Cartier is not a company that leaps immediately to mind for technical achievement in the field of horology. Louis Cartier, heir to the family jewelry firm founded in 1846, was, however, a design pioneer in luxury goods, including the wristwatch. Although never a movement manufacturer, Cartier has made a very significant contribution to horology by virtue of the sheer prowess of the company’s design work. Historically, it was Cartier and Rolex who defined the physical form of the 20th century wristwatch.

The contemporary Tank Basculante, above.
A Cartier travel clock from 1931, left.


In keeping with company tradition, the Tank Basculante is first and foremost a piece of design. (Surprisingly, it is also a solid piece of watchmaking, about which more later.) The watch case, proper, is mounted in a frame that is hinged at the lower end to the third piece of the case, the back. Within its frame, the watch case can pivot for reversing or angling. The case is very sturdily constructed and extremely well finished. Though perhaps a tiny cut below the superb finish quality of a Reverso, there is little to complain about in the execution.

Rooted in a long tradition of folding or reversing wristwatches, miniature travel clocks, and ermeto (or “purse watches”), the Tank Basculante is a contemporary offering from Cartier. Meaning, in English, tilting or tipping tank, the Tank Basculante is offered in stainless steel at a US retail price just under $5,000. It can, like the famous Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso, be reversed on the wrist. But unlike the Reverso, it can also be used as a miniature travel clock on a bedside table.

The complete case assembly measures 38 by 25.5 millimeters, but is just six millimeters thick.

Four massive five-millimeter screws (left) hold the case bezel to the back. Note, also, the sprung ball bearing that locks the case to its frame. Another four screws hold the back section of the case together, and an additional two provide the pivoting of the case in its frame.




The dial is a classic Cartier dial with guilloche, distorted Romans, a minute track, and blued-steel spade hands. It is unmistakably Cartier, and very French.









Like most Cartier wristwatches, the Tank Basculante contains a “secret signature” on the dial.






With only about half the parts of a Reverso case, the Tank Basculante case offers far better water resistance, better shock protection of the movement, and a more easily-serviceable design. Shown left, the crown is supported by a massive case tube and the stem is sealed by an O-ring set into a groove in the tube (arrow). The two piece stem is extraordinarily massive, no doubt because of the unusual position of the crown and the possibility of abuse by those unfamiliar.



The blue cabochon (Cartier does not call it a sapphire) adorns the tab used to lift the case frame from the back. Perhaps it is French crystal.