Ah, the Cartier Tank watch. To many trad aficionados, it is a holy grail, like the perfect set of P3s. To others — those who prefer thrift shop wristwatches selling for less than $50 dangling from brightly colored straps costing less than a fiver — it is little more than a crass display of materialism that would embarrass King Midas himself.
This so happens to be the centennial of the original Cartier watch. Yes, the tale of the Tank originates way back in 1917, during the height of the First World War. The unique case design, with its thick sides inspired by a contemporary military tank, went on to become one of the most instantly recognizable of wristwatches.
In 1921, an advanced model Tank was introduced; the curve-case Tank Cintrée that was shaped to follow the curve of the wrist. In the ensuing decades many more Tank variations were released, along with the inevitable knockoffs, copies and counterfeits.
Fast-forward to 1989 when Cartier released the Tank Américaine. Now if Ivy enthusiasts and prepsters were already predisposed to an affection for tanks, now they had even more reason to love the real Tank, for now there was a version dubbed the Tank Américaine! One problem; the Américaine only came in precious metals. Some purists would rather wear white patent leather shoes than don anything so vulgar.
The good news for trads who happen to be connoisseurs of fine timepieces is that in celebration of the anniversary, Cartier has released the first-ever stainless steel-cased Américaine. Steel, the metal of the everyman. The same material used for the brightwork on your grandfather’s Chevrolet and your neighbor’s F-150. Real salt-of-the-earth stuff!
The steel Tank Américaine comes in three sizes. We can dismiss the large one out of hand as no Ivy buff worth his collar buttons would be seen in an overscaled timepiece. That leaves the medium and small for your consideration. The medium sells for a reasonable (for a fine horological instrument) $5,100, with a mechanical automatic self-winding movement. The small is priced at $4,000, but houses a quartz movement, which means it likely will not hold its value like the medium version. Both watches come on a dark navy alligator strap which coordinates nicely with the blued-steel hands and blue cabochon set into the winding crown.
With a steel Américaine, the self-effacing Ivyist can sport not a tawdry imitator, but a genuine Cartier Tank, reflecting 100 years of design heritage with no apologies. Armed with the knowledge that it is crafted from the humble metal of the proletariat, when the time comes that you are inevitably complemented on your good taste, you can truthfully reply, “What, this old thing?”
And when that fateful day comes, one of your progeny will be able to gratefully enjoy it after receiving it the grandest old-school way possible: inheritance. And there above the mantle in his library will be your portrait, with the Tank Américaine just peaking out from beneath the cuff of your OCBD. — JAMES KRAUS