These days, we have become inured to watch brands celebrating anniversaries. This is due to a number of brands being revivals of an older name, with no tangible connection to the history that they laud. On the other hand, Cartier has a strength in their history, so much so that they released this anniversary watch in an unexpected way. Rather than a large build up to the release, the Cartier 100th Anniversary Tank Cintrée was simply delivered to clients, and photos began circulating. In other words, the watch was as much of a surprise as the original, and quickly became a hit as collectors began discussing it.
The first Cartier Tank appeared in 1919 (that model was called the Tank Normale), with subsequent designs overseen by Louis Cartier himself. The first of those variations was none other than the Cintrée, which was first introduced in 1921. What set this design apart from its predecessor was two-fold. First, the Cintrée was much slimmer than the Normale and was elongated. To help with the comfort – as well as show design and watchmaking expertise – the Cintrée was deeply curved, both on the dial side and the caseback.
What the modern collector needs to understand is just how rare those early Tanks actually are. In 1919, when the Normale was introduced, only six pieces were produced. In 1921, when the Cintrée joined the family, only 40 watches – across both models – were created. The fact that these sublime watches are rarities has continued throughout the years in varying degrees. To that end, it seems fitting that only 150 pieces of the Cartier 100th Anniversary Tank Cintrée were produced. Could they have made and sold more? Quite likely, but then you would lose part of the charm of the story – and the history – of this particular model.
While it would be safe to assume that the Cartier 100th Anniversary Tank Cintrée draws inspiration from the original 1921 model, it actually has a much closer ancestor – the 2005 model (ref. 2718) Cintrée. If you were able to hold the two side-by-side, you’d note that the case is much the same, and the movement contained therein (more on that in a moment) was the same. So, what is it that sets this 2021 model apart? Here, it’s all about the dial.
The dial finish itself is a matte cream, complemented by the black of the numerals and chemin-de-fer minute track. What it ultimately does is give us a dial that looks like what we imagine the original 1919 dial would look like today. In other words, it’s giving things a faux aged look. Overdone, this can feel like a gimmick. On this Cartier, though, it just feels right. It lends a gravitas that only age (or an aged appearance) can give. It also makes things like the elongated “exploding” Roman numerals and blued Breguet hands feel perfectly at home. Even the details of the sapphire cabochon set into the crown just feels right. Obviously, it’s a hallmark of the design, and something that we have seen many watches attempt to imitate, often poorly. All together, it gives us a modern watch that looks like it could have been built 100 years ago.
For all of that, the Cartier 100th Anniversary Tank Cintrée is still a very elegant watch, as compared to any other consumer product you could imagine from a century ago. This is accomplished by the apparent contradiction in the geometry of the case design. Viewed from the front, it looks for all the world like a rectangle, complete with heavier sides. Start to move the watch off of that top view, and our eyes are greeted with the swoops and curves of the case, both top and bottom. The curved caseback helps with the fitment and comfort of the elongated case on the wrist, while the curves on the top of the case further underscore the idea of the watch forming to the wearer.
Inside the Cartier 100th Anniversary Tank Cintrée is the manually-wound 9780 MC movement. We appreciate the manually-wound movement as being “period correct” to the 1921 original, albeit updated with more modern manufacturing practices. The more practical reason for the manual movement is the thinness it enables. The movement itself is only 1.85mm thick, enabling the watch itself to be 6.4mm thick.
The 9780 is not particularly a new movement, as evidenced by its use in the 2005 Cintrée. This would explain why we see a 36-hour power reserve for the 4 Hz movement, rather than the 42 (or more) we’re more used to seeing these days. Still, longevity in a movement often means reliability. For those who feel handy with small screwdrivers, removing the screws on the side of the case will allow you to slide out the caseback. Doing that will allow you to see the finishing on the rhodium-plated bridges, including the Cartier double C pattern on them. As you may surmise, this method of opening the caseback means that the watch is not intended to be anywhere near water, so bear that in mind.
Versus The Competition
The most obvious competition for the Cartier 100th Anniversary Tank Cintrée would be any of the Cartier Tank models that have been made over the last 100 years. If you’re considering the Cintrée, there have been some variations on that design as well. One of the more intriguing ones is the Cartier Tank Cintrée Dual Time. Here we have a simple yet elegant solution to tracking two time zones – two movements. Still, for all that, Cartier managed to keep the curves of the Cintrée intact, making for an elegant dress watch that is ready for travel.
On the other hand, if you want to keep the simpler single-dial layout, yet still want a rectanglar watch design that looks similar to how it did almost 100 years ago, then the obvious choice would be any of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso designs. For example, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande Reverso “Tribute to 1931”. While it does not have the curves of the Cartier, it takes things in much more of a sport watch sensibility, as the dial can be reversed, protecting the crystal from the rigors of sporting activities – and in this case, revealing an engraving of Big Ben.
Tank-style watches can feel like an anomaly today, as we are so used to the round shape as dictated by the round movements. The Cartier 100th Anniversary Tank Cintrée demonstrates that they have been making their own path, even with a watch that can – at first look – feel like a very conservative watch. Today, the Cintrée is very much a dress watch, one that will fit the wearer’s wrist unlike just about anything else they may have in their watch box. While it is a classic design, we think it is also a timeless one. It manages this by offering those small design tweaks with things like the numerals on the dial. In other words, it is a perfect fit for the watch collector who likes to buck – ever so slightly – conventional thought without totally throwing away the past.
Just as the Cartier 100th Anniversary Tank Cintrée feels like it could have been produced 100 years ago, it also feels like the design we could see in another 50 or 100 years as well. It is just that well-sorted. While there may be an allure in chasing after those older vintage models, we think it would benefit the modern collector to consider these modern incarnations. They’ll look much like those older models, while offering a much more reliable watch for everyday wear. We think that the Cartier Tank family is one that collectors and students of horological history should be aware of. The great thing about diving into that history is that the slender curves of the Cintrée instantly set the design apart from its brethren, making it easy to identify. Then again, this anniversary model does cloud the generations a little bit, but that’s just all the more for the collector to delight in, deciphering the minutiae that set this apart from those that came before.