They came out 12 months apart, both with rectangular reversible cases, and both constructed by Spécialités Horlogères SA. But different fates awaited the Reverso and the Tank Basculante. One spawned hundreds of models and celebrated its 85th anniversary earlier this year. The other would be one of hundreds that make up a larger collection, and would seldom be seen again. But it would be wrong to compare these two models on their success. We got our hands on a 1990s model to explain why.
1. The Tank Basculante Was Never Meant To Be A Collection
Purchasing a patent is one thing. Owning it is quite another. While we are quite certain the Basculante wouldn’t exist without Jaeger-LeCoultre, Cartier’s “titling” watch is inspired by one of its own designs – and one that pre-dates the Reverso by some margin. Born in the thick of World War I and christened after one of its most terrifying weapons, the Tank is one of Cartier’s earliest wristwatches. Designed by Louis Cartier, this square and rectangular wristwatch was a pioneer in terms of design, in an era still dominated by round pocket watches. But the Tank was a hit, and the collection quickly expanded without deviating too far from the original design, until 1933, when Cartier introduced the Tank Basculante. Its fold-over case makes it one of the most interesting of all Tanks, but it was never meant to outshine its predecessor in the collection.
2. The Flipping Mechanism Is Entirely Different
While the Reverso employs a single track to carry the case from left to right on a horizontal axis, the Basculante flips upside down inside a swinging frame; a trick that requires an entirely new solution and case construction, and one that could easily have been over-engineered. Instead, Spécialités Horlogères SA (later integrated into Jaeger-LeCoultre) designed a simple system, mounting the watch onto a frame secured by a sprung ball bearing, which can be released from the top down. While it isn’t as easy to operate as the Reverso, it offers greater protection to the mechanism. Of course, the additional frame adds eight edges to the design, but this is where the Epicurean taste of Cartier shows. All have been beveled and polished, while a perlage finish has been applied to the inner portion of the case.
3. It’s Also A Lot More Versatile
Because the case of the Basculante can make a full 360 degree rotation, it can stand fully upright, even when the watch is rested on a flat surface. Which comes in very handy when the owner wants to carry a timekeeper without the hassle of wearing one. In that case, he or she can transform the Basculante into a nifty table clock.
4. The Movement, While Sourced, Is Arguably Better
The movement found inside the Basculante is arguably more impressive than the one powering the Reverso. You read that correctly. Sure, it’s sourced from Fréderique Piguet. But the manually wound caliber 6.10 (Cartier calls it caliber 610) is a superb example of miniaturization and finishing. Measuring only 2.1 mm in thickness, it rivals today’s ultra-thin movements, even though it was made almost 90 years ago. While the watch has to be opened in order to be admired, the movement is carefully finished with embossed decorations, in place of the typical Côtes De Genève that adorn F. Piguet’s caliber.
5. The Overall Design Isn’t Bad Either
Cartier may not have been a fully-fledged manufacture when the Basculante was created, but what the Parisian jeweler gave the watch industry back then was a groundbreaking vision in terms of design. Louis Cartier made rectangular wristwatches cool before the Swiss could, and the maison would continue to improve and modify the iconic Tank. Now perfectly symmetrical, thanks to the placement of the crown at 12 o’clock, the Basculante is a lesson in understated elegance. While others focused on the movement, Cartier’s full attention was thrown into the stunning silver guilloché dial, which features stunning details such as their secret signature, hidden inside the Roman numerals at 7 o’clock.
When the stars align, a watch manufacturer will create a model that will spawn an entire collection. They did so, briefly, in 1932 for the Reverso, but must have returned to their original positions by the time the Basculante was released. Perhaps the latter would have found greater success, had the French maison pushed it with greater enthusiasm, but troubling times would test Cartier, before their recent return as a fully-integrated manufacture. Perhaps a new Tank Basculante, with its own in-house movement, isn’t far behind?
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