May 6, 2023
by David Bredan
Cartier is huge. It’s under the Richemont umbrella — in fact, it’s the brand that’s holding that umbrella for all the others under it. Cartier’s 2022 retail value market share is gigantic, third only after Rolex and Omega, as estimated by Morgan Stanley. All the more shocking, then, that a brand of this size would launch an all-gold dress watches limited to just 100 pieces, but that’s what’s happened with the Cartier Tank Normale — an “abnormally” exclusive Cartier gold dress watch for 2023.
While there certainly are bigger problems in the world, self-imposed limitations in luxury watch production have understandably been getting on the nerves of watch enthusiasts the world over. Watches that appear to be more or less normal references from a company’s regular collection being knocked back to just a few dozen or a couple hundred pieces for a global market has proven a remarkably efficient way to upset the fans of a brand.
It’s all the more irritating when said limitations are imposed on a great watch and, having seen it hands-on at Watches & Wonders 2023, we can confidently say the Tank Normale is nothing short of that. For 2023, Cartier has added the Tank Normale to its Privé collection, the label some of its most exclusive watches receive arguably in an effort to justify their scarcity and steep price.
The Tank Normale Privé watch comes in a total of seven versions, in yellow gold and platinum on a bracelet or leather strap, and a skeletonized version in gold or platinum, the latter with or without diamonds. The piece everyone on the ABTW team migrated toward was the full gold Cartier Privé Tank Normale reference WGTA0110, a ribbon of ostentation and one-upmanship strapped around the wrist.
The non-water-resistant case of the Privé Tank Normale measures just 32.6mm by 25.7mm and 6.85 mm-thick, but makes up for its decidedly compact dimensions by radiating a strong 20th-century industry-magnate vibe. We wouldn’t be surprised if sales were reserved for those who had a chauffeur in an extended wheelbase Maybach waiting just outside the boutique.
The dial is your typical Cartier Tank design, although in this instance it is squared off, with black Roman numerals laid over a glistening silver backdrop. The hands are blue steel to match the blue cabochon in the crown. True Cartier fans will be looking for the minuscule Cartier text hidden in one of the Roman numerals — in its place they will find “1917” written in the V of the VII hour marker as a nod to the year when Louis Cartier designed the original Tank, inspired by a World War I Renault tank.
The solid gold caseback hides the Cartier Calibre 070, a tiny hand-wound movement with all the compromises of a tiny hand-wound movement, specifically a brief 38-hour power reserve, a mediocre 25,200 beats per hour operating frequency, and by every chance a consequently underwhelming timekeeping performance. Cartier shares no photos or other information on its Caliber 070, which isn’t exactly a good sign, either. Luxury watch brands, no matter how powerful and mighty, will continue to be reluctant to spend on costly movement development and strict tolerances to allow their watches to pass strict COSC chronometer certifications as long as they have their watches fly off the shelves without these expenses.
All that said and yet there we were, drooling over this brilliantly proportioned, unapologetically ostentatious wrist-ornament called the Cartier Privé Tank Normale, as it quickly elbowed its way to the top of the “dream dress watch to be rocking for the rest of our life” list for at least some of us on the team. While Cartier tracks Rolex and Omega not just in retail value market share but also in movement development and performance, it has to be said that Cartier has been doing exceedingly well at nursing and harnessing its many historic collections. These true icons of the watch industry are remarkably easy to overdo, over-design, and over-use, and Cartier has shown exemplary restraint in terms of design, execution, and marketing.
Santos (1904), Tonneau (1906), Baignoire (1912), Tortue (1912), Panthère (1914), Tank (1917), Pasha (1931), Ronde (1937) — these are all historic collections, many of them over a century old, that Cartier has kept in its current lineup, and that’s a selection unrivaled by any of its competitors. The thing is, select Cartier watches, like the Privé Tank Normale, ooze a certain confidence and operate with a type of gravitas that only items with century-old history have. We could call it an unfair advantage over others in the game, but again, it’s on today’s Cartier not to destroy the reputation and appeal of its most valuable icons.
The Cartier Privé Tank Normale watch in full gold is priced at $46,400, which is a few thousand more than the benchmark all-gold dress watch, the Rolex Day-Date 36 in yellow gold. The difference is that you should be able to get one of the latter, whereas the 100 individually numbered pieces of the Tank Normale will certainly be gone quickly. A shame, because it would be fun to see the Day-Date 36 get some fresh competition. You can learn more at the brand’s website.