Cartier Tank Chinoise: Celebrating the Centennial of an Understated Icon

by Zhuan Lee

Known by few but loved by many, the Cartier Tank Chinoise gets a revamp for its 100th birthday.

It is impossible to discuss watch and jewellery creations from the Roaring Twenties’ without mentioning Cartier. Known as the années folles (literally ‘crazy years’) in France, the 1920s was an era that embraced vibrancy and dynamism in arts and culture – and synonymous with this vibrant period is, undoubtedly, the Art Deco style. Cartier produced many iconic art deco creations that remain highly sought after by collectors and connoisseurs more than a century later.

Dreams of the Orient

In 1922, Cartier launched the first Tank Chinoise watch, incorporating Chinese architectural elements into the emblematic Tank watch created by Louis Cartier in 1917. The original Tank Chinoise featured a case inspired by Chinese porticos, with a pair of horizontal bars positioned over the vertical case flanks. The Tank Chinoise was but one of many ways that Louis Cartier infused East Asian motifs into his creations during the Art Deco period, which included the iconic Mystery Clocks and vanity cases among other decorative objects.

The Legacy of Two Gentlemen

Tank Chinoise wristwatch Cartier, 1930.

Many jewellery and art historians consider the period between 1910 and 1940 as the ‘golden age’ of Cartier, when the French watchmaker and jewellery was at the forefront of the Art Deco movement. Though not highly publicised, a figure who played a pivotal role in Cartier’s success during that was Charles Jacqueau, the House’s top designer and Louis Cartier’s right-hand man. 

While Louis Cartier was greatly fascinated by the rich culture and unique aesthetics of the East, Jacqueau was said to have often visited the Oriental art section in the Louvre to find inspiration for his designs. The two gentlemen worked alongside each other for more than twenty years, studying and taking cue from exotic cultures, capturing their essence rather than copying them. The end results were trailblazing, tasteful, and museum-worthy works of art that are, in today’s speak, more cultural appreciation than appropriation.

At Watches & Wonders Geneva 2022 (WWG 2022) held in April, Cartier presented refreshed icons from their rich heritage: the Santos-Dumont, Pasha and Tank, each updated with the French house’s unique aesthetic sensibility that bridges past and present beautifully.

2022 also marks the 100th anniversary of the Tank Chinoise, a model lesser known than others like the Tank Cintrée and Tank Louis Cartier, yet one that celebrates an unique epoch in the history of Cartier. To celebrate its centennial, Cartier showcased not one but two fresh incarnations of the model: a redesigned Cartier Privé Tank Chinoise as well as a Cartier Privé Tank Chinoise Skeleton.

Tank Chinoise – New proportions, new dimensions

The original Tank Chinoise had a square case, a design feature, which some watch connoisseurs say, detracted too far from the rectangular proportions of the original Tank watch of 1917. Interestingly, 2022’s Tank Chinoise has been redesigned with a rectangle case. The last re-issue of the Tank Chinoise was in 2004, where it was presented with a squarish case like the 1922 version, as part of the Collection Privée Cartier Paris. Maintaining the signature Chinese portico-style brancards or case flanks, Cartier created a contrast in textures by using a satin finish on the vertical bars and a mirror finish on the horizontal bars. The 2022 edition replaces the original Breguet-style hands with blue sword hands, which appears cleaner and more contemporary. The new design is perhaps more evocative of the original Tank than the first-generation Tank Chinoise – in a good way.

Driven by the manually-wound 430 MC movement, the redesigned Tank Chinoise 2022 is presented in yellow gold, rose gold, and platinum cases, in limited editions of 150 pieces for each version.

Tank Chinoise Skeleton – Framing the art of Chinese architecture

A bolder homage to Chinese architectural elements, the Cartier Privé Tank Chinoise Skeleton presents an open dial and skeletonised movements that resemble traditional Chinese windows, as well as a pattern commonly seen on classical Chinese textiles. Bearing a similar size and proportions to the refreshed Tank Chinoise, the new Tank Chinoise Skeleton parts of the skeletonised movement (as well as the horizontal brancards on the yellow gold model) decorated with red and black lacquer. Powered by a variant of Cartier’s 9627 MC hand-wound skeleton movement, this is also the first time that Cartier has dressed up a watch movement with lacquer.

The Tank Chinoise Skeleton is presented in three limited-edition versions: yellow gold (100 pieces), platinum (100 pieces), and another platinum version set with 161 brilliant cut diamonds (20 pieces).


Images courtesy of Cartier, artwork by Curatedition. All rights reserved.

Related Links:

Smooth Slant: Cartier Privé Tank Asymétrique

Cartier Tank: A Centenary Classic

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