3 Round Alternatives to the Cartier Tank

Article By: Logan Hannen

WATCH101 | May 14, 2019

The Cartier Tank is, in many ways, the ultimate dress watch. Its exploded Roman numerals, thin profile, and clean aesthetic are very much icons both independently, and as part of the whole. However, I’m the first to acknowledge that the rectangular, “tank” shaped case isn’t for everyone.

For that reason, I want to look at three watches that accomplish the same thing the Tank does, but in a round profile. To keep somewhat in the same vein, we’re going to limit them to case sizes 40mm or below, given the Tank’s unique, but ultimately discreet form factor. Beyond that, the rest of the watch’s characteristics are open to interpretation, and not every watch on this list needs to feel like a round version of the Tank in a literal sense to qualify.

1: The Patek Philippe Calatrava 3796J or 5120J

Patek Philippe 3976J (left) and 5120J (right)
Diameter: 31mm and 35mm
Movement: Manual wind and automatic
Price: $8,500 and $16,000

I couldn’t pick just one Calatrava for this slot, partly because both the 3796J and the 5120J feel like very, very different watches in their own right. Both are in yellow gold cases and feature white dials with black painted Roman numerals for the hours. They also, it seems, feature the same hand-set. That, however, is about where the similarities end.

The 3796’s beefier, almost Oyster-shaped case is notably different than the circular-with-straight-lug case of the 5120. The 5120 also features a hobnail bezel, which has shown up on a number of other Calatrava references, including the now legendary 3919. What both of these Calatravas also have is a bit of funk when compared to the other members of the model line. Most of them are very classic, but ultimately kind of sterile dress watches that, while beautiful, do often run the risk of looking no different than an Orient Bambino or Timex Marlin. This X-Factor, then, is exactly what they both need to be truly worthy alternatives to the Tank.

2: Rolex Datejust Ref. 1601 “Buckley” Dial

Rolex Datejust 1601 “Buckley” Dial
Source: Theo & Harris
Diameter: 36mm
Movement: Automatic
Price: $4,000

The Rolex Datejust is, without much exaggeration, probably the ideal everyday watch. We’ve gone into this ad nauseum, but the point remains – the Datejust is a classic. It’s also one of the most varied watches in the Rolex catalog, and the “Buckley” dial 1601 is among the most sought after and unique. The watch was nicknamed after a Rolex authority who, to quote Christian Zeron, “loved them before anyone cared,” the painted black Roman numerals on the Buckley dial are some of the most fun you can have with a vintage Datejust.

It isn’t just the Roman numerals, though, that make it a good alternative to the Tank. At 36mm, it isn’t even remotely a “modern” sized watch, and yet its Oyster case, which lends a sort of cushion profile, makes it wear very differently than its nominal size might suggest, similar in many ways to the Tank. It’s also very versatile, making it, arguably, a more suitable option for those who dress up far less frequently than they dress down.

3: NOMOS Ludwig 201

Source: NOMOS
NOMOS Glashutte Ludwig 201
Diameter: 35mm
Movement: Alpha Hand-Winding Mechanical Movement
Price: $1,840

I wanted to include a manual winding watch on this list, as well as a modern one, and this NOMOS Ludwig ticked both boxes perfectly. At 35mm in diameter, the Ludwig is a classic dress watch size, but given the long, slender lugs that are typical NOMOS, the watch’s actual presence is a bit larger. The dial is also very NOMOS, with black painted Roman numerals replacing the typical Arabic numerals of the similar Tangente model. It features heat-blued stick hands for the hour, minute, and sub-seconds, and a railroad-style minute track outboard the indices.

Powering the watch is NOMOS’ legendary in-house Alpha manual winding movement. At under $2k, the Ludwig also offers some of the best value in the world of modern watches overall, and certainly in the world of alternatives to the Cartier Tank. Plus, being German and decidedly Bauhaus-inspired, the watch also offers plenty of unique features and design cues that help set it apart, while still capturing much the same energy as the Tank.

All right, geeks, that does it for this rundown of three round alternatives to the Cartier Tank. If you have any others that didn’t make the list, be sure to let us know and, as always, keep it classy, watchfam.