Each year Cartier fans watch in anticipation for the unveiling of the maison’s newest watch in the Privé collection, a selection of limited-edition numbered watches for what the brand calls “the collectors’ collection” of its most historic and “mythical models.” And nothing is more mythical than the Tank that started it all, the watch now joining Privé, the Tank Normale.
The original Cartier Tank Normale was designed by Louis Cartier in 1917 and released in 1919, taking cues from an overhead view the Renault tanks turning the tides of World War I trench warfare at the time. It’s a brutal (literally) inspiration for what would become one of the most iconic designs in watchmaking history, not to mention a jumping-off point for Cartier with its many variations of Tanks that would follow.
It seems fitting that after a long wait, the Normale joins those other variations (and other iconic watches) to bridge the gap between Cartier’s past and present, alongside the Crash, Tank Cintrée, Tonneau, Tank Asymétrique, Cloche, and Tank Chinoise.
This reissue of the Cartier Tank Normale has many of the iconic features of the original from 1917, with the same proportions and beveled sapphire crystal, a beautiful Roman numeral dial with inner railroad track and the 1917 date hidden in the VII numeral, and satin-brushed case and “brancards” that contrast against the polished chamfers.
The proportions are upsized from the original 27mm x 19mm to a more modern 35.2 mm x 27.8 mm. The yellow gold Normale comes with a blue sapphire cabochon and a brown alligator strap, while the platinum has a ruby cabochon winding crown with a black alligator strap. Each is limited to 200 pieces. But there’s more.
To bring this watch into the modern era, Cartier is making 50 more Normales in yellow gold and platinum with their signature skeletonized movements, both of which feature color-matched accenting on the bridges of the 24-hour movement. That’s right, while the minute hand goes around once every hour as normal, the hour hand goes around the dial once every 24 hours.
To make matters more confusing, the 12:00 position is still at the top (unlike most 24-hour dials that start at midnight). Daylight hours are at the top half of the dial marked by sun-shaped bridges, night at the bottom with crescent moon accent.
And if that’s not enough, there are also 20 pieces announced of a diamond-set platinum skeletonized Normale as well. How wild. In a first for the Privé collection, the yellow gold and platinum Normale will both be available on matching metal bracelets – only 100 pieces each. For collectors or admirers of vintage Cartier, this is often seen as the pinnacle of historical collecting. The brushed satin case continues down to the brushed satin bracelets, nearly seamless without being completely integrated.
Pack it in, folks, with these releases I might as well be done with Watches & Wonders for the year. I’m kidding, but only slightly – this release was one thing I hoped to see from Cartier, and boy did the brand deliver and then some.
The Cartier Tank Normale has been a sleeper for some time, produced only for two years on its original release. And while the more masculine size of the Cintrée and bold design of the Crash made them collecting darlings, the Normale deserves credit for starting it all. I know a lot of collectors have been waiting for Cartier to kick-start the Normale again to round out the Tank collection, and I can’t imagine they’ll be disappointed.
Cartier is all about the details, and the choices like the satin-brushed brancards and beveled crystal immediately got love from collectors I spoke to since the announcement. The skeletonized option itself wasn’t out of left field, per se, but the 24-hour complication (inverted top to bottom, as well) was certainly a surprise.
I do wish the brand had used “Breguet” hands to harken to the original instead of the “epée” hands from the 1940s Normales. But that’s far less important than the design feature that really makes the piece: the bracelet. I am a Cartier Tank Normale bracelet nut. I’ve spent days of my life researching, studying, trying to understand the development of Cartier’s bracelets since the 1920s. A platinum Tank with this style of bracelet is – and I know this term gets thrown around too much but excuse me while I use it – my grail.