This or That – Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso vs. Cartier Tank

Article By: Logan Hannen

Oct 31, 2018

What is up, watchfam?! Today, we’re back for another round of “This or That” with two of horology’s most iconic rectangular pieces – the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso and the Cartier Tank.

Both the Reverso and the Tank have become iconic in the horological world for being masterfully executed rectangular timepieces, a genre that is both sorely lacking many other brands attempting to play at the same level, and yet is also flooded with poor attempts. Nearly all of the major Swiss brands have had their hand at trying to make a rectangular timepiece, and indeed many still do (see: the Patek Philippe Gondolo, the Rolex Cellini Prince, and the Audemars Piguet Quantieme Perpetuel). Despite that, none have quite hit the status of the Reverso or the Tank. Why that is is a discussion for another time, but ultimately, we’re left with these two titans, and today we’re going to go through their similarities, differences, and ultimately which piece is right for which kind of person.

Left: Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Classic Large Small Seconds, Right: Cartier Tank Solo Large
Sources: Jaeger-LeCoultre and Cartier (respectively)

When it comes to things that the two models have in common, we have the super obvious (they’re both rectangular), the somewhat obvious (both feature a nearly identical set of blued steel hands, a similar color scheme, and similar sizing options), and the not-quite-as obvious (both have original functions that are pretty well removed from their modern dress watch status). Let’s go through those in order.

There’s really no need to spend time on the case shape, but it might be useful to consider that while both are indeed rectangular in head on view, their cases become markedly different in profile (we’ll get there). That being said, they do share a lot in terms of the general design. The more standard versions of each model feature similar color palettes, depending on case metal and strap options. The base steel models, as pictured above, feature the same shape of steel, heat-blued hands, black hour and minute markers, and a silvery, sunburst dial coloration. But what of their histories?

The story of the Reverso has truly become nearly as iconic as the piece itself. In short, it goes like this – the Reverso was originally designed as a sport watch, a piece that could aid British Polo players by allowing the case to turn over in an effort to protect the glass. While we now view the piece as a clear example of dress watch standards, it came from a far more active background. The Tank, by contrast, wasn’t quite so active in its original incarnation. The original Tank was designed and produced with the intent to embody the spirit and visual presence of military tanks (as the piece’s name suggests). The very first Tank was actually given as a gift, a kind of “victory watch” to American General John Pershing in 1918. Even then, it wasn’t thought of as a purely dress watch, but like its reversible counterpart, time had its way with them both.

The Cartier Tanks Solo (Top) and Louis Cartier (Bottom) in Profile
Source: WatchProSite (user: SJX)

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Grande Date Side Profile
Source: Matt Baily

As you can see from the above shots, the profiles of these watches are starkly different. The Tank, for example, is a much flatter design, whereas the Reverso’s case profile features far more compound curves and smooth angles. Then, of course, there’s the Reverso’s party trick – the reversible case, which is flipped over by sliding the case to the side, turning it over, and snapping it back down into place. While originally solid steel in back to protect the watch from polo mallettes, the Reverso now features both open and solid casebacks, along with complications found in the Duoface family ranging from dual time zones to moonphases and complex calendars. The Tank line, by comparison, doesn’t really do complications much, if at all.

The Verdict:
Alright, so now the question becomes whether the Tank or the Reverso is right for you and, to be entirely honest, almost all of this decision will come down to personal preference, but also to what you plan to use the watch for. Though both models are non-dress watches that acquired dress watch status, the Tank is unabashedly the more traditional dress watch between the two. The lack of any complications to speak of, mixed with its impressive thinness, just gives it a better “slip right under a cuff” kind of wearability that only the ultra-thin Reverso models can truly rival. The Reverso, with its typically thicker case and more broad span across the wrist wears more contemporary, and wears with a kind of gravitas that almost says “everyday elegance,” and for that reason, seems far better suited to someone who dresses well every day for work, but maybe doesn’t dress formally all that often.

Or, geeks, you could be like me and love them both equally. Both are outstanding options at the end of the day, and as long as you go with your gut on which one is the right one for you, then I’ll have no doubt that you’ll be able to keep it classy, watchfam.