Thin, rectangular watches typified by the Cartier Tank represent some of the most iconic product designs of the last hundred years. Their moment was the early part of the 20th century, beginning with a time that men’s wristwatches were still but a newfangled category. This rectangular shape helped distinguish them as deliberately designed for the wrist, as opposed to the repurposed pocket watches which constituted the earliest wristwatch (or “wristlet”) examples. The squarish Cartier Santos from 1904 was one of the first such watches, but it was the elegantly rectangular 1917 Cartier Tank that took off and contributed to wristwatches’ wider adoption.
Of course, it wasn’t just Cartier that made such watches, but this style is so associated with the Tank that the term has been applied to the general style. Despite the historical significance and ineluctably dashing elegance of a well-proportioned Tank-style watch, one tends to feel stylistically formal for modern sensibilities and everyday wear. But these watches don’t just look good in black and white — they can cut a striking figure on the wrist today, regardless of whether or not you’re rocking a tux.
Thanks to Cartier’s prestigious name and the provenance of the Tank, those from the brand itself can be expensive on the vintage market. A similar style and history, however, is offered by lesser-known brands, sometimes enlivened by Art Deco touches, for relatively affordable prices. Take a look at a few below.
What We Like: Wittnauer was a prominent American company founded by a Swiss immigrant that made a number of historically notable pieces. Among dive watches, pilot watches, and others, this example from the 1940s has a more casual and quirky take on the classic rectangular watch. It’s got a 23mm-wide gold-filled case, which means a steel base covered with a layer of gold, and it’s only 8mm thick. Its black dial with Arabic numerals and accentuated lugs give it a bit of a flare compared to more formal Tank-style watches.
From the Seller: Manually wound movement, signed by Wittnauer, recently serviced. Excellent overall condition.
What We Like: For most watch guys, the name Doxa will undoubtedly conjure an image of aggressively sporty, orange-dialed dive watches. Very few will even be aware that the brand, which traces its founding to 1889, once made watches like this charming, classically styled steel timepiece. It’s powered by a manually wound movement and measures 25mm wide and 10mm thick. Note that watches of this shape wear larger than their width measurements might suggest.
From the Seller: Very rare; overall very good condition; acrylic glass; comes with leather strap.
What We Like: Movado boasts a range of watches, many of which are often overlooked, that make for fun discoveries and good vintage values. Here we have one in a Tank-like case with an elegant dial design dating to around the 1950s. Measuring 22mm wide and 40mm lug-to-lug, it’s easy to imagine this fitting elegantly on a modern wrist.
From the Seller: The dial has some spotting from fallen lume but overall is very good. The case has some superficial scratches. The manual winding movement runs very well & keeps accurate time.