Last week, Cartier quietly announced a new watch. Well, not exactly new, and definitely not “announced.” Pictures of a new Cartier Tank Cintrée Limited Edition, in celebration of the 100th birthday of the watch, began circulating among the tight-knit circle of serious Cartier collectors on Instagram, and despite the fact that Cartier had chosen to launch one of the most irresistible Tanks in recent memory by simply delivering it to clients and letting the Internet do the rest, the watch became an overnight celebrity.
The Cartier Tank was introduced commercially in 1919, and in the 15 or so years following the launch of the original Tank Normale, virtually every major variation debuted, under the direction of Louis Cartier. The various models – the Allongée, the Cintrée, the Basculante, and many others – were a burst of creative energy with few if any parallels in the history of the wristwatch. The first variant on the Normale was the Cintrée, in 1921, with its distinctive curved case (“Cintrée means “curved”) which gave the elongated design both tremendous presence, and also made it, despite the dimensions, extremely comfortable to wear.
For the 100th anniversary of the Tank Cintrée, Cartier has introduced a new limited edition Cintrée which, while not an exact reproduction of any particular vintage model, captures very exactly all the elegance and charm of many classic vintage models. The precision with which the 100th Anniversary model captures the charm of the original design of 1921 is hard to overstate – the touchpoints amount to what, to the uninitiated, may seem like minor points, but together, they make magic.
As with all Tank models, it’s very difficult to generalize about the Cintrée other than in terms of basics – Tank watches were, for many decades, not usually held in stock in Cartier boutiques, but made to order, and often to some degree were therefore unique pieces.
However, there were some features found, especially in the 1920s, more often than not. Frequently, Cartier used Breguet-style hands and, almost always, a chemin-de-fer minutes track, as well as elongated Roman numerals. The elongated, curved case is, of course, common to all Cintrée models (and it’s what separates them from the Allongée). Also common to all Cintrée models are the thick brancards, which are in proportion to the case overall, heavier than in the Tank Normale, and which strongly emphasize the overall case geometry. However, one of the most delightful features of the Cintrée case is that the impression of emphasized rectilinear form you get from looking at the watch head-on gives way in profile to a lyrical grace. I’ve always particularly loved this quality of the Cintrée design, and it’s the sort of effortless visual sleight of hand that is characteristic of Cartier at its best – it’s as if you were looking at a piece of architecture that seemed almost Brutalist at one angle, and uncompromisingly Neo-Classical from another.
This combination of seductive slimness and rigorous geometry is there, and then some, in the 100th Anniversary Limited Edition. The new watch seems very much intended to appeal not just to fans of Cartier in general, but to enthusiasts who understand what the Cintrée represents in terms of the company’s history and the history of watchmaking overall.
Case measurements are not always especially informative when it comes to understanding how a watch is going to look and feel in the metal, but in this case, they’re pretty suggestive – the new Cintrée is 46.30mm x 23mm and just 6.40mm thick. The length is not only something that shouldn’t scare you off, but it’s also kind of the whole point of the watch – that length, with the deeply bowed case, gives the same visual razzle-dazzle and terrific wearability that has made the Cintrée an icon of Cartier design for a hundred years.
The LE differs in some interesting ways from the regular production model that debuted in 2018. Both versions have the chemin-de-fer minute track in common, but the new limited edition has a number of features the regular production model does not, including Breguet-style hands and elongated Roman numerals. The new LE also omits the “Swiss Made” legend at 6:00, which was apparently controversial among some Cartier enthusiasts when the latest versions debuted in 2018. The eggshell dial and traditional shape of the blue cabochon crown also help to firmly place the watch in the traditionalist camp – I think in a good way; you get an absolutely classic expression of Cartier design, but the whole thing still feels very contemporary, which I think says a lot about how much Louis Cartier got right the first time, in 1921.
The only thing that makes me a little sad is that it’s a limited edition – I wish it were a regular production model, because I think more than ever, being able to buy a watch that is as direct and as tangible a connection to the past is important. There are 150 of these, and they’re $ 29,900 bucks. I strongly suspect that given the explosion of interest in Cartier classic designs these days (in my wildest dreams I never thought I’d see Cartier London Crash watches go for what they’re going for) that if they are not already all spoken for, they’re damned close. But maybe I shouldn’t be too grief-stricken on that score. Tank watches of any kind were historically a rarity. Cartier made exactly six Tanks in 1919, and a total of only 40 Tank watches, all models combined, in 1921. A grail’s not a grail that you can have for the asking.
Photo Credits: All live images except wrist shot by Andy Kyaw (@andykyaw); wrist shot by Alvin Chong (@watchrology) and a big thank you to these gents for sharing the images with the HODINKEE community!
Cartier Tank Cintrée Watch For The 100th Anniversary Of The Tank Cintrée: Manufacture mechanical movement with manual winding, caliber 9780 MC. 18k yellow-gold case, beaded crown set with a cabochon sapphire, beige dial, blued-steel apple-shaped hands, beige smooth calfskin strap, 18k yellow gold ardillon buckle. Case dimensions: 46.30mm x 23mm thickness: 6.40mm. Numbered limited edition of 150 pieces, $ 29,900. For more information please visit www.cartier.com or contact 1-800-CARTIER.