Monday Morning Find: 1940s Cartier Gold "Super Tank"

Cartier "Super Tank" from the 1940s. Source: Matthew Bain via Bloomberg

The Cartier Tank might just be the most recognizable wristwatch of all time. Rudolph Valentino wore his on screen (rather anachronistically) in "The Son of the Sheik," and Andy Warhol used to wear them unwound and unset like bracelets. The first Tanks date to 1917 and are predictably small -- men's watches at the time were smaller than most women's watches are today. However, this early example from the 1940s is an oversize "Super Tank," one of a small production run that retained the design and proportions of the Tanke Normale but at almost double the size, making it perfect for today.

Design Icon

The key to the Tank's design is simplicity. Over the years Cartier has released versions in different square and rectangular proportions, some with curved cases, and editions with nearly every dial configuration possible. But when looking at them side by side, it's the simple rectangular Tank with blued sword hands and flat sides that rises to the top. There's so little there that it's tough to find fault with anything; the Tank is a study in restraint.

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This 18-carat yellow gold Super Tank measures 35mm on the long side and 25mm across, making it nearly twice the size of most Tank Normale watches produced in the '40s. By comparison, today's standard Tank Solo is slightly wider but the same length, though this watch is typically sold to women; an Extra Large version intended for men comes in at slightly under 41mm. While I love a more diminutive vintage watch, the look isn't for everyone, and this Super Tank gives you all the upsides of a 1940s Tank but at a more approachable scale.

Inside and Out

Today high-end watch collectors are most focused on Cartier's in-house complications. Watchmaker Carole Forestier-Kasapi, a rare female powerhouse in the watch industry, has taken Cartier's products from the realm of the fashion watch to being true haute horology. An in-house movement is even now available in the Tank MC, though the curvy case and proportions don't do justice to the original design.

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When this Super Tank was made, Cartier was not making any of its own movements. It was purchasing them from various suppliers depending on the application. Inside this watch is a ticker from the European Watch and Clock company, which, while it doesn't carry the same immediate cache as, say, a Jaeger-LeCoultre movement (another Cartier supplier of the era), it is actually a much more rare caliber.

This Cartier Super Tank is available from Matthew Bain and is priced at $26,500.

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