6 minutes

5 Things to Know Before Buying a Cartier Tank

By Thomas Hendricks

Before Buying a Cartier Tank

We’ve got a big task ahead of us today for this guide on the Cartier Tank, with 5 important things to get to: 1. We’ll cover the buffet of shapes including the affordable ones, the expensive ones, and one that tripled in price in less than a year. 2. We’ll talk sizing and ask, “How small is too small?” Plus I’ve got a trick for squeezing more versatility out of the Tank. 3. We’ll navigate the steel vs. gold question and the mechanical vs. quartz conundrum. 4. We’ll answer the questions “What the hell is ‘Must de Cartier’?” and “Should you consider buying one?” 5. And lastly, we’re hitting Cartier Tank alternatives including watches that are, frankly, better and cheaper than a Tank. Stick around.

1. There’s a Cartier Tank Shape for Everyone

The Tank you’re most used to seeing is the classic rectangular Tank Normale or the Tank Louis. The Tank Normale is the original model from 1917, inspired by a literal war machine, the Renault FT-17 from World War I. The Tank Louis is essentially the streamlined version that’s had a bigger impact on pop culture. If you want to go a little outside the norm, consider the Tank Cintrée from 1921 – they are iconic but quite expensive.

Iconic, but rather expensive: the Cartier Tank Cintrée.
Iconic, but rather expensive: the Cartier Tank Cintrée

If you want a variant where you can more easily read the time, a square might be the shape for you. Take a look at the Tank Chinoise, the Tank Obus, or maybe even the Monopoussoir chronograph.

If you like round watches, there’s the Baignoire and the rare Baignoire Allongée. And if you want to get really weird, we’ve got the Asymétrique which retails for at least $35,000 (and sells for much higher on the secondary market), or the more reasonably priced Ceinture, which you can find for under $5,000. And if you’re after a grail, the Tank à Guichets jump hour is an absolute banger, but very difficult to find.

There is also a Cartier Tank that tripled in price in less than a year. It’s rectangular, it’s steel, it’s flexible: the Cartier Tank Basculante. In September 2020, the average price on Chrono24 was a mere $3,000. One year later, it was already at $9,500.

The Cartier Tank Basculante tripled in price in less than a year.
The Cartier Tank Basculante tripled in price in less than a year.

2. It’s a Small Watch That Somehow Fits Everyone

When it comes to sizing for the Cartier Tank, how small is too small? The “large” Tank Louis measures 25.5 mm wide by 37.7 mm tall. But it’s a dress watch, so subtlety and elegance are the name of the game. I’ve found that it’s much quicker to get used to a smaller watch than a larger watch. And at less than 7 mm thick, not only will the watch slide easily underneath a cuff, but it might also be the most comfortable watch you own. The watch I purchased instead of a Tank, which I won’t reveal quite yet, is a 29-mm square, but because square watches take up more real estate than circular ones, I’d say it wears like a 35 or 36 mm. The same principle is true for the Tank.

Secondly, did you know that Muhammad Ali comfortably wore a Cartier Tank? Not only was he “The Greatest,” he was also heavyweight champion of the world – a big guy. For a more exact idea of how the Tank might fit your wrist, simply Google “Cartier Tank on a 17 cm wrist,” for example.

Now for a quick trick. The Tank is almost always worn on a dark leather strap – very formal, quite regal, but quite limiting as well. What I’d suggest, from experience, is to get yourself a perlon strap to up the versatility of the watch. They’re maybe $15 each and come in all kinds of colors. It’s a bit of a high/low combination that helps if you want to pair this watch with more casual outfits, but it looks dressier than a NATO, and you won’t have that stinky, sweaty leather in the warmer months.

3. Steel Tanks Are Acceptable (and Quartz Ones Are, Too!)

One of the first things to figure out when looking for a Tank is whether you want steel or gold. Steel models lack the classic glamour of gold, but they’re more durable and affordable, and some people just look better in white metals. You also often get a bracelet with steel Tanks. Plenty of Tanks come in gold, but the key models in steel are the Tank Française, the Tank Solo, and the SolarBeat.

Cartier Tank Divan Large Quartz in 18ct Yellow Gold
Cartier Tank Divan Large Quartz in 18kt Yellow Gold

Next, you’ll need to decide between mechanical and quartz. In the watch world in general, people prefer mechanical movements to battery-powered quartz movements, but it’s less important for two-hand watches like the Tank because you don’t see the ticking of the seconds hand. You also have the SolarBeat Tank which uses photovoltaic charging technology similar to a G-Shock. The SolarBeat in particular has been well received by the enthusiast community, so the usual stigma around battery-powered movements is largely avoided here.

My advice? If you’re adamant about having an all-mechanical collection, go that route. But if you’d like to have some cash left over and/or you don’t wear dress watches that often, you can buy a quartz version, and no one will even know.

4. Some Must de Cartier Tanks Are Better Than Others

Speaking of affordability – you may be wondering “What the hell is Must de Cartier?” Why is it cheaper than a normal Cartier? And should I consider one? The answer is yes.

The Must de Cartier line launched in 1977 as a way to bring Cartier elegance to the masses. The watches were in fact more affordable because they used quartz movements and gold-plated cases. You’ll see the case backs on these watches marked with “Argent” and “Plaque Or” meaning gold-plated silver. Gold-plating is fine if you rarely wear the watch, but it does fade over time, and it’s been quite some time since the late 70s.

A Must-have: The Must de Cartier is available in different dial colors.
A must-have: The Must de Cartier is available in different dial colors.

That was then. Now, since 2021, you can get a gorgeous steel Must de Cartier in a rich blue, green, red, or black dial with a matching strap. These have been fan favorites since they launched, and Cartier did away with the “Must de” text on the dial, so the watches look more up-market than the price tag may indicate.

5. Cartier Isn’t the Only Tank on the Battlefield

The fiercest competitor to the Cartier Tank is the JLC Reverso. Both bear a similar historical weight, and both maisons offer similar gravitas. The Cartier might be a tad more beautiful at face value, but the JLC offers more mechanical expertise, not to mention the hidden capabilities of the reversible case. It comes down to personal choice. If you’re torn, you can always sell the Tank to buy a Reverso, and later sell the Reverso to buy a Tank. Both watches are worth experiencing.

Search for "Omega Tank" and see what happens.
Search for “Omega Tank” and see what happens.

For something off the beaten path, simply go to Chrono24 and type in your favorite brand followed by the word “Tank.” You’ll find IWC Tanks, JLC Tanks, Zenith Tanks, Seiko Tanks, Girard-Perregaux Tanks, Longines has some great ones, and Rolex has their very vintage Prince model (although they’re increasingly hard to find and a bit pricey).

Finally, I’ll tell you a little about my square dress watch from Audemars Piguet (most likely from the 1990s based on the logo). I purchased it on Chrono24 for a little over $4,000 when I was searching for Tank alternatives. One day in the future, I’ll suck it up and pay the 500 CHF to have AP tell me the reference number, but for now, I’m fine with a little mystery.

Inspired by a Cartier Tank, Thomas' started his search.
Inspired by a Cartier Tank, Thomas started his search and found this little mystery.

The best part is, there are plenty of other watches like this from AP, from Vacheron, and from brands like Boucheron if you dig deep. The majority of Piaget’s historical catalog could suffice as a Tank alternative. Dress watches in particular are all about self-expression, so find one that speaks to you, whether it’s a Cartier or something else entirely.

About the Author

Thomas Hendricks

I didn’t grow up a watch guy, but a few years after graduating from university, I landed a job at the online publication Watchonista as a writer and marketer. “Welcome to the watch world,” my colleagues told me half-jokingly, “no one ever leaves!” Now at Chrono24, I work as a private client advisor, helping people find the perfect watch for major life moments.

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