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  • Alvin Chong

Watch Review: Cartier Tank Must

Colourful nostalgia


The Return of a Cult Classic

The excitement of watch enthusiasts around the world was palpable when Cartier unveiled the return of the coloured Tanks - now named the Tank Must. Launched in three monochromatic colours of red, green and blue, the Tank Must evokes nostalgia and pays homage to the distinctive Les Must de Cartier Tanks of the 70s and 80s.

The Les Must de Cartier Tanks has attained cult icon status for both Cartier enthusiasts as well as within Cartier’s history itself. The story of the Les Must de Cartier is also a story of the centralisation and reorganisation of Cartier to the global powerhouse it is today. Before the 70s, Cartier was fragmented between Cartier Paris, Cartier London and Cartier New York. In 1972, Robert Hocq purchased Cartier Paris before proceeding to purchase Cartier London and Cartier New York in 1974 and 1976 respectively. The new management then decided to come up with a new universal product line that would signify the reinforced unification of Cartier, and one that would place them in a stronger global standing.

The solution was the Les Must de Cartier (French for “The must of Cartier”) collection where accessibility and relative affordability were made central in embracing the zeitgeist of the period. First launched in 1973, the collection initially included products such as bags, lighters and pens. The iconic Les Must de Cartier Tank followed in 1977 and was modelled after the venerable Tank Louis Cartier (a very popular watch in its own right then). Before its launch, Cartier watches were mainly encased in platinum and gold which pushed their prices up. By contrast, and in aligning with the collection’s philosophy of accessibility, the Les Must de Cartier Tank was cast in gold-plated silver, something which the brand named vermeil silver. This, coupled with its emblematic monochromatic coloured dial that was certainly voguish with the bright and eclectic tie-dyed fashion of the era, made it a huge hit.

Les Must De Cartier advert
Les Must de Cartier Tank advert
Les Must de Cartier Tank advert

While the initial launches contained mechanical movements, they quickly transitioned to cheaper quartz movements to combat the inflow of the ultra-affordable Japanese quartz and digital watches that were disrupting sales across the Swiss watch industry.

The Must Remains A Must

The coloured Tanks eventually phased out in the 90s. It is thus a very pleasant surprise that they have made their triumphant return to the catalogue now, two decades later. Released in three colours of red, green and blue, they capture the very essence of the original coloured Les Must de Cartiers, and that is charming good looks at a relatively affordable price point.

2021 Tank Must. Image: @anthony.do_ (Instagram).

The conundrum then would be to choose a colour. I went with red as it is Cartier’s representative colour, and that it also most closely resembles the Red Les Must de Cartier Tank - arguably the poster child of the Les Must de Cartier Tank collection. The Green Tank Must is another very popular choice especially given the fact that green is the trendy colour of 2021 for watches. Speaking of which, as how green is the new blue, I strongly believe that red/burgundy will be the new green. Nevertheless, there is no wrong choice when it comes to these colours as it is all down to personal preference. Getting all three of them is the only foolproof way of absolving yourself of this difficult decision.

Red Les Must de Cartier Tank

Like its predecessors, the dials of the new watches are stark and monochromatic, featuring just the polished sword hands, the Cartier logo and the Swiss Made typography at the bottom. Gone is the overlapping “Cs” logo which further elevates the minimalism of the watches. I find that to be a good move as minimalism is their main attraction; you want to see the coloured dials with as little obstruction as possible. And boy do the dials look phenomenal. With a crisp lacquered finish, the dials have that very sleek and glossy appearance. They look their absolute best when the sun shines directly upon them, revealing their glistening colours and making them “pop”. Depending on the lighting, the hues of the dials also seem to vary. Based on my time with the Red Tank Must, the dial can sometimes look a bright and cheery red to a deep and luscious maroon. This makes wearing it a very dynamic experience. It is for this reason that I also recommend wearing it on a strap of contrasting colour to make the dial even more outstanding.

Dial of the Red Tank Must under the sun

However, it takes two to tango. Besides the dial, the other significant highlight of the watch is its case. With the prominent side brancards which were inspired by the aerial view of the caterpillar tracks of the French Renault FT17 Military Tank (hence the watch’s name), the watch is unquestionably a Cartier Tank from afar. This time, Cartier has rounded the top of the brancards to produce a softer and dressier look that is more attuned with the iconic Tank Louis Cartier. This is unlike the Tank Solo collection which the Tank Must replaces, as the top of the brancards for those watches are flat.

While purists may not like this move as it could distil the more exclusive Tank Louis, I am personally a fan as it allows more people to enjoy the classic good looks of the Tank Louis, which is easily one of the most important watches ever made in terms of design. However, the Tank Must is noticeably thicker when worn on the wrist compared to the Tank Louis. This is to accommodate the Quartz movement, unlike the Tank Louis which is accompanied by a manual-winding movement.

The outgoing Tank Solo (left) with the Tank Must. Notice the difference in brancards.

When compared to the Les Must de Cartier Tanks of yesterday, the case also has two other main areas of difference - the material and the size. The case for the Tank Must is now in full stainless steel as Cartier does not engage in the practice of applying gold platings anymore. The Tank Must is also quite a bit bigger than its predecessors with a dimension of 33.7 mm x 25.5 mm x 6.6 mm. Although this sizing is termed as “large”, it is still relatively small for modern standards. Nevertheless, it still wears perfectly proportional on my wrist (~6.2”), and I actually prefer a Tank to be small as it is more befitting of its dressy nature. This is kind of paradoxical considering its name and its military inspiration.

A Tank Louis from the Collection Privée (left) compared with the Tank Must. The Tank Louis has the same dimensions as the Les Must de Cartier Tanks.

An aesthetic detail that I appreciate about Cartier watches is the crown. For the Tank Must, it is affixed with a synthetic blue spinel - the standard fixture for steel Cartier watches. The gold and platinum Cartier watches use natural sapphire cabochons and natural ruby cabochons respectively. It’s a nice touch and a very Cartier way to distinguish between the different metals, as well as furnishing the watches with some extra class.

The Tank Must is powered by a “high-autonomy” Quartz movement that offers around six years of battery life. While Quartz may be contentious to some, I feel that it suits the fun factor of the watch; it adds to its casual and fuss-free nature where I can just pick and go. Furthermore, there is no seconds hand so those who hate to see the seconds hand of their watches “tick” will have no issues here. Commercially, it also makes sense as it helps keeps the cost down, and brings it in line with the affordable but charming ethos of the original Les Must de Cartier tanks.

Ultimately, the watch has proven to be a hit as it is becoming increasingly hard to acquire one. This is unsurprising given that the watch emanates the hallmarks of the venerable Cartier Tank while containing that extra bit of colour to make it more lively and casual. Not to mention, it is a “one-shot” production which means that the production of the watch will indeed be limited. For those who are interested in the watch, I recommend you to run and not walk to your nearest boutique and authorised dealer, for the Tank Must is indeed a must.



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