Inside Cartier’s Tank Factory | A Continuous Lean.

Inside Cartier’s Tank Factory

Nov 13th, 2013 | Categories: Watches | by Michael Williams

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The whole point of this blog, from the beginning way back in 2007, was to find out more about the things that have stood the test of time, to delve into the things that we love and find out why and how they are made. Not long ago, I traveled to Switzerland with Cartier to learn about the history of its famous Tank watches, and to see the newest member of the Tank tribe, the Tank MC, come to life. To be able to have access to the people, process and history that goes into something as unique and important as a Cartier watch, let alone, a Tank, is an important moment for both ACL as an aesthetic minded medium, and also for me personally. Because, there are few things in this world that as closely link men and style together more than the Cartier Tank watch. If I were never allowed to see another factory after this, deep down I would always know I went out on top.

The Cartier factory sits in a small town called La Chaux-de-Fonds, situated squarely in the valley between the Jura mountains. This long basin between Geneva and Basel in Switzerland is colloquially known as “Watch Valley,” for both its historical ties to many prominent watchmakers and the area’s continued role at the center of  fine watchmaking. Stand basically anywhere in the area and you can see at least one famous watch brand. I can’t think of another place anywhere in the world where you can find as many significant luxury brands together in one area.

Inside the neatly organized Cartier manufacturing building, the expansive place in which the famed watchmaker and jeweler produces the most intricate, good looking and classic timepieces that carry the iconic brand’s name, including the newest member of the Tank family, the handsome Tank MC (In addition to the Tank MC, the factory also produces the Calibre and many of the brand’s novelties and most artistic pieces). It was because of the Tank MC’s launch this fall that Cartier offered the chance to come behind the curtain and see how this all comes together.

The Tank is one of the most iconic watches from a company known for its well-known collection of watches — I salute the man who can settle on just one watch from Cartier. Within the Tank family there are several different designs including the Tank Louis Cartier, Tank Anglaise, Tank Américaine, Tank Française, the Tank Solo and the Tank MC which was just introduced.

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Some details about the Tank MC. What does the MC stand for? It means: Manufacture Cartier, or that it is made in-house. The Tank MC is 34.3 x 44.0 mm and 9.5 mm thick. There are seven different models to choose from in either stainless steel or rose gold. The watch is automatic, not manually wound.

Cartier and its Director of Movement Development Carole Forestier-Kasapi have been adept at not only making intricately detailed and sophisticated movements, they have also done excellent work producing a host of handsome watches to incorporate them into. For me, watches are all about sophistication and authenticity, but they are also important signifiers of style and thus are equally extensions of the clothes I wear. When it comes to fine watches, to care about only one piece of the puzzle (the technical aspects, or just the styling) is missing the point. I want something that functions as beautifully as it looks.

The 1904 MC automatic movement is made entirely In-house movement. Introduced in 2010 in the Calibre model, the 1904 is a big deal for Cartier. (The Calibre, by the way, has been a huge hit for Cartier as well.) It’s a sophisticated and versatile engine for a variety of the new Cartier models that we’ve seen over the past few years. To produce a movement in-house is significant, it takes a lot of time and energy. That is why so many watch makers tout it. Knowing if a movement is made in-house makes a difference when buying a watch, so always ask and if the salesperson doesn’t know, it’s probably worth finding a different retailer to patronize.

Seeing the operation in La Chaux-de-Fonds gives me a much better understanding as to just what it takes to develop an in-house movement. The movement design team uses the same computerized CAD programs that Boeing uses to develop its planes. There’s also massive amounts of machinery, tooling, rooms filled with 3D printers and multiple variants of every CNC machine you could imagine. It takes years of work from the engineers, designers, tooling and watchmakers to overcome the complexities of industrialization, manufacture and design.

Take it from me, what’s happening to get a watch from concept to wrist is crazy and there’s an unbelievable amount of skill that goes into everything. Not to mention massive machines that churn out all of the tiny parts. The factory is a mix of art, science, skill, patience, engineering, precision and art. It’s an immense concentration of skill and know-how all under one roof. While I was touring the factory I realized the place would be impressive if they were making microwaves, the fact that Cartier was making all of these great watches, well it all just seemed like a surreal world where we all had a Tank MC. Maybe one day. —MW

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Comments: 8

8 Comments to “Inside Cartier’s Tank Factory”

  1. Scott Fisher
    on Nov 13th, 2013
    @ 12:42 PM

    I was told that Cartier bought its watch movements from Swatch for models other than the mc model. Do you know if this is true?

  2. RKW
    on Nov 14th, 2013
    @ 1:12 AM

    Scott, no clue on that, but if so, I would bet they would be the quartz watches they make. They do have a few quartz tanks, that are also very finely finished, and considerably less expensive (yet still expensive) The case, facings, crystal, and all other parts, are up to snuff with their other watches. I don’t have one, but have nearly hit the bid a couple of times, in Marigot St. Martin.

  3. Scott Fisher
    on Nov 14th, 2013
    @ 5:00 PM

    Is there an American watchmaking company of any note?

  4. Jeff
    on Nov 15th, 2013
    @ 11:23 PM

    The majority of Cartier’s non-quartz production is made with movements from ETA, a subsidiary of the Swatch conglomeration (which also owns Omega, Blancpain, and Tissot, and many other brands. ETA movements are well known, highly reliable, and come in a variety of finishes. Many other watch brands use their movements, though in the upcoming years Swatch has announced that they will no longer sell movements to many companies.

  5. TerryK
    on Nov 17th, 2013
    @ 1:14 PM

    Does Harry Winston count? It’s a New York company but the timepieces are made in Geneva.

  6. Todd M.
    on Nov 17th, 2013
    @ 9:04 PM

    @Scott

    There are a few American watch companies. One exceptional company of note is RGM, they can be found at rgmwatches.com

  7. Scott Fisher
    on Nov 18th, 2013
    @ 10:09 AM

    Thanks again for this top notch information. I like that Cartier is making movements for the mc model in house. Knowing that the majority of the movements are currently purchased from a Swatch subsidiary is helpful. That’s one of the reasons that a company like Patek,for example, is so unique because they produce their watches from start to finish in house. I’ll investigate RGM as well as it would be fabulous to find a watchmaker in the United States that does world class work.

  8. Aaron B.
    on Nov 19th, 2013
    @ 4:04 PM

    Shinola is another one – Detroit, MI.