Before and After: The Restoration of a Rare, Vintage Cartier Tank Watch

Cartier Tank - UnrestoredIn 2011, the BBC TV series “Antiques Roadshow” featured a wristwatch in truly terrible condition. Much to the totally unsuspecting owners’ surprise, their piece of scrap metal turned out to be a rare early Cartier Tank watch from the 1920s (as indicated by the cabochon), with an estimated value of £5,000. It was given to the family’s great-uncle as a payment from an insolvent gentleman a long time ago.

Three years and a rather impressive restoration later, the watch returned to the show last autumn (Season 37, Episode 1) in almost good-as-new condition: a team at Cartier replaced the hands, restored the dial, and fitted the watch with a new winding stem, among other things. Here you can see the result:

Cartier Tank - Restored

Now, while we do not want to agree or disagree with the watch’s new estimated value of £40,000 to £50,000, this is certainly one of those stories that will warm the heart of any watch collector. And, as the proud owners concluded, it was “worth getting fixed, definitely.”

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  1. Caroline

    Just curious, how much did it cost to be repaired by Cartier ?

  2. Anonymous

    I was very interested to read this story! The watch certainly turned out beautifully. I recently inherited an early Santos. I don’t know how old it is, but have picture of my grandfather wearing it in the 20s. it is still working, but am interested in having the dial cleanedI shutter to think of what Cartier will charge, but I think the watch is quite old and possibly as significant as this Tank.

    • This sounds amazing. I’d love to chat with you about this watch if you have it still available. I can also offer up some folks who are experts (not Cartier) in restorations of dials like this. Any way to get in touch with you directly? Thanks!

  3. Anonymous

    Hello, I am the owner of this watch and paid for its restoration. My father passed in Feb 2013 and after 35 years of it sitting in the garage the watch was passed to me. I took it to Cartier in London. The watch was shipped to the watch makers in Switzerland and the craftsmen restored it. I can assure you that while Cartier advised me on this I was responsible for the work carried out for this fantastic story. It is by far and away original. The mechanism is original, plexiglass replaced, a new winder but with original sapphire, and period hands applied. It had an after market horrible stainless steel strap replaced with a leather and white gold fixing as would have been the case. The camera angles give a false perspective, but the platinum and gold 1924 Cartier large tank watch are indeed original. It is a family piece in honour of my father and his great uncle, who acquired the watch at his place of work some time between 1924 and 1965, but from family accounts this is likely to be at the later end of this scale. It was indeed as a result of a gentleman who my dads great uncle settled his account by way of his poverty. He also acquired three platinum diamond and sapphire rings as part of the ettlement.

      • Peter Currer

        I found this story irresistible and was delighted with the follow-up on the restoration. Memories are priceless and I congratulate you on deciding to have this magnificent timepiece fully restored by its original manufacturer

  4. srhardy

    I thought we were in for a video of the project, not some quickie caption and 2 images photoshoped – do better please or try harder as its a very low standard for WT

    • Thanks for the feedback. As you can imagine we did want to include the video but the BBC does not allow re-use of this specific material at the moment (it was shortly available globally but was then removed to be offered in the UK only and then totally removed and that’s where we lost track). Sorry for this inconvenience but we hoped/thought the story was still worth sharing even though we could not include the video as planned.

  5. Sam Harris

    Delightful story Watch Time. Now where do we (general collectors) go should the time arise to send a favored watch in for a makeover?

  6. Craig Kinard

    Forgive me if I’m impertinent, but this “restored” Cartier tank watch looks to me like a COMPLETE remake, with elongated case, new (?) dial, and who knows what inside. Can this really qualify as a “restoration”?

    • Craig, the case should be identical (the different angle certainly doesn’t help). But when it comes to dial, hands (replaced) stem, crown etc. Cartier has obviously done everything to return the watch to the condition shown. For some collectors, this certainly/probably would be too much, for others (Cartier included) it was apparently worth doing, maybe because of the publicity linked to the show or because of its historical significance.

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