Cartier’s Tank Française Watch Gets a Makeover

The Tank Française watch is back.

In January, Cartier reissued the stylish timepiece, famous for its integrated metal bracelet, that initially joined the Tank collection in 1996. The redesign, which the luxury house said took more than 13,000 hours to develop, included seven new variations — and debuted just as interest in the watch reached fever pitch.

Industry observers say that mainly is because of the British royal family’s style influence, especially that of Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex. She wore a yellow-gold Tank Française during the Netflix docuseries “Harry & Meghan” which eagle-eye watch fans said was once owned by Diana, Princess of Wales (who also had a Louis Cartier Tank, which came with a leather strap instead of links). The watch reportedly was passed down to Prince Harry, and his wife has worn it regularly in recent years, most notably for a 2021 portrait of the couple for Time magazine’s Most Influential People feature.

The timepiece is not the duchess’s first Tank Française, however. Years ago, when, as Meghan Markle, she was appearing in the TV series “Suits,” she reportedly bought herself a two-tone Tank Française when the show’s third season was confirmed. It even made cameo appearances in several episodes.

Eric Wind, a watch dealer and founder of Wind Vintage in Palm Beach, Fla., said he was not surprised that the Tank Française was in the limelight.

“Because of all the renewed interest in Princess Diana, ‘The Crown’ show on Netflix, obviously the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, then Princess Diana’s former husband now being king — all that has renewed interest in the watch,” he said. “And then, of course, all the royal family drama with Meghan and Harry.”

Royal disputes aside, the Tank Française has long been a top choice for influential women. Michelle Obama wore one in 2009 for her official portrait as first lady, and celebrities including Madonna, Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Garner have been fans. In 2021, Brynn Wallner, the millennial watch influencer who founded Dimepiece, decided on a 25-millimeter steel Tank Française for her first watch.

All that publicity seems to have firmly embedded the watch in the public’s consciousness. “It’s a shape that a lot of people get in their mind,” Mr. Wind said. “For a lot of women thinking about their first nice watch, it’s either a Datejust or a Tank Française.” (The Datejust is a popular Rolex for women.)

Malaika Crawford, style editor at the watch platform Hodinkee, noted that the watch was part of a rite of passage for a generation of women in a certain economic class. “In the 1990s and 2000s,” she said, “you were gifted a Tank Française when you turned 18 or 21.”

Marie-Laure Cérède, Cartier’s watch and jewelry creative director, says the Tank Française’s hallmark has been the integration of its polished metal bracelet with the watch case. “In watchmaking history, you have not so many watches that are more bracelet than case,” she said. “This is part of its myth.”

To streamline the timepiece further, the crown was recessed into the case and the bracelet links were redesigned to create a curve, and they now mix more brushed than polished finishes. In total, the bracelet required 50 redesign attempts to get right, Ms. Cérède said, as well as 460 hours of digital simulations and 340 hours of tests and analysis to ensure its reliability.

The seven new references, all slightly larger than previous ones, include four yellow-gold models with champagne dials in small and medium (25.7 millimeters by 21.2 millimeters and 32 millimeters by 27 millimeters), available with or without diamond accents ($20,900 to $30,700).

There also are three steel versions with silver dials ($3,550 to $5,500) in the same small and medium dimensions as well as a large version (36.7 millimeters by 30.5 millimeters). The large steel model is an automatic, but the others are quartz-powered.

One element of the redesign that has drawn attention is the large link that now connects the case to the bracelet (previously, three links had been used).

A Hodinkee reader likened the single link to a “male” element — something Ms. Cérède likely would not dispute. She described the redesign as more masculine, but it’s not meant to target men.

“It’s more bolder, stronger,” she said, “more powerful in that sense.” (The new model’s advertising campaign — featuring Rami Malek and Catherine Deneuve wearing the watch — presented it as having a gender-crossing appeal.)

While the Tank Française traditionally has been considered a feminine timepiece, Hannah Teare, the acting fashion director at Tatler magazine, said she could “absolutely” see men wearing the watch. “There’s something so elegant about its proportions and symmetry. It’s hardware, but deeply feminine,” she said. “You can rock it with a tomboy look or a really beautiful black-tie dress.”

Mr. Wind said that the continuing interest in luxury sport watches with integrated bracelets, like the best-selling Audemars Piguet Royal Oak or Patek Philippe Nautilus, would ensure the Tank Française’s continued popularity.

“It’s all about the sport watch,” he said, “that can go from being on someone’s yacht in the Mediterranean to hours later being in a board meeting in London.”

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