Like the song says, ‘It’s hip to be square’(ish). So, for the benefit of those among us who don’t actually have a non-round watch in their collection, this month’s head-to-head brings together two of the most celebrated and storied four-cornered watches to battle for our attention. Meet the Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso Grande 8-day and the Cartier Tank Francaise.
Both watches come from respected houses and have been around in various iterations for decades. Co-incidentally they can also both trace their origins back to military-inspired inceptions. So how do these historic heavyweights square up against each other?
If a sense of history is important to you in your choice of watch then you’re spoilt for choice with these two.
The original Tank was created by Louis Cartier in 1917, inspired by the new Renault tanks which Cartier saw in use during WW1 whilst posted on the Western Front. Production began in 1919, and ever since, the Tank has been a staple of the Cartier range. Numerous variations of the watch have appeared over the years, including the Tank Louis in 1922, the Tank Americaine in 1989, and this example, the Tank Francaise in 1996. The defining features of a Cartier Tank watch include its bold Roman numeral dial with a chemin de fer chapter ring, sword-shaped blued steel hands, and a sapphire cabochon topped crown.
As for the Reverso, during the 1930s British Army officers stationed in India enjoyed playing polo but found that their watches were vulnerable to the unique stresses and strains involved. Namely, taking hits from swinging mallets and hard polo balls. Any player who left their watch on during a match found it got destroyed.
So they approached a local watch dealer to design a watch that could withstand the sport and in 1931, LeCoultre filed a patent for a watch that was able to slide of out its frame and turn over completely using a system of grooves, pins, and a locking mechanism. Thus, the first Reverso was born.
Even though the Reverso’s design was originally based purely on functionality, it captures the Art Deco aesthetic perfectly. Interestingly, instead of considering the solid metal caseback a protective shield, owners down the years have come to see it as a canvas on which to add unique personality to their watches. Like them, you may enjoy the opportunity to add a personal dedication, a family crest, or a miniature painting perhaps to accompany the power reserve aperture found on the reverse of this Reverso?
The Cartier Tank has been in production longer than most watches and has become one of the most highly coveted wristwatches of all time. Celebrities have always taken to it; think Jackie Kennedy, Princess Diana, and Yves Saint Laurent to name but a few. It is easy to see why. This watch is a masterpiece that manages to marry classic design and modern principles of clarity and simplicity. Is this the best unisex watch ever made? You’d be hard pushed to name a better one.
Picking a design ‘winner’ here is almost a pointless exercise as both watches are utter classics. Both designs are instantly recognisable, both have been much copied, and yet neither has ever been bettered. Stalemate.
Where the external designs rely on a purely subjective decision on preference, the movements of these two watches offer more to think about. The Reverso uses an outstanding rhodium plated manual winding movement that provides a massive 8-days of power reserve. You can forget having to wind this up for a week or more once fully powered. (Happily there’s an aperture to remind you when your 8 days are up.) Twin barrels, a straight-line lever escapement, monometallic balance, shock absorber and self-compensating flat balance spring demonstrate JLC’s prowess in delivering top-notch movements.
If you find winding your watch a chore then the Cartier automatic movement has your back. It’s a good quality ETA-supplied automatic movement, modified by Cartier. And whilst it won’t be as accurate as a quartz (no mechanical movements is), the choice of an automatic movement makes this a watch that you can slip on and just wear.
In terms of sheer quality the movement in the Reverso wins this hands down… if you’re a movement geek, that is. An 8 day power reserve is some achievement in a wristwatch and JLC make some of the best movements you’ll ever find in a watch. In fairness the Cartier doesn’t even try to compete here. Nobody really buys a Cartier Tank for its movement, and what you get here is an unfussy, convenient, accurate and entirely reliable movement that allows you focus on what this watch is all about: to be seen and be seen in. A (qualified) win for the Reverso.
If you’re looking for a watch that you don’t have to ‘baby’ then the Cartier Tank Francaise 2366 is the smarter choice of the two watches here. Its smaller 28mm x 32mm size should make it less prone to picking up dings and the integrated bracelet feels reassuringly robust. Indeed, the Tank is a tank; a semi-sports watch you can wear all day, every day. And if you’re a one watch kind of person, this could be that one. (If you’re happy to wear a white gold watch as an everyday piece.)
The Reverso Grande 240.2.14 is a different animal. I don’t think you’d consider a watch like this as a one-watch or an all-day, every day watch. What you’re getting here is a high-end horological complication in that 8-day movement. And whilst the Reverso may have started life as a sports watch on the polo field this version is more of a lounge lizard, and unlikely to be the only watch you’ll own or indeed need.
For its sheer versatility, the Cartier wins the in the wearability stakes.
Aside from a difference in size and heft there’s little to separate the watches here. They’re both supremely wearable, though at 46mm in length this Reverso model may be a push on smaller wrists. What we have in these two is a pure preference play: hand wound or automatic? Date or no date? White gold or rose gold? Bracelet or leather strap? Everyday or occasional?
The Cartier wins in two categories, maybe three if you include its history. But the Reverso wins it for me. You see, it all comes down to what you want out of your watch. In this instance I’d go for a complication that’s rare in wristwatches, although I do already own a Casio G-Shock that I can wear should I take up playing polo.
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