Introducing the Les Rééditions de Cartier Tank Cintrée
Cartier’s ‘curviest’ offering, the Tank Cintrée, is back in the limelight thanks to a stunning new platinum model in the Les Rééditions program. Here’s a deep dive into the glorious evolution of the Tank Cintrée over the last 100 years
Cartier's ‘curviest’ offering, the Tank Cintrée, is back in the limelight thanks to a stunning new installment in the Les Rééditions de Cartier program, a sophisticated platinum take on the elongated century-old design.
Before we explore just why the Tank Cintrée is regarded as one of the most elegant takes on the Tank Cartier has ever created, a quick explanation of the new model.
This limited edition Tank Cintrée (only 150 pieces) is actually the second Cintrée released under Les Rééditions, the first being the yellow gold version from 2021. Today, the case is in platinum, and the typical sapphire crown has been replaced by a ruby, as is customary with Cartier's platinum cases. The case has also been refined, and is now a remarkably slender 6.03mm thick with the manual 9780 MC inside, giving the watch an even more elegant attitude. The dial is in eggshell, and the apple-shaped hands are, as you'd expect, blued. All told, it looks incredibly similar to the first platinum Tank Cintrée, released in 1924.
Even if you've never heard of the Tank Cintrée before, the sheer style of this platinum beauty is undeniable. But once you're across just how legendary this curvy case is, it becomes obvious why it is so revered.
The Origins of the Cintrée
The early story of the Cintrée is inextricably linked with the broader Tank design language, a watch first commercially released in 1919. That lore of the original Tank is rich, and full of tidbits like the silhouette inspired by the top-down profile of a Renault Tank, and early examples being gifted to General Pershing. The 1919 Tank is now called the Tank Normale (it too received a top-tier re-imagining earlier this year), but it didn't take Louis Cartier long to evolve the form, elongating it and curving it in 1921 to create the first Tank Cintrée. Wristwatches were, at that time, a brand new category of timekeeper, and the fact that Cartier was already looking at improving on-the-wrist ergonomics by curving the case speaks to Cartier's capability as a designer.
It's remarkable that Cartier, having written the rules for shapes wristwatches, was testing the boundaries of those rules. Lengthening the rectangle required a sophisticated understanding of the fundamental geometry of the Tank, adding curves to the dial, as well as to the profile of the case.
Over the course of its long life, Cartier has produced quite an array of Tank Cintrée variations, which is remarkable given that the production of Tank watches — including the Cintrée was very low. There were three different sizes of Jaeger calibre used, leading to three different case sizes. On top of that, there were numerous case metals used, and of course, dials. For many, the quintessential Tank Cintrée is a white dial with Roman numerals and a railroad track, but if you dig a little deeper, you'll find models with Arabic numerals from the 1920s, including versions using luminous paint. Perhaps the best-known example of this style is a watch gifted to 'Felix' by Fred Astaire, sold in 1929. Then there's the dial variations, which do away with the railroad track altogether and feature only the boldly graphic exploding Roman numerals. Collectors agree that these pieces emerged from Cartier London in the 1960s. It's remarkable how this minor change to the dial can have such a significant impact on the overall feel of the watch. It feels like a watch from London in the Swinging Sixties.
We've already mentioned the watch associated with Fred Astaire, but he isn't the only famous wearer of this distinctive Cartier. A sharply tailored Steve McQueen sports one on his wrist in promotional images for the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair. Another hero of Hollywood's golden age, Stewart Granger, has also been spotted wearing one. In modern times, most Cartier models have their celebrity adherents. The Crash craze was kicked off by Kim and Kanye, and Timothée Chalamet is doing his bit in making the Panthère cool for men (again). For the Cintrée, however, the highest profile contemporary wearer has to be Ralph Lauren, a noted Cartier collector and the man who largely defined modern American style. It's certainly easy to see how the curvy model fits into his always stylish, sartorial worldview.
The Cintrée in the Modern Era
When it comes to more modern takes on the curved Tank, that starting point is the Collection Privée Cartier Paris, or CPCP. This legendary series of special watches is, in no small part, responsible for the huge rise in popularity of Cartier models, including the Tank Cintrée.
In 2004, CPCP produced 200 watches inspired by the 1929 'Fred Astaire' model, which is in the Cartier Archives. Fifty pieces in platinum, and 150 in yellow gold were made. The next significant step came in 2017, when Cartier released a series of skeleton takes on the design, 100 pieces in platinum, 100 in pink gold and a smaller number of diamond-set platinum cases. These watches were powered by the (then new) slightly curved 9917 MC. This launch was followed quickly in 2018 by the series of releases in the revamped Cartier Privé collection. Offered in yellow and pink gold, as well as platinum, these models featured an unusual smooth dial with Arabic numerals at 12 and 6, with baton markers everywhere else. The Cintrée campaign continued into 2021, with a banner release celebrating 100 years, in the form of a 150-piece limited edition in yellow gold that is very closely inspired by the 1921 original, with an eggshell dial, black railtrack and Roman numerals, and beautifully blued apple hands, and 46.3 x 23mm case — very similar to the platinum model we've just seen. Frankly, all the contemporary models are impressive, and the increasing cadence of releases speaks to an increasing focus on the Cintrée and a wider appreciation for the shape that many regard as the most elegant in Cartier's catalogue.
The Tank Cintrée Dual Time
One of the most intriguing takes on this Tank is one that doesn't receive too much attention, partially because it is quite niche and, even in the exclusive realm of the Cintrée, rare. That model is the Tank Cintrée Dual Time. In 1990, Cartier created a Cintrée containing two manually wound calibres — the long case allowing the essentially discrete watch dials and crowns to sit next to each other without breaking the fundamental elegance of the design. In doing this, they created a quite unique take on the dual time. In 1998, there was a limited edition platinum model with a salmon dial, and in the 2000s, we saw a model with one timezone displaying Chinese characters. In 2019, Cartier released a Privé Tonneau Dual Time with a Skeleton movement, and in retrospect, it was surprising we did not see a Skeleton Dual Time released with the 2017 Cintrée models, but if the interest in this sleek Tank continues to rise, there's a decent chance it could make a return in coming years.
The Tank, over its incredibly long history, has essentially defined the form of the geometric watch. You cannot find or create a square or rectangular case that does not refer, directly or indirectly, to Cartier's most famous shape. But what the Tank Cintrée demonstrates is that the Cartier Tank is far from monolithic. The variety and personality even in this one curved design is staggering, and Cartier does an exceptional job of retaining this piece as something special, maintaining it as a limited, precious metal model, and one that is as relevant and desirable in 2023 as it was in 1923.