When you talk luxury and watches, things don’t get much more emblematic than Cartier and the Cartier Tank. While companies like Rolex and Patek Philippe are known for making watches for watch lovers, Cartier is known for making wearable items for the nobility of old, and for those who want to feel a bit regal today. Cartier is a wonderfully managed brand when it comes to keeping that French sense of classic luxury alive, while playing with fantasy and tradition in a sense that continues to feel modern. Cartier is also the most important brand in The Richemont Group’s brand portfolio, so when they put their mind to something, they tend to do it right. In speaking about the Cartier Tank collection, let’s focus on a review of the modern Cartier Tank MC, the first standard production Tank watch with an in-house made Cartier movement.
I’ve specifically decided to not include a long discussion of the history of the Tank watch including the various potential sources of the name. What people do agree on is that Cartier produced the original Tank wrist watch specifically in honor of military tanks from World War I. There exists a bit of disagreement whether it was the entire tank shape or just the treads, and what country’s tanks influenced the design. Nevertheless, Cartier has covered all its bases, with Tank models being named in honor of America, England, and France with the Tank Americaine, Tank Anglaise, and of course the famous Tank Francaise. A quick survey of all the available Tank watches on the Cartier site reveals a total of 47 different current production models.
This Tank – in addition to being a men’s model – is the Cartier Tank MC. “MC” stands for “Manufacture Cartier” and refers to the fact that inside the watch is an in-house made caliber 1904 MC automatic movement. Cartier originally released the 1904 MC movement a few years ago in the Cartier Calibre (review here). Cartier also uses various versions of this same movement with slight changes for their chronograph watches, which also exist in both the Calibre and Tank collections. The 1904 MC was designed to be a robust base for a range of in-house made Cartier movements – which is why you might see it show up a lot in “Cartier MC” watches.
One of the major differences between a Tank and a Tank MC collection watch is the display caseback. Cartier watches without in-house made movements aren’t known for having sapphire crystal display casebacks. Part of the allure of having a mechanical watch is being able to see the movement through a window in the rear of the case. So while this is a minor thing, it is a distinct selling point for many people. Cartier is, further, correct to show off those watches with their own movements inside.
The specific movement inside of the Cartier Tank MC is the caliber 1904-PS MC. This automatic movement operates at 4 Hz and includes the time with a subsidiary second dial and the date. It makes for a more interesting dial-layout than most traditional three-hand Tank watches, but one could argue that the layout isn’t as elegant. The dial comes complete with a full scale of Cartier-style Roman numeral hour indicators and thin sword-shaped hands.
While the lighter colored dial versions of the Cartier Tank MC such as the also steel ref. W5330003 has blue steels against a silvered face, this darker almost black-colored ref. W5330004 model has steel hands. While I like how the dial tone is a deeper color that matches the black alligator strap, I prefer the more traditional Cartier-style dials which tend to be lighter and more legible against the hands. All of the Cartier Tank MC watches have blue sapphire crystal cabochons in the crown.
Most rectangular-cased watches simply aren’t going to look as large on the wrist as most round-shaped cases (unless they are really big). At 34.3mm wide by 44mm tall (and 9.5mm thick) the Cartier Tank MC does not come across as a large watch on paper. Nevertheless, it wears comfortably as a dress watch, with a lot of classic Cartier character. Unlike some other Tank watches, these Cartier Tank MC models have brushed sections above the strap between the lugs and richly polished (and rather thick) side flanks. The Cartier Tank MC is perhaps larger than many Tank watches, but it still isn’t huge or anything.
The geometric crown is one of the signature elements that help make the Cartier Tank… that Tank. While not as bold a watch as say the Cartier Santos 100 (reviewed here), the Cartier Tank MC more than makes a case for itself as a modern dress watch. This version of the Tank MC is in steel, but in my opinion, where the Cartier Tank MC really comes alive is in the much more expensive 18k rose gold version that costs a whopping $15,000 more. With that said, if you want the ultimate in iconic Cartier Tank-style watch in the Cartier Tank MC collection, you’ll go for the ref. W5330001 in 18k rose gold on a brown alligator strap with a silvered dial.
A close look at the dial of the Cartier Tank MC reveals some light texturing and depth that gives it a better look – especially when it plays with the light. Compared to the very traditional look of the silver-dialed Cartier Tank MC models, this black-dialed version has a more sleek, modern feel to it. Then again, the polished steel hands on the black dial aren’t exactly a dream for legibility either – which is something you need to take into consideration when thinking about this black dialed version as well as the 18k rose gold case with brown-dial ref. W5330002 model. Though the latter will no doubt be the more legible of the two “dark dialed Cartier Tank MC” pieces.
The Cartier Tank MC watch has a flat caseback, but a curved top which appears to wrap around your wrist. Even though the various Tank watches all have a lot of visual similarity, Cartier makes sure that each of the variations offers something unique. The hard part is trying to recommend which models are best for who – but when it comes down to it, if you are keen on a Tank watch, I simply recommend trying a few on. There are only a handful of decent square/rectangular models on the luxury watch market, and the Tank collection is one of them. Though I personally prefer Tank watches on a bracelet.
If you want a Cartier Tank watch that also has an in-house made movement (and a slightly more traditional Cartier-style dial) then you might want to look at the Cartier Tank Anglaise which costs only $300 more and comes on a bracelet. It also has a burlier and larger-sized case, as well as a bit less of a traditional Tank case look. Though for some people the ultimate Cartier Tank design is on a strap. Speaking of the strap – I like that it is both thin and tapered, but I’d like to see Cartier offer a locking deployant, versus just the tension clasp they have been using for years on many models.
With more and more high-complication models, Cartier has been doing the right thing in trying to appeal to hardcore watch lovers. Then again, the core of the brand has always been timeless watches like the Cartier Tank, whether it is the Cartier Tank MC or similar pieces. There will always be a larger demographic who own watches from the brand who don’t consider themselves “watch lovers,” compared to those who do, for the simple reason that the brand is so popular. The good news is that if you are a “watch person” and keen to get one of Cartier’s fine timepieces, you won’t be let down. Price for the Cartier Tank MC in steel is $7,000. cartier.com
>Model: Tank MC
>Price: $7,000 – $22,000
>Size: 34.3mm wide by 44mm tall
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Guy looking for a timeless Cartier watch they can wear on a daily basis mostly with formal or business clothing.
>Best characteristic of watch: Comfortable fit on the wrist and attractive dial, as well as visible in-house made movement.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Some versions prove hard to read. Waiting for Cartier to develop a more modern strap deployant.