Cartier Tank watches

It is now more than a century old but Cartier’s most famous watch – the Tank – appears to be everywhere today.

Cartier Tank Cintrée

The Cartier Tank Cintrée with a curved back came out in 1921. This one dated to the 1930s sold to a bidder on thesaleroom.com for €14,000 (£12,700) at the Van Ham auction house in Cologne in May 2020.

In 2019, a host of new anniversary editions were created to mark 100 years of production, adding more examples to what was already the world’s most recognisable dress watch.

Among the thousands of Cartier Tanks sold on the secondary market every year, watches from the pre-war era are surprisingly rare. That is because in the first few years it was produced perhaps just six a year were made. In fact, in the first 50 years, the entire run was fewer than 6000.

This rarity is why some people believe pre-war Tanks are undervalued when compared with other more fashionable watches.

The Tank is said to have been inspired by the tread of a Renault FT-17, a vehicle that caused great destruction in World War One.

In truth it was simply an elegant update of the square Cartier Santos but the connection to the Western Front and the theatre of combat made for good marketing. The first Tank was presented as a victory watch to the US General John Pershing.

Cartier Tank

It was not until the 1990s that Cartier brought watchmaking in-house. Most Tanks are now made in Cartier’s vast factory in the Vallée de Joux. This modern quartz watch in 18ct gold came in its box and sold for £3200 at Roseberys in June 2020.

Different models

The Tank à Guichets created in 1928 was the most daring of all the Tanks: the dial was obscured with a sheet of brushed gold, with two small ‘windows’ displaying the hour and the minutes.

The Tank Cintrée, made in small batches from 1921, is considered among the most elegant of all of the many variants. Examples in original condition come for sale very infrequently but one was sold by German auction house Van Ham in May 2020. Estimated at €1000-2000, it sold via thesaleroom.com for €14,000 (£12,700).

It was not until the 1960s that the Tank began to sell in significant numbers. Jackie Kennedy was given hers in 1962 (Kim Kardashian bought it at Christie’s in 2017 for $300,000) while Andy Warhol owned four. “I don’t wear a Tank to tell the time,” he said. “In fact, I never wind it. I wear a Tank because it’s the watch to wear.”

Today, modern Tanks as well as older ones can both be bought at auction.

Gold Cartier Tank watch

This gentleman’s 18-carat gold Cartier Tank watch from the 1990s sold for £2000 at Watches of Knightsbridge in March 2020.

Buying at auction

If a new Cartier Tank watch is too pricey or doesn’t provide the classic style you are looking for, a second hand one at auction could be just the thing. Plenty of examples with a range of dates are available to buy at auctions on thesaleroom.com.

Many auction houses hold regular specialist watch sales or watches and jewellery sales, while others include a selection of watches within a bigger auction, making it easy to find plenty of Cartier Tank watches at any time of year.

With so many examples on offer you will always find plenty to suit your budget.

Cartier Tank Solo

This lady’s Cartier Tank Solo from 2010 sold for £900 at Dreweatts in March 2020

Price range

Condition, age and rarity determine the prices that second-hand Cartier Tank watches will sell for at auction.

The entry-level price for a good example at auction is typically around the high-three figures.

At the top end, a rare Cartier Tank Mark 11 can fetch £10,000 or more.

Must de Cartier Tanks

The affordable Must de Cartier Tanks with quartz movements and plated metal cases were made (by outsourced manufacturers) in a multitude of sizes, colours and finishes from the 1970s to the late ‘90s. This example in silver gilt came with box and papers sold for £300 at Fellows in June 2020.

What to look out for

Check the auction house’s lot description. It will typically state whether the Cartier Tank watch you are considering bidding on is in working order or needs repair. Some watches may have been repaired in the past in which case some of the parts, for example, may not be the originals. That would make it less desirable for a specialist collector and thus more affordable for you.

The lot description will also usually detail condition issues such as any scratches. These may often be typical wear and tear for a watch that was worn every day by its previous owner or they may be more severe.

You can request a condition report from the auctioneer if it is not already in the lot description. Attending a viewing in person will also enable you to try on the watch you are considering bidding for and inspect it for yourself close-up.

Auction houses with a watches department will employ a specialist you can contact to discuss your requirements and answer your questions.

What to do next

Decide how much you’d like to spend and use the search facility on thesaleroom.com to find Cartier Tank watches coming up for sale.

You can filter your search by, among other things, price and by location of the auction house to narrow down your selection.

To research recent prices at auction to see how much different Cartier Tank watches sold for you can also try out the Price Guide.

If you are new to bidding check out our guide to buying at auction – it’s easy once you know how.

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