People who know me realise that it takes more than a “name” to impress. I have extreme antipathy to fashionistas who have to have the next expensive (overpriced) fad item just to flash about in the misguided belief that it somehow bestows respect and admiration. Sorry, in the real world you need to earn respect not buy it, plus, subtlety and reserve are worthy attributes. All that said, a famous brand can command my attention if they produce something combining beauty, quality and with a smatter of history. In the watch world, the three maisons in the Holy Trinity would fit this bill. There are others, that whist not quite attaining such horological greatness, do offer something special. Cartier is one company that does just this.
Everyone has heard of Cartier – possibly more so in the realm of high class jewellery rather than watches, but the latter runs a close second now. This is because Cartier were and probably still are, first and foremost a jeweller, going back to 1847 when Louis-Francoise Cartier first opened for business. Such were the wonderful designs and quality – necklaces, rings, brooches, tiaras et al, and Royalty along with the wealthy were soon patrons. By the turn of the 20th century Cartier also had boutiques also in London (1909) and New York. After various commercial splits and with any family equity ending in the 1950/60s with the demise of the remaining grandchildren, the brand today sits within Richemont empire, having being acquired in 2012. Despite this, Cartier happily still retains much of it’s original class and identity, and in London resides in the same building in Bond Street as it has for many years.
Turning to timepieces, Cartier showed the first Tank in 1917. From November 1919 proper production began, albeit in very small numbers. The super slim movement was designed by Edmond Jaeger and manufactured by Le-Coultre. The Tank was and still remains one of the most iconic and recognisable watches ever born. The almost square design with emphasised case rails are supposed to emulate the shape of the early lumbering bemouths of the 1st WW, whose tracks (particularly in the British versions) prominently went around the boxy hull. It is interesting that the model was named Tank rather than Char – being the French for tank. Presumably this was for marketing reasons.
The Tank was for many years relatively simple, with a time-only display. It would be best described as a dress watch – slim and usually made of stainless steel, gold and occasionally platinum. They mostly had a white dial with Roman numerals, and of course the trademark sapphire set into the winding crown. Until comparatively recently (last 20 years say) production was never very high – probably as the main model had quite a specific market. However, over the years numerous other Tank variants have entered service such as; Anglais, Americaine, Paris, Cintree, Chinoise, Divan, Louis, MC, and Basculante (and a few more, along with other models of course). However, they all still retain the same basic square/rectangular shape. Again, over the years additional complications have been introduced such as; twin dials (a GMT if you will), moon phase, chronograph and with the Basculante, a reversible case.
So, to the present. I had been considering getting a Tank for some time. Referring to the my previous comments, I was after something iconic, classic, classy and slim – all from a good name and preferably without a ludicrous price tag. My favoured type was I guess an older Louis in yellow gold, but as this does not come with a date this plan was quashed. In fact most Tanks are sans date as I think most people buying a dress watch prefer the cleanest of dials and I think this also applies to any brand offering. I do like a date function though, so the nearest I was going to get was with the Solo model. Moreover, for the date function it would have to be the XL automatic version. At some 31×40.85×7.65mm the XL is still relatively compact. The Solo was launched in this form in 2012.
I had been looking at the very watch I wanted in the window of an upmarket national retailer. The noted price was £7,700 for the gold version on a strap. I did then scan the pre-owned market and there were a few available at some £5,000 plus. However, I decided to first have a chat with an acquaintance at another national retailer (that I had bought from before) to see if he maybe had any new/old stock available. After a short while the answer came back and yes, they had one such a piece. So, a deal was struck!
Anyway, I now have my Tank Solo and it is frankly all I was hoping for. As to the aesthetics, there is no point in over-waffling too much as what you see is what you get. I do like the contrast of the highly polished vertical case rails to the brushed horizontal ones, and these emphasise I feel the elongated squared shape. The opalescent silvered dial with blued sword hands and Roman numerals plus inner minute track is so classic, and could so easily be overcrowded, but in fact all is quite orderly and legible. The date window at 6 o’clock is also reasonably discreet. I particularly like the sapphire cabochon in the crown, as it not only adds a bit of colour and class, but also harks back to Cartier’s jewellery roots.
In terms of the motive power, from around 2015 a new in-house movement was employed – the 1847MC automatic. This replaced the somewhat aging 049 which was based on the ETA2892 calibre. The new movement has some 42 hrs power reserve, beats at 4hz, has 23 jewels, and is protected by up to 30m water resistance. The movement has a fairly large rotor and has fairly limited decoration – not that you will ever see of course due to the solid stainless steel case back!
The watch is finished off with a brown alligator strap with a gold pin buckle. Whilst it looks great, I personally black straps with a gold piece. As such the retailer kindly provided a strap in black too. The watch wears comfortably, and on my 7.25 inch (18.5 cm) wrist, is nicely proportioned.
In conclusion, I feel this Tank is the perfect and archetypal dress watch. Over the price, well, I accept that it is not an inconsequential sum, but not unreasonable for what you get. Yes, there is the name, but in equal proportions too the design, quality, inhouse mechanics, and an interesting history. So, in acquiring I do not believe I have met the requirement to be a fashionista!!
Finally, I have to report that this watch came very close to getting full marks. However, I just felt that the reverse of the watch was too contrasting to the front. I appreciate that in most cases this is never on view, but the owner knows that the stainless steel plate and no exhibition window, is a little disappointing. Personally I feel the watch deserves a gold case back with a window, and for the extra price of maybe a couple of grand would not be uncommercial or deal-breaker.
All words and images: The Writer.
Watch source: Berrys Jewellers.