100 Years Of The Cartier Tank Cintrée: 2021‘s First Commemorative Centennial Limited Edition ’Tanks’
by Martin Green
There are not many brands that can celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of a wristwatch. The evergreen Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso turns “just” 90 this year, however both Cartier’s Tank and Santos-Dumont models have surpassed the 100-year mark. But it’s difficult to think of other watch models that come even close to celebrating a 100th birthday.
In the early 1920s, wristwatches were a relative rarity as the pocket watch still ruled supreme; the timepieces that could be strapped onto the wrist at that time are – with a few exceptions – now all but forgotten. But that didn’t happen to the Cartier Tank Cintrée launched in 1921.
Or, I should say, that almost didn’t happen for the Tank Cintrée. While this particular model was relatively popular during the 1920s and 1930s, Cartier was far from a volume brand, making only a handful of pieces each year. Where models like the Tank Louis Cartier remained popular, the Tank Cintrée became more of a niche model mainly known and appreciated by a small group of die-hard Cartier aficionados who custom-ordered theirs.
It was the London branch of Cartier that gave the model a small revival in the late 1960s – perhaps because the Tank Cintrée was on the wrist of Steve McQueen in the 1968 version of The Thomas Crown Affair?
After that, the Tank Cintrée didn’t get many moments in the limelight again, although it was part of Cartier’s Collection Privée Cartier Paris (better known under its abbreviation CPCP) in various, limited versions.
That all changed in 2017 when Cartier launched the Tank Cintrée Skeleton as part of its celebratory models in honor of 100 years of the Tank. It was a bold statement that embodied the spirit of the Tank Cintrée so well, yet propelled it firmly into the next century.
The three Tank Cintrée models that followed a year later also made quite an impact: a limited-edition of 100 pieces in platinum and two watches in yellow and pink gold that were not limited but only produced in 2018 showed the Cintrée’s versatility.
These Cintrée dials featured two elegant Arabic numerals and narrow hour markers surrounding the characteristic railroad track. Épée hands both tell the time and make the watch look surprisingly refreshing – especially given that so much time that had passed since the original design. The new models both continued the tradition of the Tank Cintrée and enriched its pedigree.
Upon seeing this new limited edition released at the start of 2021, I wonder if “La Maison” wouldn’t have been better off keeping its powder dry and saving those 2018 Tank Cintrée models for the centennial of the model this year.
Can a watch by Cartier be underwhelming?
I find the new Tank Cintrée limited edition relatively underwhelming. It is certainly a stunning watch, but it is so close to the 1921 original that it is just a bit too predictable for me.
At the same time Cartier differentiated this new model from the original in small details that I feel are off. First and foremost, there is the thickness of the case. The original from 1921 had a case height of 6.7 mm; the 2018 release was 7.2 mm; and now this celebratory model is 6.4 mm high.
While these variations might seem too small to make a significant difference, one of the appealing elements of the Tank Cintrée is the curvature of the side of the case. And one of the things that made the 2018 edition so popular was that its slight increase in height underscored this treat, offering just the right amount of impact.
I generally prefer my watches as thin as possible, however I feel that in this case (no pun intended) making it even thinner than the original takes away from the appeal that this limited edition could have had.
When a watch is remade to so closely replicate the original, even the most minor detail counts. I am also not too fond of the crown. While Cartier has released the Tank Cintrée with various crowns throughout its lifetime, the beaded one set with a rather plump sapphire cabochon is dominant.
However, Cartier opted to place a smaller, thinner sapphire cabochon into a heftier gold crown in this limited edition. While it is a matter of fractions of millimeters, for me the visual impact makes it undeniably less elegant.
Where’s the folding buckle?
Cartier was both a trailblazer in developing wristwatches and in attaching them to the wrist. Already in the 1920s the brand offered a wide variety of precious metal bracelets on its watches, taking full advantage of its jewelry background.
How cool would it have been to see a metal bracelet return on the Tank Cintrée in this anniversary year? While I can live with this commemorative watch being fitted with a strap, I am puzzled by Cartier’s choice of fitting it with an ardillon buckle.
In 1909, Louis Cartier launched the folding clasp that he developed together with Edmond Jaeger (later of Jaeger-LeCoultre) that still counts today as the benchmark of all folding clasps. The majority of the original Tank Cintrée models were also fitted with this folding clasp.
As it was non-adjustable – that version wouldn’t arrive until 1989 – the strap had to be made to fit the client’s wrist. In my opinion, that is pure luxury and would have made the Tank Cintrée limited edition even more desirable and personal.
Also, as nice as Cartier’s ardillon buckle is, we are talking here about a $29,900 time-only watch in gold. To put this in perspective: the 2018 Tank Cintrée in platinum (unfortunately also fitted with an ardillon/tang buckle, yet limited to 100 pieces, not 150 like the 2021 Tank Cintrée limited edition) retailed for a “mere” $23,500.
For that amount of money, a period-correct folding clasp is not too much to ask for and, quite frankly, should be demanded.
Cartier can do significantly better than a “manufacture” movement
Cartier refers to the movement of the Tank Cintrée limited edition as “manufacture.” While I understand Cartier’s desire to be among the “halo” brands of watchmaking, where manufacture movements are mandatory, this brand always seems to forget that it has little to prove in this matter as it already arrived at that level over a century ago.
And why hide behind the term “manufacture” when Caliber 9780 MC is based on a movement made by Jaeger-LeCoultre historically proven to be the best choice the brand could have made?
Louis Cartier and his brothers had no trouble recognizing the genius movement designer that Edmond Jaeger was. The original Tank Cintrée was fitted with a movement made by European Watch & Clock Co., the joint venture of Cartier and Edmond Jaeger. Especially this makes a Jaeger-LeCoultre movement in the new Tank Cintrée limited edition an added value and one that Cartier should be shouting off the rooftops in my opinion.
How grossly expensive a wise investment can become
The demand for vintage and second-hand Cartier, which includes the more recent CPCP collection, is on the rise. To me this is a justifiable situation as for too many years Cartier has been put into the drawer of a “jewelry brand” while it has, in fact, contributed significantly to the bedrock of watchmaking history.
As collecting watches is a popular pastime these days, supply and demand are out of balance. This gives brands like Cartier the ability to demand steeper prices for watches like the Tank Cintrée limited edition.
Honestly, I think that Cartier is pushing it with pricing for this it at $29,900, making it more than 25 percent more expensive than the 2018 version in platinum – of which 50 pieces less were made.
However, I also realize that I may be proven wrong. Probably within a week or two, the first of these limited editions will appear on Chrono24, Watchbox, and other sales platforms for even much steeper prices. At that point, people with money but not such a close relationship with Cartier can get theirs at a premium.
It makes the Tank Cintrée limited edition, even at this price, a rather sound investment and perhaps also explains why all 150 pieces are spoken for. I really dislike the word “investment” in relation to a timepiece as it will mean that few of these watches will see the light of day, being more valuable tucked away in the corner of a safe in pristine order rather than worn for personal enjoyment, probably only to come out occasionally for a quick shot to post on Instagram.
Concluding thoughts: Cartier Tank Cintrée 100th anniversary limited edition
Some might find my words and judgment on the new Tank Cintrée harsh, and perhaps they are.
While the fact that watchmaking is a commercial business isn’t lost on me, I have come to expect more of brands, especially Cartier, than to just feed the frenzy.
The fact that the Tank Cintrée is celebrating its centennial is a direct testimony to this. Ensuring that this model, as well as Cartier as a brand, survive for so long and continue to flourish, balance needs to be maintained. A balance between profitability and the subtle evolution of its products.
Therefore, it is my hope that this limited edition is only a prelude to more to come for the Tank Cintrée in its special anniversary year. And how great would it be if the overture included something in platinum on a bracelet?
For more information, please visit www.cartier.com/en-us/collections/watches/mens-watches/tank/tank-cintree.
Quick Facts Cartier Tank Cintrée 100th anniversary limited edition
Case: yellow gold, 46.3 x 23 x 6.4 mm
Movement: manually wound Caliber 9780 MC (Jaeger-LeCoultre base movement)
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 150 pieces, sold out
Strap: beige calfskin leather with yellow gold ardillon buckle
Special thanks to Alvin Chong, aka @watchrology, for the use of his photographs.