Cartier Tank à Vis and Santos Galbee: why I bought both!

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Sharon Tan shares with us the story of how she came to buy the Cartier Tank à Vis, via the route of a Cartier Santos Galbee.

This is going to be a story of how I managed to end up with a beautiful Cartier Vintage Collection Priveé Cartier Paris (CPCP). The story starts off with a Santos Galbee with seemingly no relation at all to the glamorous CPCP Tank à Vis, but press on and you’ll see how they are all intertwined. There is a review of the watch after the story, so you can skip to the end if you’re not in the mood for a serendipitous tale.

My Cartier Tank à Vis.

First, the Santos Galbee

Last year, I came across a Cartier Santos Galbee at a local pre-owned watch shop. It was going at an attractive price because it was really beaten up with a shattered crown and terribly few links. Before I could give it a second thought, the Singapore government hit us with “Circuit Breaker”. Overseas readers can liken it to a semi lockdown, with most retail and non-essential services forced to stop work. One obvious impact was how it stopped my weekly watch browsing, and the idea of getting the Santos Galbee was shelved.

Cartier Santos Galbee in restored state. As discussed, the dial is unchanged and original.

After 10 slow weeks, Singapore gradually eased business and retail restrictions. The very weekend that retail could resume, I made a beeline to the Santos Galbee. No surprise, the watch was still sitting on the shelf. I asked if the price has been revised given new circumstances and the shop said that the previous offer months ago still stood. He then told me to try on the watch before giving it further consideration, as a few customers passed on the offer because the bracelet was too small. I tried it on, and it fitted my small wrist perfectly. At that moment I felt like Cinderella trying on glass slippers. It’s not common that I don’t have to shorten bracelets or change to extra short straps. This watch was already wonderfully sized for me. Only gripe was the shattered sapphire cabochon jewel in the crown and the overall rough condition that the watch was in. It would be prudent if I did more research to know how much it would take to restore it.

I went to Cartier at Marina Bay Sands, showed them photos of the watch and asked for a verbal quote. The sales staff attending to me estimated “a few hundreds” for movement servicing and cleaning, but excluding the crown replacement. He estimated that such spare parts may cost up to a few hundreds too. With that information, I thought the total cost was reasonable and I told the pre-own shop to reserve the Santos Galbee for me. It was probably the following weekend that I went back to the shop, gave my money and we sealed the deal.

I took this rough gem, shattered at the crown, completely matted out at the bezel, and headed over to Cartier at Ion. I cannot recall why I went to Ion instead of Marina Bay Sands. It could have been a lunch plan, or some other frivolous reason that we wound up at Cartier Ion. And of all the possible sales people to attend to my watch servicing and repair request, Julian attended to my servicing request. Initially I was wondering if the salesperson would judge me as a cheapskate (although I really am one) if I wanted to skip the dial replacement. Surprisingly, Julian could understand the twisted psychology of watch collectors who like their watches coated with age. Well, it turned out that he was a watch lover himself! He agreed whole-heartdly that vintages should be kept in their original form as much as possible, servicing or repairs are only to restore their functionality and extend their practical longevity. We had a little chat about vintage watches, and exchanged instagram handles. I guess when there’s a common passion, conversation flows with ease.

Shortly within a week, the quotation with detailed breakdown came. To my surprise, the servicing cost was almost twice what I expected, although the replacement crown was cheaper than I expected. Since Cartier would not do a crown replacement without a complete service, I didn’t have much of a choice if I did not want a third party sapphire crown. I gave my consent for servicing and a crown replacement, with specific instructions to retain the dial and hands. Julian took that confirmation and advised that the estimated turnaround would be relatively quick at a month of two, as this could be done locally.

Amazingly, within 2 weeks, Julian dropped me a text to say that the watch was ready for collection! The soonest that I could collect it was not during Julian’s shift, but I didn’t think much of it and went to the boutique anyway. Alas! Fate would have it that I would not collect the watch then. When I was handed the serviced watch, there was a jarring mistake- the entire datewheel was misaligned, so much so that I could see parts of the next date within the window. I told the assistant on that day that I could not accept this. The assistant quickly snapped some photos to update Julian. Julian apologized profusely, that he did not check the watch prior to informing me to collect it. Needless to say, I was disappointed, but there weren’t many options for me besides letting Cartier right the wrong.

Another week later, Julian’s text came. This time, he said he has checked the watch thoroughly and everything was in good working order. He also scheduled for me to collect it during his shift so that he could deliver the watch to me himself. When I went to the store, Julian presented my Cinderella watch in a great condition.

The restored Santos Galbee. Photographer’s note: The bezel is very shiny, and what you see is the reflection from the strobe modifiers.

Everything was working great, sparkling new sapphire crown, and the dial exactly how I remembered it. The bezel, case and bracelet were also gently cleaned and shined. Julian pointed out that it wasn’t common for a customer to be this happy looking at a new watch sporting an obviously aged dial.

The Cartier Vintage event

He then revealed that there were plans for a Vintage Cartier event in Singapore, and that I would probably be very interested in it. My eyes lit up and I asked if it was going to be like an exhibition, or a ticketed event like what Cartier had at the Art Science Museum several years back. He said that it was likely to be a small invite-only event, where Cartier will bring in some CPCP or other vintage pieces. At that time, he could not reveal much as it was no more than some small talk.

I pestered Julian every now and then, but the event was postponed almost indefinitely given the changing circumstances in Europe. At one point, I had the impression that it would be entirely cancelled, and planned for again when COVID can be properly put behind us. Thankfully that wasn’t the case. In December, Julian delivered some wonderful news that the event was back on the table, though it would be strictly an invite-only multi-day event. He also said that it was a rare chance for restored CPCP pieces to be available for purchase. That got me really excited! It wouldn’t just be about buying a watch, it would be an entire experience. He also told me that client slots were extremely limited, thus no guarantee that he would be able to squeeze me into the guest list. I tried to keep my hopes in check, afterall, there were definitely more high-spending Cartier clients who would be more deserving. To cut the story short, Julian worked some magic and I was presented the opportunity to view the Cartier Vintage collection at the event. I received the e-invite and saw the very intriguing Tank A Vis Dual Time on the invite.

It’s not a common watch with little information online. As usual, my concern was case size. Most online resources referenced the size as 28 x 32mm, which sounded rather wearable. I waited in anticipation and held my hopes high, hoping that I would be able to try the watch and to acquire it if it fits. There was actually no guarantee that I would even get to try it as I wasn’t going to be the first to view it. Media had first dibs on the collection, Deployant covered it here. Some very important private clients also had access to acquire the watches before my viewing time. But by some miraculous stroke of luck, the Tank A Vis was still available and was presented to all invited guests at our viewing time.

Julian very kindly presented the Tank à Vis Dual Time to me first, while other guests viewed other pieces. The case size was exactly as I had expected, it fit almost the full width of my wrist with stock straps impossibly long for me. The details on the dial and case back did not disappoint. My heart was racing because I knew that I was going to get it, and it was a hefty sum (especially being just a few months after I’ve splurged on a grail). I gathered myself, and told Julian, as well as the other guests, that I would be getting the Tank à Vis Dual Time. The other guests were a wonderful sporting bunch- congratulations came pouring in and they thought it was a lovely choice.

Review: Cartier Tank à Vis

I now have the watch with me, and looking back, it was a series of serendipitous encounters. I was invited to the event because Julian recognized my appreciation for vintage watches. He brought up the event only during my second collection of my Santos Galbee which was because someone set the date wheel wrong initially. The watch needed servicing because it had a shattered crown. I decided on buying the Santos Galbee as I was slightly misled into assuming that the servicing cost was manageable. I had a chance to get the Santos Galbee because a few other clients could not even fit into the bracelet. If any of these did not happen, I would not have ended up face to face with the Tank à Vis Dual Time, much less be able to acquire it.

The Case

Now onto the watch proper! Readers would agree that Cartier is the master of watch case shapes. The tank has been around for the longest time, and Cartier has given it countless variations yet never losing the essence of it’s rectangular shape with parallel bars to look like a tank. The Tank à Vis is no exception.

Cartier’s watch names also speak very much for the design. The name A Vis is a result of the very obvious screw decoration on the thick bezel. Despite the hefty bezel, the overall case size has been maintained at a wearable 28 x 32 mm. The lug to lug measures about 40mm, which makes this a wonderful fit for small wrists. CPCP creations are all in precious metals, and this particular reference is in a lovely warm yellow gold. Fans of precious metals would definitely welcome the chunky case over the slimmer Tank case.

The Dial and Hands

The dual time complication created a rather unusual and symmetrical dial layout, with two clocks stacked together. The dial hence carries not one but two signature rosette motifs, each one radiating from each clock. The dial is also signed Cartier Paris like most, if not all, CPCP watches. The decoration also helps to give visual demarcation of where each half of the dial should be.

Side note: according to Pierre Rainero, the inspiration for the rose guilloche came from Cartier’s clocks! Cartier’s mechanical clocks were highly decorated as there would be large surfaces to express the clockmaker’s designs. One decoration technique was to apply enamel onto patterned metal plates. The engraved patterns would give the enamel a patterned background of varying intensity and hues. But on a watch dial, they kept the patterned metal plain so as to keep it thin for fitting into a watch.

The heated blue hands are in a legible sword shape, which I personally prefer on a Cartier. Numerals are of signature Cartier roman numerals, but because of the dual time layout, the hour markers are slightly rearranged for 2 clocks. To keep the overall look of having the numerals frame the dial, only half of each clock has numerals, with the 3 and 9 o’clock markers repeated on both clocks. A clever design that keeps the watch looking balanced and symmetrical.

The Movement: Cal. 9901 MC

Turn the watch around and be amazed by the beautifully designed and executed Cal. 9901 MC. It’s a manual wound Piaget based movement, specifically developed for CPCP, with one of the most user-friendly dual time complications.

The bottom clock’s hour hand is independently jumped by pulling the crown to the first position. Both clocks can then be set simultaneously with the crown at second position. Most CPCP watches have a clear case back to show off a Cartier monogram finish on the main plates and bridges, and this was no exception. The layout of the main plates and bridges curve around the balance wheel and gives the entire movement a flowy effect. Considering that it has to power two clocks, the power reserve is decently rated at 40 hours. Though on our own test, it could stretch beyond 48 hours.

Concluding Thoughts

No doubt this watch was a wonderful one. The fact that it was sourced and picked by Cartier to be part of the Vintage Program implied that it was well kept and only gently used. Cartier is so confident of their restoration that they offer an 8 year warranty on these vintage pieces.

Fits my tiny wrists perfectly! Seen here with a bespoke alligator strap.

While I could and would highly recommend this, and even bring competitive pieces into the conversation, it would be meaningless as the CPCP Tank à Vis Dual Time as it is no longer readily available in the market. However, I could conclude that the program is going to be a wildly successful one with a strong following. Singapore is lucky to be one of the three cities to have this program. Cartier fans should certainly keep an eye out for future pieces as there is no telling which vintage piece is going to be available next.


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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for the story, Sharon. It was fun to read and I think you really scored on both watches. The Tank a Vis is beautiful.

    You should show pics of the ‘before repair’ watch!