How the Cartier Tank Française changed over the decadesBorna Bošnjak
There are few watches that have featured on a wider variety of important wrists than the Cartier Tank. Designed more than a century ago, Louis Cartier drew painfully elegant inspiration from the most unlikely of sources – the Renault FT tank that saw use in WWI. Many variations followed, but the one that we’ll focus on today first appeared many decades later, towards the end of the 20th century. The Cartier Tank Française first appeared in 1996, and despite its feminine name, introduced a huskier design when compared to the well-known, slender Tank silhouette. As one of the newer Tank variations, it doesn’t get as much attention as the Cintrée or Normale, despite soaring success in the ’90s and ’00s, but it’s worth pointing out that it featured on the wrists of both Lady Di and Michelle Obama. If it’s good enough for them, it’s certainly worthy of shedding some light on.
A more robust Tank
Even though the Tank’s design inspiration came from military vehicles, it was always a distinctly elegant proposition. While the wider brancards, sharper lugs, and less rectangular case of the Française altered that somewhat, it’s still a Cartier dress watch, so stylishness is paramount. For a design decade that was particularly curvaceous, the Tank Française is anything but. The geometric octagonal crown, sharply cut-off lugs and (kind of) integrated bracelet set it apart from the rest. It was also the first Tank with a non-generic bracelet, so to speak. Even though it wasn’t integrated, the design flowed out of the case in a manner unseen before with any Tank.
Instead of a soft rounding, the brancards are fairly slab-sided, transitioning from a highly polished flank to an equally shiny top. All the signature touches were here, however – including the rounded sapphire cabochon. In fairness, the more subtle angular details may not be as obvious on this well-loved example (courtesy of my partner who wears her watches), but you get my point.
Cartier being Cartier, there’s no way their creation would go unrefined. In the case of the ref. 1840, this meant a trio of heat-blued hands set against a scalloped guilloché pattern. It’s an instant reminder of the dials that were fitted to the Tanks released as part of the Collection Privée Cartier Paris, which was, as many fans would argue, the pinnacle of fine watchmaking for the Parisian house.
Cartier is all about evolution, rather than revolution
Okay, I admit – the whole “evolution not revolution” thing may not be entirely true. Cartier did in fact lead the way in getting watches on people’s wrists – we all remember the story of Alberto Santos-Dumont and his Santos-Dumont. They also produced a vast number of collectible and important models, yet somehow managed it without making too big of a fuss. With each iteration, their designs seem to get more and more refined, without any obvious features that immediately set them apart from each other, while making a notable difference in the overall package. The Française is an excellent example of this. The latest model, revamped earlier this year, still retains the wide brancards, angular shapes and fitted bracelet that defined the 1996 model, but with all of these adjusted ever so slightly towards a cleaner look. The Medium now measures in at 27mm in width, with a 32mm lug-to-lug and a thickness of only 7.1mm. Despite the compact dimensions, the Française Medium wears bigger than they suggest.
One of the biggest differences at first glance is the crown. Once again though, it’s not like Cartier did anything drastic like removing the sapphire cabochon. Instead, the crown is wider in diameter but flattened and inset into the case.
The gaps in the bracelet are now basically non-existent, and the first link sits so close to the case that it ends up wearing like a big cuff – this is especially true with the hefty solid gold model. This is a significant departure from the ’90s model, which clearly distinguished each individual link, and one that I am personally a fan of.
A change that is admittedly in line with the sleeker look is the departure from the CPCP-like guilloché to a range of vertically and sunburst-brushed dials. The inky Roman numerals still contain the hidden Cartier signature in the V of the VII, now rimmed with a golden pinstripe that repeats twice more, containing the inner minute track. Finally, it wouldn’t be a Tank without its blued sword hands – though you’ll notice that this mid-size variant lacks a seconds hand.
There’s a good reason for that. While the ref. 1840 contained an automatic Cartier 120 (ETA 2000) calibre, essentially a smaller ETA 2892, the new Française opts for a quartz. Now, I am no quartz snob, but I do wish Cartier played their cards a little differently here. I can certainly see the appeal of the quartz movement for the all-steel models – but for the ultra-luxe yellow gold variants (retailing for more than A$40k may I add), I think Cartier should’ve pulled out all the stops. Hell, I wonder whether the same ETA 2000 would fit the new case?
Automatic means Française Large
If you must have a mechanical watch, then the Large size is the only way, and steel is the only material – at least for now. Since the movement will be one of the big selling points – let’s talk about it now. It’s branded as the calibre 1853, which is Cartier speak for a Sellita SW100. It’s a pretty simple three-handed automatic with a date and a 37-hour power reserve, though it’s that latter point that’s a bit of a sticking one for me.
Earlier variants of the automatic Française featured a date at 6 o’clock, entirely replacing the Roman numeral. The latest model shifts it to 3 o’clock, though it’s kind of neither here nor there, intersecting both the minute track and half-obstructing the Roman III.
Continuing on the dial, the same pinstripes box in the numerals and minute track, though they’re now accompanied by a vertically brushed silver finish, as opposed to the sunburst champagne of the gold model.
Once again, the dimensions do not appear preposterous on paper – 30.5mm by 36.7mm with a height of 10.1mm is hardly Large – and yet, the Française wears with significant presence. You might think it’s silly to say, especially looking at the way it fits my 15.5cm/6.15in wrist, but the solid heft of the bracelet really plays a big part in the overall feel.
Cartier Tank Française pricing and availability
|Reference Numbers||WGTA0113 (Medium, 18k yellow gold, quartz)
WSTA0067 (Large, steel, automatic)
|Case Dimensions||27.2mm (D) x 7.1mm (T) x 31.9mm (LTL)
30.6mm (D) x 10mm (T) x 36.7mm (LTL)
|Case Material||Stainless steel
18k yellow gold
|Water Resistance||30 metres|
|Dial||Vertical brushed silver
|Strap||H-link steel or 18k yellow gold bracelet|
1853 automatic calibre, 37-hour power reserve, Sellita SW100 base (WSTA0067 only)