Created in 1917 by Louis Cartier and inspired by military tanks on the battlefields of World War I, the Cartier Tank has grown over the last century to become Cartier’s flagship watch collection. However, there is not just one Tank watch model but in fact, many variations. If you’ve ever wondered what the differences are between the Française, Anglaise, Américaine, Solo, Must de Cartier, and others, read our guide to different Cartier Tank watches.
What Are the Defining Characteristic of a Cartier Tank?
Before we examine the various editions, it’s first important to define the signature design traits of the Cartier Tank watch. These are the details that tie all the variations together. As we mentioned, the Tank was fashioned in part after the design of a military tank.
The idea is, if the wearer looks directly down at the watch, the dial is like the cockpit of the armored vehicle while the thick vertical case borders mimic the massive treads. These case sides are called “brancards” (which is French for “stretcher”) and they not only frame the dial but also transition to become the watch’s lugs (the four pieces that extend beyond the case that serve to attach the strap to the case). This seamless transition from the case frame to the lugs is a defining characteristic of a Cartier Tank watch.
Furthermore, Tank watches (and most Cartier watches at that) will often have Roman numeral hour markers, a rail-track minute counter close to the center of the dial, blue sword-shaped center hands, and a blue cabochon-cut stone set into the faceted winding crown.
The Tank Louis Cartier
The very first Tank models released by Cartier to the public in 1919 are now referred to Tank Normale models. The second generation that quickly followed was the Tank Louis Cartier. Compare to the Normale the Louis Cartier Tank had a slightly longer case with rounded brancards and a rectangular dial rather than square.
These design updates resulted in an even more elegant Tank watch model with Art Deco vibes and the Tank Louis Cartier (often called the LC by collectors) is the quintessential Tank watch. Cartier continues to include the Tank LC in its current collection, which speaks to the enduring appeal of this classic dress luxury watch.
Must de Cartier Tank
In 1977, Cartier introduced a budget-friendly option of the Tank Louis Cartier in the form of the Must de Cartier Tank collection. Producing an affordable version of the Tank was done to offset the damage being done by cheaper Japanese-made watches flooding the fine timepiece market during the height of the Quartz Crisis. Instead of solid gold or platinum cases of previous Tank watches, the Must de Cartier Tanks sported vermeil cases (sterling silver coated in gold) and they ran on ETA-based mechanical or quartz movements rather than ultra-thin Frédéric Piguet mechanical calibers. But the overall designs of the Must de Cartier Tanks watches echoed those of the famed Tank Louis Cartier timepieces and they were a huge success.
To differentiate the cheaper Must de Cartier Tank models from the original precious metal editions, Cartier design a dial that was markedly different without the customary Roman numerals and minute track. Instead, the initial Must de Cartier Tank watches were available with an assortment of vibrant dial colors and they become a favorite of the fashion-set. Eventually, the Must de Cartier Tank lineup included the more classic Cartier dial designs too.
Cartier introduced the Tank Américaine in 1989 as a modern iteration of the vintage Tank Cintrée. The Tank Cintrée (French for “curved”) dates back to the 1920s and it features a dramatically elongated and curved case. Similarly, the Tank Américaine also includes a stretched out case yet its caseback is flat rather than curved.
While the Tank Américaine was originally in yellow gold, Cartier later expanded the collection to include other metal options. What’s more, the Tank Américaine is also offered in a range of functions including time-only, time and date, chronograph, and others.
In 1995, Cartier unveiled yet another Tank version with the Tank Française. Positioned to speak to the modern watch buyer, the Tank Française watch was sportier thanks to its chain-link bracelet. Yet again, Cartier drew inspiration from military tanks by designing the bracelet to recall the vehicles’ caterpillar tracks.
The earliest models were available in yellow gold and two-tone steel and gold but the following year, Cartier introduced full stainless steel Tank Française watches—the first full steel Tank watches ever made. The Tank Française watches were an instant hit and continue to mainstays of Cartier’s watch collection.
Following in the footsteps of the American Tank and the French Tank, Cartier launched the English Tank, aka the Tank Anglaise, in the early 2000s. These three nation-named models are a tribute to Cartier’s flagship boutiques in New York, Paris, and London.
For this particular model, not only does the Tank Anglaise watch include chunkier and curvier brancards but it also integrated the winding crown into the right brancard. By incorporating the crown into the vertical flanks, Cartier achieved a more symmetrical case silhouette with the Tank Anglaise model.
In 2004, the Tank Solo watches came onto the scene as the entry-level version of the classic Louis Cartier Tank. Though it has a similar look to the LC, the brancards of the Solo are flatter and in most instances, the case is thicker.
To keep the price down, the Tank Solo is often powered by quartz movements and often made in stainless steel. However, this is not to say that there aren’t mechanical movement versions or precious metal editions of the Tank Solo because there are.
Finally, in 2013, Cartier released the Tank MC, taking its name from “Manufacture Cartier” to indicate that it runs on an in-house movement. The watches include a slightly curved case, complete with a sapphire caseback for a view of the Cartier movement.
The dials of the Tank MC follow the characteristic Cartier style with Roman numerals and sword-shaped hands but they also benefit from a running seconds subdial. Cartier makes the Tank MC in a variety of metals, colorways, and functions.
It’s clear given all the variations that the Tank watch is an integral part of Cartier’s watch collection and every few years or so, the brand offers up yet another iteration of the iconic timepiece. And thanks to these updates, the century-year old Tank watch is as fresh today as it was when it made its debut over 100 years ago.