Cartier Tank Ultimate Buying Guide

Cartier Tank Must SolarBeat Blue Strap Ladies Steel Watch WSTA0062

The word “iconic” is often thrown around in the watch world, but if there is one watch that truly lives up to it, that would be the Cartier Tank. Designed by third-generation watchmaker and jewelry designer Louis Cartier in 1917, the rectangular Tank was a challenge to the traditional round watch, and one that ended up becoming a classic in itself.

At the time, most wristwatches were worn by women and had dainty faces. Inspired by images of World War I, specifically the tanks used by the French army, Louis Cartier created a timepiece that was both spare and elegant.

The Cartier Tank has been produced in many different styles over the years, and continues to be one of the most popular watches in the world today, due to its classic good looks and practical design. Learn more about its history and its different models with SwissWatchExpo’s Cartier Tank Ultimate Buying Guide.

A Brief History of the Cartier Tank

The first Cartier Tank was created in 1917, in the midst of the First World War. Inspired by the shape of a French Tank, particularly the Renault FT-17, it is shaped between a rectangle and a square, with strong vertical bars on each side. The Tank’s rounded brancards recall the sides of the combat vehicle when viewed from above.

US Army operating FTs on the Western Front, 1918

Renault FT Tanks on the Western Front, 1918 (Public Domain)

While Louis Cartier was able to complete its prototype in 1917, in the same year, the United States joined World War I and while Russia was embroiled in the Bolshevik Revolution. It was only in 1919, when the war ended, that the first Cartier Tank was sold. Ultimately, this enabled Cartier and its partners at the time, Swiss watchmakers Jaeger and LeCoultre, to refine the aesthetics and mechanisms of the timepiece.

The first ever Cartier Tank was gifted to an American General, John Pershing. At the time, he commanded the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front, and the timepiece was presented to him as a token of thanks.

Over the years, the Cartier Tank has graced the wrists of many luminaries – from design leaders like Andy Warhol and royalty like Princess Diana, to the most influential personalities of the 20th century: Muhammad Ali, John and Jacqueline Kennedy, Fred Astaire, Clark Gable, and many more.

Key Characteristics of the Cartier Tank

The Cartier Tank is one of the most iconic luxury watches in the world. The rectangular shape appeals to both men and women with its understated elegance.

The idea was clean lines that follow the shape of its inspiration, the wartime French tank. As Cartier was a designer in luxury fashion and jewelry, you’ll find the same care in their watches.

Cartier Tank Anglaise, Tank Divan, and Tank Obus
Cartier Tank Anglaise, Tank Divan, and Tank Obus for Ladies

The brancards on the sides are designed to resemble the treads on the tank with their squared off shape. The inner ‘race track’ of the dial eventually moved to the outer edges of the dial, meant to track the minutes and seconds for you easily.

The original Tank watch was paired with a leather band, letting the white face with blue hands take the stage. The simplicity of the design lends well to both casual day wear and black-tie affairs perfectly.

Cartier Tank Through the Years

The famed Cartier Tank has been made in various iterations throughout the years, each with its own unique interpretation of the ambiguous shape of the watch. Let’s explore the different models under the Cartier Tank collection:

Cartier Tank Normale (1919)

The Cartier Tank Normale was the first watch created under the name “Tank” for release to the general public. It was a simple and elegant timepiece that showed off Cartier’s ability to create beautiful watches at an affordable price point. This category includes the six original watches in this line.

Cartier Tank NormaleCartier Tank Normale in platinum, 1919 (photo: Christies)

The design of this watch came from Louis Cartier himself, who wanted to create a watch with a more masculine appearance than what was currently available on the market at that time. He did this by designing it in the shape of a square face with Roman numerals around its perimeter and with a rectangular case.

Watch aficionados consider the Tank watches from this period the ‘grandfather’ of all the modern variations. This is what they strive for. The simple elegance of the watch is strapped to the wrist by a fine leather band. In The Son of the Sheik, you’ll find Rudolph Valentino wearing one of the iconic watches in gold.

Cartier Tank Louis (1920s)

The Cartier Tank Louis, also known as the Cartier Tank No. 1, is the most famous of all Tanks. It was a gift to King George V in 1917 and has a 30mm band with a crown on top.

Cartier Tank Louis 18k Yellow Gold White Strap Ladies Watch W1529856

Cartier Tank Louis 18k Yellow Gold Watch W1529856 (with Cartier Tank Solo Rose Gold)

As its name suggests, it was the choice timepiece of Louis Cartier himself. This is considered the quintessential Tank — the one that set the standard for all succeeding Cartier Tank designs.

This is when Cartier is considered to have perfected the Tank’s refined proportions: slightly elongated rectangular case and dial, matched with slimmer, rounded brancards or the vertical bars that run along each side of the case, seamlessly integrating the strap.

Cartier Tank Cintrée (1921)

The Tank Cintrée watches were released in 1921. This marked the first time that Cartier elongated the case of the Tank, and also crafted it into a curved shape in order to follow the shape of the wrist. Back in the 1920s, this idea was radical and never before seen. The aggresively curved case had many people wondering how Cartier was able to fit a movement inside the watch. To do this, he tapped his partner Edmond Jaeger, who himself is a pioneering watchmaker, to make an ultra thin movement to fit the case.

Cartier Tank Cintree
Cartier Tank Cintree, 1925 (photo: Christie’s)

Numbers on the dial came in elongated Roman numerals or serif Arabic numerals, while the Chemin de Fer rail track were curved at the top and bottom to echo the watch’s curves. The earliest models paired these with Breguet hands, while contemporary styles switched to straight rail track patterns and sword shaped hands.

The Tank Cintrée was re-introduced by Cartier in 2018 with three finishes: platinum, rose gold, and yellow gold.

In 2021, Cartier released a special edition of the Cintrée to celebrate its 100th anniversary. This yellow gold model, limited to 150 pieces, features historical traits such as the Breguet-style hands and elongated Roman numerals not found in the regular production model.

Cartier Tank Chinoise (1922)

The Cartier Tank Chinoise is one of the most unique watches in the Tank collection. It debuted during the resurgence of interest in Asian art and history. It was designed by Louis Cartier and named after the Chinese style of dress at that time, but the shape itself was influenced by the porticoes or pillars seen in Chinese temples.

Cartier Tank Chinoise Christie's

Cartier Tank Chinoise from the 1920s (photo: Christie’s)

The Tank Chinoise was revived briefly in 2004 as a limited edition style, being part of the Collection Privé Cartier Paris, a range of watches inspired by their archival pieces. In 2022, Cartier once again released a special reissue of the Tank Chinoise within the Privé collection, composed of six watches.

Cartier Tank Obus (1923)

Unlike the other watches in the Tank line, the Obus is more square shaped rather than rectangular. The other stylistic and interesting difference is the shape of the lugs. Alluding to the military inspiration of the original Tank, the lugs on the Obus look a lot like small bullets on the end of the case.

Cartier Tank Obus 18k Yellow Gold Diamond Silver Dial Ladies Watch WB800351

Cartier Tank Obus 18k Yellow Gold Diamond Silver Dial Ladies Watch WB800351

Crafted in yellow gold with a black leather strap, the Tank Obus still nods back to the original with the large Roman numerals in black over a white dial with the blue hands.

The last Tank Obus was released in 1998 for the Collection Privée Cartier Paris series.

Cartier Tank a Guichet (1928)

The Tank à Guichet is most definitely interesting. It’s what’s known as a jumping hour mechanical wristwatch. There’s no dial or hands like most other watches – just two apertures in the case that simply display the hour at the upper portion and the minutes on the lower part.

Cartier Tank A Guichet

A modern Cartier Tank a Guichet, 1997 (photo: Christies)

Still sporting that rectangular shape with the brancards, the Tank à Guichet got rid of the dial with moving hands and opted for a solid metal case and front.

The Tank à Guichet was briefly revived in 1997 to commemorate Cartier’s 150th anniversary, and were last produced in 2005 – but they remain incredibly elusive.

Cartier Tank Étanche (1931)

The Cartier Tank Étanche was the first waterproof watch presented by Cartier. Legend has it that, in the early 1930s, the Pasha of Marrakech requested for a water-resistant watch that he did not need to remove while swimming.

Cartier Tank Etanche
Cartier Tank Etanche, 1931 (photo: Phillips)

Cartier created the watch upon his request, and in the process, also made one of the first water-resistant rectangular watches, which was particularly challenging due to the angles of the case.

It was designed to withstand water pressure of up to 50 meters (164 feet), which is why it’s sometimes referred to as the “50 meters” or “164 foot” model.

Cartier Tank Basculante (1932)

The Cartier Tank Basculante was introduced in 1932. As sports activities became increasingly popular, the Tank Basculante was especially developed to protect the glass while playing sports.
Cartier Tank Basculante Steel Large Mechanical Watch W1011358

Cartier Tank Basculante Steel Large Mechanical Watch W1011358

Featuring a rectangular case, the face of the watch was engineered to flip upside down inside its frame, allowing the wearer to turn it completely over to protect the watch glass. This watch certainly has its similarities with the Reverso – the main difference being its 360 degree flip over the case of the watch.

It was briefly revived as part of the Collection Privée Cartier Paris in the late 1990s.

Cartier Tank Monopussoir (1935)

The Monopussoir is a monopusher chronograph watch. The simple and single push button starts, stops, and resets the timer on the dials on the watch face.

Cartier Tank Monopoussoir

A modern Cartier Tank Monopoussoir, 1998 (photo: Christie’s)

By using the monopusher function to create a chronograph, Cartier was able to maintain the sleek and simplistic lines of the Tank line, while still providing the market with an elegant chronograph watch.

They only strayed slightly from the rectangular shape to fit the two dials tracking the minutes and seconds.

Cartier Tank Must de Cartier (1977)

To compete with the quartz crisis, Cartier designed the Tank Must de Cartier in 1977 as a more affordable option. It was the Cartier brand’s effort to compete with the cheaper Japanese timepieces that were flooding the market.

Cartier Tank Must de Cartier

Cartier Tank Must Large Steel Blue and Green Dial Ladies Watch WSTA0055

To help decrease the cost, not only does it have a quartz movement, but a vermeil case instead of gold or platinum. Vermeil is sterling silver that’s coated in gold. Some of the line ran on ETA-based mechanical movements as well. The bright colors and very simplistic design did well on the market.

The collection was reintroduced in 2021, this time with a range of stainless steel models. There are three subcollections within the current Tank Must family:

Models with the classic Roman numeral dials

Models with minimalist bold-colored dials

And the first Cartier watch to run on solar power, the Tank Must Solarbeat, which is powered by a photovoltaic movement

Cartier Tank Américaine (1989)

The Cartier Tank Américaine was introduced in 1989 and has since become one of the most popular watches ever made under the Tank range. The rectangular case in this model is slightly more elongated and curved, shaping to the wrist in even more comfort than before. Originally introduced in gold, the Americaine is considered the modern variation of the earlier Cintrée.

Cartier Tank Americaine

Cartier Tank Americaine Small Rose Gold Diamond Ladies Watch WJTA0002

With the typical large Roman numerals on a white dial, this Tank watch stretches out and fits three subdials and a chronograph complication. Two of the subdials track your time while the third tracks the date.

Cartier Tank Française (1996)

The Cartier Tank Française was introduced in 1996 and is inspired by a Cartier Tank  watch from the 1930s.

Cartier Tank Francaise Pink Mother of Pearl Steel Ladies Watch W51028Q3
Cartier Tank Francaise Pink Mother of Pearl Steel Ladies Watch W51028Q3

This is a sportier version of the original Tank watch, with a squarer case design and a chain link bracelet. The addition of a two-tone band option brings it into the modern world with modern aesthetics. Even the bracelet is designed to reflect the military tanks with a nod to the caterpillar tracks.

Despite its sportier feel, it moves easily between more casual day wear and dress events.

Cartier Tank Solo (2004)

The Cartier Tank Solo is their entry-level version of the classic watch. The popularity of the watch drew a lot of attention from newer collectors.

The Cartier Tank Solo has a quartz movement and measures 36 millimeters in diameter, making it ideal for both men and women who want to wear this timepiece as their everyday accessory on their wrists.

Cartier Tank Louis and Tank Solo
Cartier Tank Louis and Tank Solo

The case is made from stainless steel with a white face and blue hands that typify this collection. The shape is the same, but you’ll notice that the brancards aren’t quite as noticeable as they’re flatter and more subdued compared to the original version.

While the stainless steel case and quartz movement were designed to keep prices down, the Tank Solo is also available in precious metals and mechanical movements.

Cartier Tank Anglaise (2012)

The Cartier Tank Anglaise is a new version of the classic Tank watch. It was launched in 2012, and it’s available in stainless steel, pink gold, and platinum. The Anglaise was developed to finish out Cartier’s nod to the flagship boutiques located in New York, Paris, and London.

Cartier Tank Anglaise Rose Gold Diamond Ladies Watch WJTA0004
Cartier Tank Anglaise Rose Gold Diamond Ladies Watch WJTA0004

The case is rectangular with rounded edges for a slightly more feminine look than its predecessor but with added bulk. The dial has the typical Roman numerals. The winding crown is interestingly built into the right brancard, but still holds the blue sapphire cabochon to compliment the blue hands on the watch face.

The added bulk to the brancards on this model provides additional symmetry to the face and case, while still maintaining that rectangular shape the line is known for.

Cartier Tank MC (2013)

In 2013, the Maison’s iconic design took on a resolutely masculine edge. Cartier answered the call for larger watches with the Tank MC – with its strong dimensions and modern movement, it presented a bolder take on the classic.

Cartier Tank MC Blue Dial Automatic Steel Mens Watch WSTA0010
Cartier Tank MC Blue Dial Automatic Steel Mens Watch WSTA0010

Aside from its modern dimensions, what really sets the Tank MC apart from the rest of the Tank family is its in-house movement. The “MC” in its name stands for “Manufacture Cartier”, which refers to its in-house made caliber – the 1904 MC automatic movement, previously made available only on the Calibre de Cartier collection.

Cartier Tank Ultimate Buying Guide – Final Thoughts

The Cartier Tank is an iconic watch that has been around for over 100 years. It has undergone many changes over time but still retains its identity as a sporty and elegant timepiece. The Tank has always been an important part of Cartier’s history, and with its continuing popularity, it is primed to enjoy many more decades of relevance.

Find your very own Cartier Tank watch from our vast selection of Tank models at

Cartier Tank MC Review

Toll-free US and Canada Only:
Outside US:

Customer service:

Swiss Watch Expo
315 East Paces Ferry Rd NE
Atlanta, GA 30305

M - F 10 AM to 6 PM EST
Saturdays 10 AM to 5 PM EST