It seems all too often that watch manufacturers are releasing the most complicated pieces they can for the sole purpose of proving that they can. Be honest: who needs a double split chronograph with a perpetual calendar display, 30° tourbillon, remontoire, and seconde morte, all housed in a solid sapphire case? Horology’s most storied brands are too infrequently creating timepieces that go in the opposite direction: approachable, simple, practical, and fun to wear. That’s what the Cartier Tank Must is all about, though. It’s a clean watch with classic styling in an array of fun dial colors.
The history of the Cartier Tank Must traces back to the original Tank, introduced in 1919 and running against the popularity of round cases. The Must line, however, finds less deep roots in the Quartz Crisis. Shortly after the death of the last remaining Cartier brother, the brand was sold to a group of investors. With the watch industry crumbling around it and under new ownership, Cartier sought a way to weather the storm. The brand—until then interested solely in the highest end of luxury goods—sought to create an offering that would expand its appeal and accessibility. The solution was an entire line of products, under the “Must” umbrella. As in, you must get a Cartier. The Must de Cartier watches, released in 1977, were a diversion from the Cartier ethos: non-precious gold-capped cases with bold monochrome dials and quartz movements, all for a fraction of its previous offerings. The calculated risk paid off, and the watches were a hit (as was the entirety of the Must line). 45 years after those watches opened the doors to an entirely new customer base, Cartier chose to revisit the design with the brand new Cartier Tank Must.
While this may be a new release, the Cartier Tank Must design is true to the brand. The rounded edges of the 25.5mm rectangular case stay true to the original Must. The lugs span 33.7mm and are a continuation of the case’s flanks, giving the appearance that the color-matched leather strap is nestled into the case, rather than the case disrupting its design for the sake of the strap. Unlike the original, the case is stainless steel and high-polished (steel and luxury are no longer at odds with each other, having had plenty of time to become acquaintances, and then friends, since the introduction of the stainless steel Audemars Piguet Royal Oak in 1972). At 3 o’clock, the case features a Cartier Signature: the Cordes de Marseille beaded grip crown with a synthetic blue spinel cabachon. The case features caseband screws much like the original, and a solid brushed caseback fastened by screws and engraved with the Cartier logo and other relevant information. One benefit of the quartz movement housed within is the 6.6mm height, allowing the Cartier Tank Must to wear easily on any wrist—though it may be a bit dainty on larger wrists.
Diverging from the original monochromatic Musts, the new model takes the sterile dial another step. Gone are the “Must” script above the brand at 12 o’clock and the double-C logo at 6 o’clock. What’s left is the Cartier sword hands in polished stainless steel and the 12 o’clock name. The dial further omits the roman numerals that appear on almost every Cartier dial, even their skeleton watches. The Cartier Tank Must dial is lacquered, giving a warmth and reflectivity to it that other colored dials may lack. In addition to the red dial featured here, the watch is available in green and blue.
Those that may scoff at quartz movements should take a minute to consider the Cartier Caliber 157. This is no bargain bin, unjeweled, plastic quartz movement. The Caliber 157 was entirely reworked and resized in 2018 to increase efficiency and extend its battery life to eight years. The all-metal construction features Côtes de Genève finishing across the plates, an arced peripheral coil, and four jewels. The most common gripe with quartz movements is the tick-tick of the seconds hand as it stutters around the dial. Happily, the Caliber 157 omits a seconds function, thus putting to rest such concerns. A further advantage? Longer intervals between more affordable services compared to a mechanical movement—in most cases you’ll just need to swap the battery.
Versus the Competition
There’s a lot of competition in the price range that the Cartier Tank Must is offered at (at retail). However, there is not a lot of competition from brands like Cartier: brancs like Bulgari and Chopard just don’t have offerings that combine such historicity, style, and affordability. Even within Cartier, such value is scarce. Both this Tank a Vis and this Santos Dumont offer similar geometries and time-only displays, but are decidedly more pronounced with their dial decor.
One brand worth a look is Grand Seiko. Offering some of the finest finishing in the world (at any price), along with its revolutionary Spring Drive movement, Grand Seiko watches are some of the best values in horology. One such example is the SBGY007 “Omiwatari,” which features a beautiful textured dial in light blue that’s allowed to stand on its own without clutter, much like the colored dial of the Cartier Tank Must. While it does have a seconds hand, the Spring Drive movement keeps it sweeping along in fluid motion.
There is always the option to seek the pinnacle of quartz in haute horlogerie, which can be found in the F.P. Journe Élégante. The Élégante is equipped with Journe’s in-house Caliber 1210, which puts most other quartz movements to shame. In addition to the accuracy that all quartz movements deliver, the 1210 features a motion-sensing mechanism that will make the watch “sleep” after 30 minutes of inactivity. When the watch is picked back up, the hands automatically reset themselves to the correct time. If that marvel of engineering weren’t enough, the watch runs on a single battery for 8-10 years as a daily wear, and up to 18 years if worn in rotation with other watches.
The Cartier Tank Must is about having fun. A breezy stroll downtown or a small gathering with friends will suit the watch equally, but at the end of the day, the colorful Must will be a light-hearted acquisition for most watch enthusiasts. For the newly initiated, it’s an excellent way to step into the world of watches with a timepiece that is historic without being stuffy and unaffordable.
Despite its vintage roots, the Cartier Tank Must is a breath of fresh air in a watch industry that seems inundated with overdesigned, overengineered, and unobtainable releases. It’s easy, good fun and creates accessibility for Cartier—and the luxury watch world.