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Cost Of Entry: Cartier Watches

Cost Of Entry: Cartier Watches Featured Articles

Welcome to the latest installment in our Cost of Entry series. In this aBlogtoWatch feature, we examine different brands through the lens of their most affordable model. Having previously looked at the entry-level offerings of Rolex, Omega, Panerai, and Hublot… today, a name well-known even far outside the world of watches: Cartier. And none other than the iconic Tank, in the form of the Cartier Tank Solo XL Automatic, represents the most affordable mechanical men’s watch Cartier offers, at around US$3,500. The question is, however, what exactly you get with the Cartier Tank Solo XL Automatic and how well it represents the brand.

We don’t need to tell you that Cartier is one of the world’s most well-known luxury brands. While I like to approach this series as a brand study rather than as how to buy into a prestigious name for the least amount of money possible… Cartier’s prestige and recognizability are undeniably a huge draw for a great many people around the world. Cartier has achieved a remarkably cohesive identity and consistency across a wide range of products, but where does the Cartier Tank Solo XL fit in to that? In this article, we want to look at what exactly the Cartier Tank Solo XL offers in terms of value, history, horological interest, style, and that more vague quality that is Cartier essence. The Cartier Tank turning 100 years old in 2017 also makes it timely to revisit its story that is a big part of the watch we are looking at today.

Cost Of Entry: Cartier Watches Featured Articles

Short History Of The Cartier Tank

Founded in Paris, France, by Louis-François Cartier in 1847, Cartier as a company will be 170 years old in 2017, but is no longer a small family-run jeweler, of course. The three grandsons of the founder were Louis, Pierre, and Jacques, and together they oversaw Cartier’s expansion to become a globally recognized name – Louis being the most central to our story. The next Cartier generation, the children of the three brothers, sold the business in the 1970s to an investor group. And finally, in 2012, Cartier joined the Richemont Group where it resides today among illustrious colleagues of haute horlogerie.

Cost Of Entry: Cartier Watches Featured Articles

Louis Cartier & the Cartier Tank watch from 1919

Cost Of Entry: Cartier Watches Featured Articles

Entire books have been written about Cartier and even about the Cartier Tank watch itself, and the basic story that Louis Cartier based the Tank design on the shape of WWI tanks seen on the Western Front is probably familiar to many readers. Cartier made clocks, pocket watches, and women’s wristwatches before wristwatches for men began to catch on – and when men did begin to wear wristwatches, Cartier played a major role in their wider adoption and the Cartier Tank was an important part of the transition from pocket to wrist.

Cost Of Entry: Cartier Watches Featured Articles

Early Cartier Santos Dumont

The first wristwatch for men is sometimes said to be the Cartier Santos from 1904, designed by Louis Cartier – at least, this began to help popularize men’s wristwatches. It was certainly one of the earliest watches designed as a wristwatch, rather than a pocket watch adapted with straps for the wrist, or “strap watch.” Called a “silly ass fad” by some around the early part of the 1900s (which I find delightful), men’s wristwatches still needed time to be accepted by the mainstream. In 1916, The New York Times admitted that wristwatches were more than a passing fad, and WWI saw soldiers beginning to strap watches to their wrists for practical reasons.

Cost Of Entry: Cartier Watches Featured Articles

Cartier Tank Louis Cartier from 1922 (Source: HH Journal)

Louis Cartier (1875–1942) designed a number of watches that are still part of Cartier’s lineup today, including the Santos, Tank, and Tortue. At that time Louis perhaps thought that the future of wristwatches meant non-round cases. This would also help distinguish them from the round pocket watches that had simply been adapted for the wrist. The first Cartier Tank watch was created in 1917 and the story goes that those initial models were given to General John Pershing of the American Expeditionary Force and his officers. In 1919, a total of six Tank watches were produced, but an icon had been created, and new versions have followed regularly since – you can see more about early Tanks and other early Cartier men’s watches here.

Cost Of Entry: Cartier Watches Featured Articles

Part of the Tank’s history is the many significant 20th century figures who have prominently worn it. We won’t (can’t) list them all here, but monarchs, politicians, and true icons of sports and music have helped the tank achieve its status and are testament to its success. And these were not “brand ambassadors” as we know them today, but true fans of the watch – or those just following a trend, like Andy Warhol, who apparently didn’t even keep it wound on his wrist…

Cartier Tank watches have included a range of movements over their history, and the earliest versions used manually wound Jaeger movements. The first Cartier Tanks were somewhat stouter than the perfectly (in my opinion) refined proportions of the Tank we know today, best exemplified by the Tank Louis Cartier that was first introduced in 1922. I have been unable to pinpoint exactly when the predominance of Breguet pomme-style hands gave way to the sword-shaped hands most prevalent on Cartier watches today. Though technically a more recent model, the modern Cartier Tank Solo XL is similar in design to the Tank Louis Cartier and does a good job, I feel, of representing its heritage.

Cost Of Entry: Cartier Watches Featured Articles

The Cartier Tank Solo XL Automatic

Cartier’s current Tank collection comprises six models: Anglaise, Americaine, Française, Louis Cartier, MC, and Solo. Once again, the Cartier Tank Solo XL Automatic in steel on a leather strap represents the brand’s most affordable mechanical men’s watch. For the record, the least expensive men’s watch overall is – no, not the quartz Tank Solo, but the Cartier Ronde Solo quartz watch seen below at around $2,600. With a 36mm-wide (6.6mm-thick) steel case (30m water-resistant), the Cartier Ronde Solo quartz watch is small for a lot of modern men’s tastes but is simple, without fuss, and still offers a lot what many people want from Cartier.

Cost Of Entry: Cartier Watches Featured Articles

Cost Of Entry: Cartier Watches Featured Articles

Cost Of Entry: Cartier Watches Featured Articles

Current Cartier Tank collections

The Cartier Tank Solo XL Automatic watch was introduced in 2012 and added a larger, mechanical alternative to the quartz Tank Solo. The Cartier Tank Solo XL Automatic initially featured the automatic Cartier 049 calibre, which is an ETA 2892. However, Cartier has confirmed with us that when the Cartier Clé introduced the in-house 1847 MC movement in 2015 a lot of basic models were quietly fitted with the new movement – including the Cartier Tank Solo XL Automatic. It is odd not only that Cartier chose to not announce this change, but that they do not even make the information publicly available – their website currently says little more than “mechanical movement with automatic winding” for the Cartier Tank Solo XL Automatic.

Cost Of Entry: Cartier Watches Featured Articles

The 1847 MC movement is apparently positioned as a workhorse to take the place of ETA movements found in a range of Cartier collections, and with a diameter of 25.6mm, it will fit about anywhere an ETA 2992 or 2824 would. Bidirectional automatic winding, 42 hours of power reserve, operating at 4Hz with central seconds and date are all welcome modern features and appropriate for an entry level collection. The Cartier 1847 MC seems to mostly receive only basic decoration, but you won’t see it here anyway due to the solid caseback of the Cartier Tank Solo XL Automatic. An in-house movement should add interest and value for enthusiasts, and more so because the switch from a sourced movement was not accompanied by a change in price.

Standard for a modern luxury watch, antireflective sapphire crystal protects the dial, and the crown with its synthetic spinel cabochon is essentially unchanged from the earliest Tanks. The dial is what Cartier calls silvered opaline, and it provides a satiny backdrop for the black Cartier Roman numerals without any shiny reflections to hamper legibility.

Cost Of Entry: Cartier Watches Featured Articles

Cost Of Entry: Cartier Watches Featured Articles

The Cartier Tank Solo XL Automatic is hardly a “large” watch, but it is successful in being a more modern, sufficiently masculine iteration of the design. At 31mm by 40.85mm and 7.65mm thin, I find the Cartier Tank Solo XL to be a masterpiece of design and proportions and a great fit for my 6.5″ (17cm) wrist. For a watch called the Tank with strong military-associated origins, though, the Cartier Tank is mostly seen as the opposite of a rough-wearing, battlefield watch. The Cartier Tank Solo XL is water-resistant to only 30m, comes on a leather strap, and is almost the wristwatch version of a tuxedo.

Cost Of Entry: Cartier Watches Featured Articles

Cost Of Entry: Cartier Watches Featured Articles

Calling this model “XL” reminds us that it is still intended as a men’s watch. The basic look of the Cartier Tank has undeniably been very popular for women’s watches, and this might actually turn some men off by causing them to view it as feminine – Ariel discussed this general phenomenon in a dedicated article here. Personally, that is not relevant to my own tastes and wearing habits. Further, if you don’t consider Cartier a “real” watch maker because they also make jewelry – well, then there is probably nothing I can say that will change your mind anyway.

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  • Svetoslav Popov

    I like Cartier, but probably will never get one.

    • The Deplorable Boogur T. Wang

      “Aim for the stars – Even if ya don’t get there – you are still pretty darn high “

  • Cartier deserves more respect than they get.

  • IG

    JLC Reverso > Cartier Tank

    • Although I like the Reverso more, I think the tank is probably as iconic.

  • A_watches

    on paper there shouldn’t be a huge difference between tank louis and tank solo, but in the metal, the tank solo just looks unrefined vs. the louis, and the raison d’etre for this watch is looking elegant and refined.

    • Greg Dutton

      Totally agree. I like the Tank Solo, but the Louis takes it to another level. Unfortunately, the Louis is not available in steel, to the best of my knowledge.

    • Jeviar Dfirst

      Tried this before on AD but it appears a bit “boxy” than rectangular, with those screws on its sides. It’s not looking as clean as I expected from the pictures on the web.

  • SuperStrapper

    Big fan of Cartier watches, but the tank never has been and likely ever will be on my ‘gotta own’ radar. That said, I do believe the tank is a model that really does represent the brand regardless of its pricepoint, to touch on the opening comment here.


    I prefer their creations for women.

  • Word Merchant

    A good rule that applies well to pretty much everything, be it watches, hotel rooms, cars, you name it: never go for the entry level (too many corners cut) and never go for top of the range (aka the wallet gouger).

    Always start the middle and step up until the price is the right side of uncomfortable.

    • BJ314

      one should never, under any circumstance, use that rule of thumb to buy something as non-essential as a watch. smh.

  • Mike V

    The Cartier Tank in its various iterations is what I think of when Cartier is discussed. It is their iconic design and now that watch trends are once again moving towards smaller and thinner it will most likely receive a new surge in popularity. Thanks Zen for an excellent review!

  • DanW94

    A timeless classic for sure. If a watch can endure for 100 years in it’s same basic form, well then the maker did something right. I love it but if I had the funds I would probably choose the Reverso or a GP Vintage 1945 because I find their case architecture more appealing.

  • Lawrence

    You won’t catch me dead wearing the Cartier Tank. Such an ugly watch. Almost depressing to look. A Cartier Calibre Diver… Now we are talking…

    • commentator bob

      Depends if you want a classic Cartier or a nice homage to the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms.

  • goju1

    A bit of over analysis on this watch that has relevance due to its originality and heritage.Good photos though.

  • Tony NW

    Yes, it’s what people think of as a Cartier. No, you don’t want one. And certainly not with an ETA movement for $3400.

    This painfully out-dated design features a printed dial, featureless background and generic movement. The case lacks much interesting detail, and the Tank Solo quartz is nearly identical at $1000 less.

    In contrast, the Christopher Ward C5 Malvern Slimline Square has APPLIED markers, giving a nice 3D element, a more interesting background and is HANDWOUND, for about $2800 less ($580 or so.) It too has a sourced movement – Selita in this case – but at least it’s a hand-wound and there’s no quartz wannabe.

    I’ll grant you that the Tank Solo has history on its side. So do McDonald’s hamburgers.

    • BJ314

      But the CW is ugly. So you lose.

  • gw01

    Some may see it’s aesthetics as a negative, but understood in it’s context of creation it makes sense. I think that watches, like the Tank, have intangible attributes that are able to transport us to other times (in very poetic terms). That is a very real history in terms of design. They’re not pretending to draw off others’ creation, nor do they recreate the exact same piece – their new collections evolve a timeless design to fit present times. The tank is simply an icon of elegance… love it or hate it, it’s got it’s place in the books 😉

  • WMWM

    Still think they are overpriced fashion watches with plentiful history. Tried some Cartier watches and felt their qualty was awful, almost the same as Montblancs.

  • Cuppa Joe

    Surprised at all the hate this seems to be getting. It’s a classic design that harkens back to a specific time, while being timeless itself. I much prefer this case shape over the Reverso (blasphemy, I know). The Tank Louis Cartier is much better. Wish the gold models had a painted enamel dial.

  • The Deplorable Boogur T. Wang

    As an admitted Cartier fanboy, I can only say “A mes yeux, il est proche de la perfection !
    Magnifique !”

    Even the quartz are beautiful.

  • JF Schnell

    Bought a watch from another brand a few years ago with the same design as Cartier. Liked it because was different. Today I look at it in a different way but still like it. Just hoped it was mechanical. Cartier is still a great watch maker. Not my favorite but for sure they make amazing timepieces.

  • Ulysses31

    An article full of the classic Cartier look, which I unfortunately find both unambitious and ugly.

  • ZL

    I have updated the article as Cartier has confirmed with us that the Tank Solo XL Automatics now use the Cartier 1847 MC movement. Cartier has not really documented or announced this, but it should add some interest and value as an in-house movement over a sourced one. It’s pretty remarkable that they did that and just didn’t tell anyone.

    • Antony Leonardo

      Hi, is my understanding correct that the model W5200027 used Cartier 049 calibre, which is an ETA 2892; and the latest model WSTA0029 uses the in house movement Cartier 1847 MC? Do you think that this change will affect the price? thank you in advance

    • Dan F

      My armchair analysis… Brands like Cartier have never been known to give customers an honest break when your wallet is concerned. When asked “How much is this,” they are trained to reply “Well, how much can you afford?” Old tricks die hard…They are not going to shout out that they are giving you the same in-house movement in their entry level models as their more expensive models. No, No, No! Remember that this is the company that would rather destroy a watch, than let you buy it cheaper! So they are doing it for one reason only… They have built a giant new factory to make these movements, and it is cheaper to spit out a few more than order them from ETA! And they are not going to raise the price because then they would lose sales. But don’t feel sorry for them, they will make it up in volume!

  • Carlos SB

    I have Tank Louise from the 70s, gold case, automatique, the latest ones say Swiss this one says Paris. Where can I find more information about this watch and its movement??

  • Dan Finch

    Great entry price tag from the most respected luxury house around. No need to payout vast sums for one of their super expensive models… an ETA or in house powered Solo model is really what Cartier is all about… iconic style and quality, not really movement sophisication. The solo ronde is a very versatile watch and the only watch you’ll need plus it will never go out of style or lose its value… Bracelet for everyday wear, swapped out with the croc strap for formal. Like Rolex, they’ve traditionally been closed back, so who cares what movement it has! Their in house movements aren’t the best looking anyway.

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