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Cartier Tank vs. Santos Review: A Timeless Debate

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cartier tank vs santos

Cartier stands out as a vanguard, blending artistic design with technical innovation. The Cartier watches began in the early 20th century when wristwatches emerged as a practical alternative to pocket watches for soldiers in the trenches of World War I. 

Despite the later shift in military preference towards round watches during World War II, Cartier defied the trend, crafting two square-shaped masterpieces that have stood the test of time: the Santos and the Tank. These iconic models not only survived but thrived, cementing Cartier’s legacy in the world of luxury timepieces.

This comparison explores the distinct features and appeal of the Cartier Tank and Santos. We’ll examine their history, design, and modern versions to highlight the differences between these iconic timepieces.

Which is better, Santos or Tank?

FeatureCartier SantosCartier Tank
DesignSporty and robust with a square case and exposed screws.Elegant and classic with a rectangular case and clean lines.
Historical SignificanceOne of the first pilot’s watches, created in 1904 for Alberto Santos-Dumont.Introduced in 1917, inspired by the tanks of World War I.
MovementAutomatic and quartz options available.Primarily quartz, with some automatic models.
Case MaterialAvailable in stainless steel, gold, and two-tone combinations.Available in stainless steel, gold, and platinum.
Strap OptionsPrecious metals bracelets and leather strap.Leather straps and precious metals bracelets in some models.
Water ResistanceGenerally higher, suitable for more active use.Lower, more suitable for dress wear.
Price RangeStarts at around $6,000 for stainless steel models, with gold models going up to $20,000 or more.Starts at around $2,500 for basic models, with high-end models reaching $30,000 or more.
Resale ValueGenerally holds its value well, especially for limited editions or gold models.Strong resale value, particularly for vintage or limited edition models.
Best Suited ForThose looking for a sporty, everyday watch with a touch of luxury.Those seeking a timeless, elegant piece for formal occasions.

The Cartier Santos, with its sporty design, is perfect for daily wear and maintains its value over time. The Cartier Tank, on the other hand, is more affordable, elegant, and ideal for formal events, with vintage models highly sought after. Both have good resale values, making the choice a matter of personal style and use.

The Historical Journey

Cartier santos

The Santos de Cartier holds a special place in the annals of horology. Its story began in 1904, born from the collaboration between the Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont and the esteemed jeweler Louis Cartier. Santos-Dumont, known for his daring flights, expressed a need for a timepiece that could be easily consulted during flight, as pocket watches proved cumbersome. In response, Cartier designed the Santos, one of the first wristwatches ever created. 

  • 1906: Santos-Dumont wears the Cartier Santos watch during one of his famous flights, showcasing its practicality and durability.
  • 1911: Cartier begins commercial production of the Santos line watch, making it available to the public.
  • 1978: The Santos watch is reintroduced with a modernized design, featuring a steel bracelet with gold screws, becoming a popular luxury timepiece.
  • 2004: Cartier celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Santos watch with special edition models and updated designs.
  • 2018: Cartier launches the Santos de Cartier Collection, featuring new models with updated technology and design, including the QuickSwitch and SmartLink systems for easy strap and bracelet adjustments.
Cartier tank

On the one hand, the Cartier Tank is a masterpiece of horological design, its origins steeped in the tumultuous era of World War I. Inspired by the formidable tanks that changed the face of modern warfare, Louis Cartier designed a timepiece that embodied both strength and elegance. In 1917, he brought this vision to life with the first Tank watch, its rectangular case and clean lines mirroring the geometric silhouette of the tanks.

As the years passed, the Tank watch evolved, adapting to the changing tides of fashion and society. Despite its iconic watch military-inspired beginnings, the Tank watch became a symbol of modern elegance, gracing the wrists of royalty, celebrities, and fashion icons. 

  • 1919: The Cartier Tanks is officially launched to the public, with a limited production of First tanks six pieces, marking the beginning of its legacy.
  • 1920s-1930s: The Tank watch gains popularity among European and American elites, becoming a symbol of modern elegance.
  • 1960s: The introduction of the Tank Americaine, a slightly curved version of the original Tank, adds a new dimension to the collection.
  • 1989: The Tank Française is introduced, featuring a chain-link bracelet, further diversifying the Tank collection.
  • 1996: The Tank Française is updated with a metal bracelet, enhancing its appeal as a luxury timepiece.
  • 2012: Cartier celebrates the 95th anniversary of the Tank watch with new variations and limited editions.
  • 2017: The Tank watch celebrates its 100th anniversary, solidifying its status as an iconic timepiece with special commemorative models and exhibitions.

Design and Aesthetics

The Cartier Tank and Santos watches, though both iconic, exhibit distinct design elements that set them apart. The Tank is celebrated for its elegant rectangular case, a design inspired by the aerial view of World War I tanks. Its dial is adorned with Roman numerals, adding a touch of classic designs sophistication, while the chemin de fer (a minute track resembling a railway) enhances its refined aesthetic.

In contrast, the Santos boasts a bold square bezel, a nod to its aviation origins. Its most distinctive feature is the visible screws on the bezel and bracelet, lending it a sportier and more industrial look. The Santos’ design embodies a sense of adventure and innovation, reflecting the spirit of its namesake, aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont.

Over the years, both the Tank and Santos models have seen numerous variations, each maintaining the core aesthetics while incorporating modern elements. 

  • The Tank has expanded into several sub-collections, such as the Tank Francaise, Tank Américaine, Tank Cintree, and Tank Solo, each offering different case shapes, sizes, and materials, but all retaining the signature Roman numerals and classic elegance.
  • The Santos, too, has evolved with the times. The introduction of the Santos 100 and Santos de Cartier collections brought larger case sizes and new materials, such as carbon and titanium, catering to contemporary tastes while preserving the watch’s iconic design features.

Through these variations, Cartier has skillfully balanced tradition and innovation, ensuring that both the Tank and Santos remain relevant and coveted in the ever-changing world of luxury watches.

Movement and Functionality

Both the Cartier Tank and Santos have embraced a range of movement types, including mechanical and quartz version. Mechanical movements, whether manual wind like the Tank Normale or automatic, are prized in both models for their traditional craftsmanship and the elegant sweep of the second hand. Quartz models movements like the Tank Francaise, introduced in later models of both the Tank and Santos, offer enhanced precision and lower maintenance, appealing to those prioritizing reliability and convenience.

Santos de Cartier Skeleton

In terms of technological advancements, the Santos de Cartier has made notable strides, especially with the Santos 100’s introduction in 2004, which boasted an automatic movement with increased durability and a power reserve of up to 48 hours. More recent models, like the Santos de Cartier Skeleton, highlight Cartier’s fusion of traditional watchmaking and contemporary design with their mechanical movements and manual winding.

Tank Louis Cartier

Contrastingly, the Tank has consistently emphasized elegance and simplicity. Many Tank models feature quartz movements for their sleek profiles and dependability. Yet, high-end variants such as the Tank Louis Cartier still offer manual-winding mechanical movements, catering to purists who cherish the watch’s classic allure.

Wearability and Style

The Santos, with its robust design and sporty aesthetics, including a square bezel and visible screws, is exceptionally suited for everyday use. Its construction is durable, and the design complements both casual and business attire, making it a versatile choice for a wide range of activities.

On the other hand, the Cartier Tank exudes a more classic and elegant vibe, with its slim rectangular case and clean lines. While it is also comfortable for daily wear, its sophistication lends itself more to business and formal settings. The Tank’s design is less sporty than the Santos, which may influence its suitability for certain casual environments. However, its timeless elegance makes it a perfect accessory for those who prefer a more understated luxury look on their wrist.

Given its sportier look and robust design, the Santos is ideal for:

  • Casual outings
  • Travel
  • and even business environments where a touch of individuality is appreciated

Its versatility allows it to transition smoothly from day to night, making it suitable for a broad spectrum of social situations.

The Tank’s classic elegance is a perfect match for:

  • Formal events
  • and high-profile meetings, where this dress watch its can truly shine

That being said, certain Tank models with simpler designs can also fit seamlessly into more casual settings, offering a touch of sophistication to everyday wear.

Cultural Impact and Iconic Moments

The Santos de Cartier revolutionized watchmaking as the first men’s wristwatch, closely associated with aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont. Its industrial yet elegant design has attracted celebrities like Pelé, Jake Gyllenhaal, and John Mayer, symbolizing a blend of functionality and luxury. The Santos stands out in the watch world, akin to the Rolex Cellini, Patek Philippe Nautilus and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, for those who appreciate a sporty yet sophisticated timepiece.

While the Cartier Tank, inspired by the Renault FT-17 tank, is a symbol of classic elegance. Adorned by royalty and cultural icons such as Princess Diana, Ryan Reynolds, and Michelle Obama, the Tank’s simple design embodies understated luxury. Depending on the model, like the Tank Française or Tank Must, it can range from subtly elegant to a more pronounced statement, appealing to a wide variety of personal styles.

The Santos and Tank have both significantly influenced watchmaking and fashion. The Santos, with its aviation roots, appeals to those who value a unique, bold aesthetic, while the Tank’s refined simplicity has made it a staple among the elite and fashion-forward. Each watch has played a role in shaping trends and preferences, reflecting the cultural zeitgeist of their respective eras.

Popular Icons Wearing Cartier

Cartier has been a symbol of luxury and timeless style since the 1840s, and its appeal has captivated style icons across generations. From royalty to Hollywood celebrities, Cartier’s exquisite jewelry and watches have graced the most fashionable individuals.

  • Audrey Hepburn: The epitome of elegance, Hepburn once wore a Cartier diamond necklace as a tiara, showcasing her sophisticated style.
  • Barbara Hutton: Known for her lavish lifestyle, Hutton was often seen with a Cartier tiger clip brooch, adding a touch of exotic glamour to her ensemble.
  • Elizabeth Taylor: A true icon of glamor, Taylor looked stunning in her Cartier earrings, epitomizing Hollywood luxury.
  • Grace Kelly: The princess of Monaco added a touch of royal charm to her blazer with a Cartier diamond poodle pin.
  • Jacqueline Kennedy: The former First Lady was often spotted with the classic Cartier Tank watch, a symbol of her timeless elegance.
  • Kate Middleton: The Duchess of Cambridge is frequently seen wearing her Cartier watch, continuing the tradition of royalty favoring the brand.
  • Maria Felix: The Mexican actress was known for her bold style, often adorned with a variety of Cartier baubles.
  • The Duchess of Windsor: Known for her exquisite taste, she wore a Cartier Emerald Engagement Ring, a testament to the brand’s craftsmanship.
  • Wallis Simpson: Simpson made a statement with the Cartier gem set cross bracelet, showcasing her unique and sophisticated style.
  • Andy Warhol: The iconic artist was known for his collection of Cartier watches, including the Tank, which he famously said he wore not to tell time but because it was “the watch to wear.”

These style icons have not only elevated their own fashion status but have also solidified Cartier’s place in the world of luxury and elegance. Their choice of Cartier pieces highlights the brand’s ability to transcend time and remain a favorite among the most stylish individuals throughout history.

Where to Purchase

When it comes to purchasing Cartier Santos and Tank watches, there are several options available, each with its own advantages and considerations. 

Authorized Dealers

Authorized Dealers offer the assurance of authenticity and a manufacturer’s warranty when purchasing Cartier watches. However, this comes with a price premium. For the Cartier Tank, prices at authorized dealers range from S$13,588.54 to S$17,318.73, while the Santos model is priced between S$5,195.62 and S$25,578.43.

Boutique Stores

Purchasing directly from a Cartier boutique guarantees authenticity and personalized service. Prices are fixed, but the experience and assurance of buying from the brand itself can be worth the premium. For the Cartier Tank, prices at boutique stores range from S$4,750 to S$77,500, while the Santos model is priced between S$8,100 and S$79,000. These prices reflect the premium quality and craftsmanship associated with the Cartier brand, offering buyers a luxury experience along with their purchase.

Second-hand Markets

Second-hand markets such as Watch Exchange can provide attractive deals on pre-owned watches. However, it’s important to be vigilant about the authenticity of the products. It’s advisable to conduct thorough research and seek authentication when necessary. Opting for a reputable pre-owned luxury watch marketplace like Watch Exchange can offer added assurance in terms of quality and authenticity. The Cartier Tank Must De model is available at approximately S$4,900, while the Santos model ranges from S$8,900 to S$25,900.

Final Word

The Santos dazzles with its sporty allure, catering to the adventurous spirit, while the Tank enchants with its timeless elegance, perfect for formal elegance. Whichever you choose, both promise a blend of Cartier’s heritage and innovation, making them not just timepieces but treasures of personal style and history.

Key Takeaways

  • Santos is best suited for individuals who appreciate a sportier look and a watch with a rich history in aviation. It’s also ideal for everyday wear and casual settings.
  • Tank is perfect for those seeking a timeless piece with a minimalist design, making it suitable for formal events and a sophisticated look.
  • The Santos market has seen a modest increase of 0.2% over the past 180 days, while the Tank market has experienced a more significant rise of 7% in the same period. Considering these trends, the Cartier Tank may offer a better investment opportunity, particularly for those interested in its vintage appeal.

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