Cartier Tank Watches: A Brief History and Comprehensive Guide to the Collection

Cartier Tank Watches: A Brief History and Comprehensive Guide to the Collection

The Cartier Tank is one of the most influential and recognizable luxury watches in the world, as well as being one of the few truly iconic timepieces whose appeal is truly unisex: Cartier Tank watches are beloved by both men and women and worn in a diverse array of sizes, colorways, and variations on the original watch’s classical shape and dimensions. Throughout its prestigious history, the Cartier Tank has evolved in ways that are both subtle and revolutionary and has appeared in forms of which many of us might not even be aware. Here is a guide to the modern Cartier Tank collection and a bit of background on each model.


While it is today better known as one of the world’s leading jewelers, Cartier’s roots are in the art of horology. Its eponymous founder, Louis-Francois Cartier (above, 1819-1904), was an apprentice to master watchmaker Adolphe Piccard before founding his own company, at the age of 28, in Piccard’s Parisian workshop in 1847. Several generations of family ownership would follow, and Cartier’s watches, and eventually its jewelry, cultivated a worldwide audience and an esteemed client list that included aristocrats and crowned heads; Britain’s King Edward VII famously dubbed Cartier “the jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers.” 

In the early 20th century, during the third generation of family ownership, Cartier produced some of its most epochal timepieces under the creative direction of Louis Cartier, grandson of Louis-Francois, who ran the business with his brothers Jacques and Pierre. The first of these iconic watches was the Santos in 1904, made under special instructions for Louis Cartier’s fellow Parisian A-lister, the pioneering aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, and today regarded as the first men’s wristwatch. The second came along in 1917, and owed its unique appearance to a military conveyance (above) used by France during the first World War.

Louis Cartier’s first Tank watch, which didn’t actually go into serial production until 1919, derived its name and its rectangular, curvilinear case shape from the Renault FT-17 tank, designed by France’s Renault automobile company, whose fully rotating turret of armaments made it one of the most influential tank designs in history. The Tank took some cues from its predecessor, the Santos, but the clean lines and gently sloping profile of its case, which integrated harmoniously into its leather strap, gave it an elegant personality of its own, one that appealed to a wide range of customers, both male and female, in the dawning age of the wristwatch and well into the 20th Century. With its dial’s rectangular ring of Roman hour numerals, interior railroad minute track, blued sword hands, and  beaded crown with blue sapphire cabochon, it  was also one of the first and most enduring examples of the influence of Art Deco, which thrived in the U.S. and Europe throughout the 1920s and into the ‘30s, on wristwatch design. Choosing a rectangle, rather than a more traditional round shape, for the case, was also a bold statement that the Tank was a true original, designed to be worn on the wrist, as opposed to other early wristwatches at the time, which were essentially round pocket watches repurposed for wrist wear. 

Perhaps fittingly, the recipient of the first prototype Cartier Tank watch was U.S. General John “Black Jack” Pershing, commander of the Allied forces, which included France, in World War I. After the Tank exploded in popularity in the 1920s, it became ubiquitous on the silver screen and in the halls of power and influence. Rudolph Valentino wore the watch for his final role, in the 1926 film The Son of the Sheik, supposedly on the actor’s own insistence. U.S. first lady Jacqueline Kennedy was famously photographed wearing a Tank, a gift from her brother-in-law, starting in 1963; that watch (above) fetched $379,500 at auction in 20017, becoming the most expensive Cartier Tank ever sold. Pop Art icon and provocateur Andy Warhol was a fan of the model, calling it “the watch to wear,” and sported one on many occasions, although he claimed he never actually wound it or used it to tell time. Cartier has embraced the Tank watch as its flagship timepiece collection for both men and ladies, and here in the 21st Century continues to find new and interesting variations on the 1917 classic, some of them drawn from the model’s century-plus history on the market. Here is a rundown of the modern Tank collection, which arguably offers a size, style, and aesthetic execution for just about anyone.



Price: $3,700  - $32,800, Case size: 25.7mm x 21.2mm (Small), 32mm x 27mm (Medium), 36.7mm x 30.5mm (Large); Thickness: 6.8mm (Small), 7.1mm (Medium), 10.1mm (Large), Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Quartz (Small and Medium), Automatic Caliber MC 1853 (Large)

Introduced in 1996 but carrying on the spirit of some of the earliest Tank models from the 1920s, the Tank Française is distinguished by the more rectangular aspect ratio of its case compared to the squarish shape of the original Tank, its more angled and pointed lugs that extend from the brancards, and its integrated bracelet with similarly angled, pointed links. It was the first watch in the long-tenured Tank collection specifically designed to be mounted on a metal bracelet. The feminine version of “French” in the model’s name indicates that it’s mostly aimed at a female customer; the “Large” version of the watch, housing Cartier automatic Caliber MC 1853 (based on the Sellita SW 100), is a relatively modest 36.7mm by 30.5mm. The “Small” and “Medium” versions of the Tank Francaise range from 25.7mm to 32mm and contain quartz movements.


Price: $3,400  - $53,500, Case size: 28mm x 15.2mm (Mini), 35.4mm x 19.4mm (Small), 44.4mm x 24.4mm (Large); Thickness: 6.5mm (Mini), 6.8mm (Small), 8.6mm (Large), Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Quartz (Mini and Small), Automatic Caliber MC 1899 (Large)

The Tank Américaine debuted in 1989, taking its distinctive, elongated case shape, with an almost-flat back and a curving, domed front, from the early Tank Cintrée models, which were first seen in 1919, just a few years after the first Tank debuted. The first Tank Américaine models were in gold cases and contained quartz movements; in 2017, the centennial of the first Tank Watch, Cartier released the first Tank Américaine in steel. Echoing the dials of the Cintrée watches, the Tank Américaine dials feature a minute track that curves at the top and bottom; surrounded by radiating Roman numerals and blued steel sword hands — only two of them, for the hour and minute, with no seconds hand —  along with a vertical brushed (on the Large) or sunray (on the Small and Mini) surface finish. The octagonal crown is topped with a blue spinel. Truly a unisex product family, Tank Americaine watches range from “Mini” to “Small” (both powered by quartz movements) to the “Large” model, housing the automatic mechanical Caliber 1899 MC, introduced in 2023 specifically for this watch.


Price: $10,200  - $24,800, Case size: 29.5mm x 22mm (Small), 33.7mm x 25.5mm (Large); Thickness: 6.8mm (Small, Large), 6.6mm (Large), Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Quartz, (Small), Hand-wound mechanical Caliber 1917 MC 1853 (Small, Large)

The model that was the most direct ancestor to the Tank Louis Cartier debuted in 1922. It took the rectangular case of the original 1917 model (now known as the “Tank Normale,” the  one most directly influenced by the Renault Ft-17) and softened it with more rounded outer edges, more scalloping, and a slightly elongated dial that more elegantly integrated into the case dimensions — as opposed to the "Tank Normale," which had a square dial inside a rectangle case. This is the groundbreaking version of the Tank watch that has provided the DNA for so many Art Deco-inspired dress watches today, and the reason so many of them are referred to in shorthand as “Tank-style.” The contemporary Tank Louis Cartier is indisputably a luxury dress watch, with the highest starting price point of the Tank sub-families, executed in precious metal cases — mostly rose gold and yellow gold — and mounted on alligator leather straps. In addition to the classical dials with Roman numerals and rectangular railroad minute tracks, the collection also offers simple, sober, lacquer-effect two-handed dials (as above) with no numerals or markers. Sizes range from Small to Large, with each size offering a hand-wound mechanical movement, in addition to quartz movements in the Small models.


Price: $3,300  - $6,850, Case size: 29.5mm x 22mm (Small), 33.7mm x 25.5mm (Large); 41mm x 31mm (Extra Large); Thickness: 6.6mm (Small, Large), 8.4mm (Extra Large); Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: SolarBeat photovoltaic (Small), quartz and high-autonomy quartz (Small, Large), Automatic Caliber 1847 MC 1853 (Extra Large)

The Tank Must is considered the “entry level” Tank and derives its name and styling from a series of affordably priced Tank models that Cartier released in the 1970s, which were remembered for their gold-plated (rather than gold) cases, quartz movements, colorful lacquered dials with a minimalist aesthetic — i.e., just a simple pair of sword hands for the hour and minute, sans Roman numeral markers or the rectangular chemin-de-fer minute track. Several of the modern Tank Must pieces carry on that tradition today: the Small models, at 29.5mm by 22mm, contain quartz movements and are mounted on shiny leather straps color-coordinated with the dials. The Large watches, with a more traditional Tank dial, are 33.7mm by 25.5mm and also equipped with a quartz caliber. Only the Extra-Large (41mm x 31mm) Tank Must timepieces carry the automatic Caliber 1847 MC, and also feature the classic dial with Roman numerals, blued sword hands, and the hallmark flinqué guilloché pattern in the dial’s center. Tank Must models, all in steel cases, come on either a leather strap or an interchangeable steel bracelet. It was in the Tank Must collection that Cartier introduced its revolutionary “Solarbeat” quartz movement, which uses a long-life (16 years) rechargeable battery powered by light.


In 2015, Cartier launched its Cartier Privé collection, a series of limited-edition and annual-production timepieces that are essentially modern resissues of watches from the watchmaker-jeweller's vast historical archives. As one might expect, historical versions of the iconic Tank have been among the most popular of the Privé editions.


Price: $20,400  - $23,500, Case size: 46.3mm x 23mm; Thickness: 7.2mm; Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Manual-winding Caliber 8971 MC

The inspiration for today’s Tank Americaine got its own revival in 2018, when Cartier resurrected the Tank Cintrée within the Privé collection. The original watch, whose name literally means “curved Tank,” debuted in 1921 and was noteworthy for its very thin, very curvy dimensions. The new model, which was available in platinum, rose gold, and yellow gold, matches the dimensions of its ancestor — 46.3mm by 23mm wide by 7.2mm thick — and has a radial-brushed dial with Rococo-style numerals at 12 and 6 o’clock and thin, baton indexes at the other hour positions; the latter elements distinguish the model from the Tank Americaine, with its Roman numeral hour markers, though both models have the familiar minute track with curved top and bottom. The entire case also has a more pronounced curve than the Americaine’s, whose top is domed but whose back is flatter. Inside the Tank Cintrée, Cartier installed the mechanical Caliber 8971 MC, which is based on the tonneau-shaped Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 846/1 that is commonly found in that historical watchmaker’s Reverso watches. 


Price: $26,400  - $30,100, Case size: 47.15mm x 26.10mm; Thickness: 6.38mm; Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Manual winding Caliber 1917 MC

The original Tank Asymétrique, with its unconventional tilted case, off-center dial, and triple lugs, appeared in 1936. Cartier unveiled its modern Privé descendant in 2020 in six different models. Three of the new editions are very evocative of the original, with solid, sunburst dials and a combination of printed indexes and vintage-style Arabic numerals marking the hours at a 30-degree angle to the right of center; the other trio are defiantly modern, with skeltonized movements that are visible through a sapphire dial and whose enlarged “12” and “6” hour numerals are sculpted from the movement’s bridges and blue-painted to match the blue cabochons on the pointed crown. All the Tank Asymétrique models are in precious metals (rose gold, yellow gold, and platinum), with case measurements of 47.15mm long by 26.10mm wide by 6.38mm thick. The movement in the solid-dial version is the in-house, manual-winding Cartier Caliber 1917 MC; the skeleton models contain Caliber 9623, also manually wound, which has been artistically openworked to put its essential parts on full display. The platinum-cased skeleton watch is further enhanced with diamonds.


Price: $26,400  - $30,100, Case size: 47.15mm x 26.10mm; Thickness: 6.38mm; Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Manual winding Caliber 1917 MC, Manual-winding skeletonized Caliber 9627 MC

Debuting in 1922, in an era when interest in Chinese and other East Asian design styles was in vogue, the Tank Chinoise was yet another variation on the classic 1917 original Tank, distinguished by the two additional brancards (aka the extended bars that flowed into the lugs on the sides) across the top and bottom of the case, which gave the model an appealing cross-hatched look evocative of Chinese porticos. For its 100th anniversary in 2022, Cartier brought the Chinoise into the Privé collection, once again in six editions, three re-creating the more traditional dial of the vintage watch, three embracing a Chinese architectural aesthetic with openworked rectilinear-pattern dials with decorative lacquer treatments. The newer Tank Chinoise models, in yellow or rose gold and platinum, are more rectangular than their square-oriented predecessors and use the hallmark Cartier sword hands rather than the Breguet-style hands on the 1922 models. Manually-winding mechanical movements tick inside all six watches, either the Caliber 1917 (as you might expect, deriving its numeral from the Tank’s birthday year; the “MC,” incidentally, is for “Manufacture Cartier”), or the skeletonized Caliber 9627 MC, both offering 38-hour power reserves.


Price: $31,000 - $53,000 (Tank Normale), $71,000 - $107,000 (Tank Normale Skeleton), Case size: 35.2mm x 27.8mm; Thickness: 6.85mm; Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: N/A, Movement: Manual winding Caliber 070 MC, Manual-winding skeletonized Caliber 9628 MC

Cartier re-created the Tank watch that started it all for its most recent Privé collection model in 2023, the Tank Normale. Like the Chinoise and Asymetrique editions that preceded it to market, the Normale series of limited editions is comprised of period-appropriate reissues — albeit with increased dimensions of 35.2mm x 27.8mm and a new manually wound movement, the 82-piece Caliber 070 — and avant-garde, skeletonized versions, here with an interesting horological twist. The manually wound Caliber 9628 MC inside the skeleton models features a symmetrical, day-night-motif bridge structure — with the balance at 12 o’clock inside at the heart of a cutout “sun” and the barrel at 6 o’clock forming the crescent of the “moon.” The arrangement harmonizes with the watch’s unusual 24-hour time display, with a blued hour hand moving once per day over the openworked mainplate of the dial. All limited editions, the Tank Normale editions come in the typical assortment of precious metals, including one fully diamond-set platinum-cased edition.

Start the Conversation

The Most Expensive Patek Philippe Watches Ever: Counting Down the Top 10

Tudor Black Bay Fifty Eight: Our Guide to All the Watches

Authorized Retailer

Official Authorized Dealer of over 40+ leading luxury brands.

Customer Support

Dedicated customer service staff ready to resolve any purchase or product issues.

Shipping + Fulfillment

Swift delivery directly from our fulfillment center, no product sourcing or un-stocked consignment.

Curated Collection

We work with leading luxury brands to provide the best selection for discerning collectors.