The timeless Cartier Tank celebrates a centennial.

When you think about classic, timeless, elegant watches, one of the first brands that springs to mind is Cartier ( Whether it’s a ruggedly handsome Santos or a slightly avant-garde Ballon Bleu, their design language is instantly recognizable. But the watch that most people associate with Cartier when it comes to a signature design is the Tank.

The Cartier Tank is, arguably, one of the most classic watch designs in the world. First designed in 1917 and launched in 1919, the Tank and its many variations remain core pieces in the wide array of watches that Cartier offers to this day.

The Tank Chinoise, introduced in 1922, was a product of Louis Cartier’s interest in the art and design of objects from cultures other than his own. His interest also reflected the general trend of affinity for decorative objects created in East Asia, collectively referred to at the time as chinoiserie (despite a good portion of it not originating in China). By this time in Cartier’s history, Chinese iconography and design elements were present in other precious objects, so it was inevitable that those design elements and inspirations would make their way into the watchmaking maison.

Marking the sixth chapter of the Privé series, the Tank Chinoise is the latest reissue from Cartier’s esteemed history. A limited edition of numbered editions, each representing a modern take on Cartier’s watchmaking heritage. PHOTO COURTESY OF CARTIER
Marking the sixth chapter of the Privé series, the Tank Chinoise is the latest reissue from Cartier’s esteemed history. A limited edition of numbered editions, each representing a modern take on Cartier’s watchmaking heritage.

The Tank Chinoise, with its nod to the architecture of Chinese temples and the unique geometry and aesthetics of their porticos, will celebrate its 100th anniversary this year. Despite its century-long presence in the Tank family, it hasn’t been updated since 2004, so it’s fitting that the Tank Chinoise would be chosen to be reinterpreted as part of Cartier’s most avant-garde and unique collections: Cartier Privé.

Each year, the Cartier Privé collection seeks to highlight and reinterpret a classic model or line in Cartier’s history and give it a modern twist, a nod to the brand’s incredibly abundant archive, with an interpretation of its current aesthetics and design. Thus, this year’s sixth chapter of the Privé collection debuts a stunning array of new models of the Tank Chinoise.

Centered on two core models—one open-worked, one solid—with six models in total, the collection harkens back to the original Chinoise, with its classic horizontal bars across the top and bottom of each case. Unlike the original Chinoise, which was square, these models are elongated and more similar in proportions to a classic Tank.

The solid dial versions come in yellow gold, rose gold and platinum options, and are all stunning in their elegant simplicity. But the real standouts for me, and the favorites of many watch editors and enthusiasts who excitedly look forward to the Privé releases each year, are the three models with the open-worked dials, showcasing the in-house, manual-winding MC 9627 movement developed exclusively for this Tank Chinoise. The movement itself is visible through the exquisite multicolored lacquer on the open-worked dial, allowing the viewer to look in on the movement from the outside, much like one might have looked through the window of a Chinese temple to see the activity within.

It’s incredibly difficult to produce a watch with an open-worked dial, let alone a skeletonized movement. Not only do you need to expose the movement on the watch’s dial side in a way that’s aesthetically pleasing without compromising the legibility of the watch, you need to remove parts from the movement to expose its inner workings—all while ensuring accuracy and durability.

To achieve such delicate intricacy, Cartier developed an entirely new movement, which peeks out playfully from behind the dial so the wearer can observe it in motion. The dial itself showcases Cartier’s ability to excel in technique, with perfectly applied lacquer in black and red. Both the gold and platinum models have the instantly recognizable Cartier design element of a faceted jewel set into the crown, in sapphire and ruby respectively. But should you be looking for something a little more dazzling, the platinum version, set with 161 brilliant-cut diamonds weighing in at 1.7 total carats and set with a diamond in the crown, might be more to your liking.

All in all, the Privé Tank Chinoise collection is a master class in Cartier’s ability to take a beautifully designed watch from its venerable archive and apply its expertise to create modern works of art.