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Cartier - Tank Francaise

The Cartier Tank is a long-running watch model manufactured by French jeweler Société Cartier. Considered a unisex watch line, the Cartier Tank first appeared in 1917. The watch is still in production to this day, even marked its 100th anniversary in 2017. The Cartier Tank Française is just one model from the long-running Cartier Tank range.

About the Tank Française

While the Cartier Tank range is more than a century into its run, the Tank Française is a significantly more recent development from the jewelers at Cartier. The model was introduced in 1996 as a slightly sporty twist on the by-then-long-established Cartier Tank design. 

Even though the Tank Française has only been around for about 20 years, though, it has already made a strong impression. Where many luxury watches have classic, timeless designs, the Tank Française is pointedly modern. An angular square-shaped case gives way to a chain link bracelet, with most Tank Française watches bearing a sharp, sleek stainless-steel design. Pricier models incorporate white gold or pink gold, or even diamonds into the mix, but still retain the bold modern look for which the watch is famous.

Though the Tank was conceived as a unisex watch—and while the Tank Française still bears a unisex design—the timepiece tends to be most popular among women. Two of its most famous adopters were powerful women: Princess Diana and Michelle Obama. You can glimpse a stainless-steel Cartier Tank Française if you look back at Michelle Obama’s 2009 First Lady portrait.

The History of the Tank Watch

Long before the Française came to be, the Cartier Tank was already one of the most beloved watches in the world. Louis Cartier, the grandson of Société Cartier’s founder, designed the watch in 1917. The first World War was underway, and legend has it that military weaponry inspired Cartier. In fact, the Tank’s chain link wristband was supposedly inspired by the tread of a Renault FT-17 tank. Regardless of whether that tale is true, Cartier ran with it to market their new watch. The device even took the name Tank, in honor of its supposed inspiration.

The earliest models of the Cartier Tank bore many of the signature design elements that still grace the watch to this day. Instead of Arabic numbers, the watch dial had Roman numerals, with what looked like miniature railroad tracks to mark the minutes. The watch also bore the same square/rectangular case that still makes it unique from most other luxury timepieces on the market.

Over the decades, the watch would go through several notable design tweaks and evolutions. In 1921, Cartier introduced the Tank Cintrée, with an elongated rectangular case and Arabic numbers in place of the original’s Roman numerals. Platinum versions of the watch are top collector’s items among watch enthusiasts, occasionally selling for as much as a quarter-million dollars.

The most legendary Cartier Tank watch in history, though, is the one that belonged to First Lady Jackie Kennedy. That model, a 1962 Tank Ordinaire, looked more like the original Tank. Notably, the Roman numerals had long since been restored as a signature of the Tank range. Kennedy received the watch from Prince Stanislaw Radziwill, who was her brother-in-law. In June 2017, Kim Kardashian bought Jackie Kennedy’s Cartier Tank at auction for $379,500. It broke the record for most expensive Tank Cartier ever.

While most of the Cartier Tank’s most famous converts were notable women like Princess Diana, Michelle Obama, Jackie Kennedy, and Kim Kardashian, the watch did have a few male fans. Both Clark Gable and Fred Astaire, two of history’s most adored movie stars, wore different models of the Cartier Tank—albeit, not the Tank Française.


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