg you, keep it, I have at least seven at home.”
But while all sorts of legendary men have been seduced by the linear angularity of this square-faced watch, the appeal of the Cartier Tank is arguably even greater among women. Greta Garbo, Brigitte Bardot, Grace Kelly, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Michelle Obama, and Gisele Bündchen all joined the Tank brigade, as did Lady Diana, whose watch has subsequently been inherited by Meghan Markle.
What’s remarkable about the Cartier Tank is how the design has barely changed since it was first introduced in 1919. Louis Cartier’s design was purportedly inspired by the stocky French tank, the Renault FT. The watch evoked a bird’s eye view of the vehicle, with the central case and dial resembling the body and cockpit, and the strong, elongated brancards (the vertical bars on the sides of the case) reflecting the tank tracks. More than 100 years on, the evolution has proved gradual with subtle tweaks and considered adaptations to the watch’s iconic form.
The watch has been elongated and slimmed down on a Tank Américaine, and solar-powered and fitted with a vegan strap on the SolarBeat. But in 1996, the Tank was offered with a sportier alternative to its trusty leather strap in the form of the Tank Française’s metal bracelet. And it’s this specific offshoot that has just received a fresh upgrade in the form of a line-up of seven new pieces.
Design-wise, the changes are fairly subtle, but serve to make the watch more modern and refined. The brancards on the new Tank Française become more prominent, but this effect is offset by the sapphire crown being inlaid to keep the elegance of the overall appearance. The case sizes are all a tad larger than the previous iterations, but the finishes on both the cases and bracelets are now largely brushed rather than the polished surfaces of before.
The new range features small (21.1mm) and medium sizes (27.2mm) in gold, while you also have a bolder option with diamond-studded brancards as well. The steel version offers both these sizes as well as a larger case (30.6mm). All the watches are powered by a quartz movement, except for the large steel-cased one that features an automatic movement with a date window at three o’clock.
Overall, these little changes combine to make a watch that feels sleeker and more contemporary. Exactly the sort of changes, in other words, that look sure to maintain the Tank’s enduring popularity for the next 100 years at least.
The new Cartier Tank Française is available now with prices ranging from $5250 for the Tank Française Small in steel to A$46,300 for the Tank Française Medium in 18k yellow gold with diamonds.