In the early 20th century, watchmakers were racking their brains for more stylish and artistic timepieces. As the wristwatch overtook the pocket watch in popularity, brands competed to craft elegant new cases to house precise movements. The circular and rectangular shape had grown common and watchmakers were eager to embrace more imaginative silhouettes that would capture attention. So what did they do? They practically combined the two shapes and invented the Tonneau.


tonneau watch with brown leather strap

Source: Revolution Watch


The tonneau form, elongated with rounded sides, added an artistic flair that you wouldn’t see in ‘traditional’ wristwatches. Its softly curved barrel shape gave it both masculinity and grace giving it unisex appeal. The unconventional profile stood out from circular cases and marked a new era of creativity in timepiece designs. This intriguing new tonneau aesthetic would captivate watch enthusiasts for decades to come.

Over a century later, the tonneau watch remains as intriguing as it did in its inception. Its unique silhouette adds a point of interest to any watch collection. Both vintage and modern tonneau models have that eye-catching look. But where did this unusual shape come from and what has made it withstand the test of time? Let's take a deeper look at the fascinating history of the tonneau watch case.

A History of the Tonneau Watch

The word “tonneau” comes from the French word for barrel that perfectly describes the rounded rectangular shape of these watches. The elongated form calls to mind the oval profile of a cask of wine. 


Source: The Cartiers


Tonneau watches first emerged in the early 20th century. In 1906, the House of Cartier unveiled one of the first tonneau shaped wristwatches made for men. With the elongated curved form of a cigarette case, it was a radical departure from the typical round watch. Other watchmakers like Patek Philippe soon introduced their own tonneau designs, and the rest is history.

The unconventional shape allowed for larger, elongated movements that displayed more complications, associating the shape with better technical quality and refined taste. This innovative shape stood out from the crowd and added distinction for the discerning early wrist watch wearer.

What Makes Tonneau Watches So Appealing

Source: WatchBox


The artistic shape of tonneau watches gives them an elegant, almost sensual look and feel. The extended curves wrap ergonomically around the wrist for a comfortable fit. While a round watch has symmetry, the tonneau adds a “calculated disproportion” and a more organic look. This gives the case a nice look and the watches a more contemporary edge. The longer profile adds space for artistic dial designs as well. Tonneau cases can also house specialty complicated movements.

3 Beautiful Tonneau Shaped Watches to Check Out

Cartier Tonneau Cintrée

cartier tonneau cintree watch on a blue cushion

Source: The Watch Club


Designed in 1906 by Louis Cartier, it was one of the first wristwatches to deviate from the traditional round shape, and its elongated, curved case inspired by a wine barrel quickly became iconic. Crafted from precious metals like yellow gold, platinum, or rose gold, the Tonneau Cintrée features a sleek, minimalist design with Roman numerals and sword-shaped hands. The case is incredibly thin and comfortable on the wrist, thanks to its curved design that hugs the contours of the arm.

Patek Philippe Gondolo

Source: Patek


There’s not a lot of information available for this model as it has existed before the use of reference numbers to refer to a particular model, but the watch is nonetheless a beauty with its 18k gold case and gilded oval shaped dial made premium with a “Flinque” center (hand-engraved guilloché dial decoration with a wave-like pattern). 


Franck Muller Cintrée Curvex

Source: Watches by SJX


With its dramatically curved tonneau shape in three dimensions, the Cintrée Curvex features Franck Muller’s whimsical style. Its cocoon-like form hugs the wrist with perfect contours and demonstrates the tonneau shape’s ability to embrace creative, artistic design without alienating the tastes of watch enthusiasts.

The MilSpec Tonneau

Source: Bulang and Sons


While tonneau watches often serve as elegant accessories, the distinctive barrel shape has also proven itself up to rugged tasks. A noted example is the British military-issued W10 watch. Introduced in the 1970s, this just-business timepiece features a durable tonneau stainless steel case.

Designed for combat and field use, the W10 adheres to military specifications. The bold black dial and beige tritium markers provide high visibility. Powered by a reliable automatic movement, it meets standards for accuracy, water resistance, and shock protection. Its anti-magnetic construction enables proper operation near armaments and vehicles.

With a large crown and thick padded nylon strap, every detail aims toward tactical function. While most tonneau watches channel dressy refinement, the W10 demonstrated this case shape’s versatility through decades of military campaigns. Today the W10 Tonneau stands as an icon of a tough, reliable field watch in an unexpected barrel-shaped case, and its broad appeal has made this classic British military watch popular even outside of service and into modern watch collections.

Modding your own Tonneau Watch


If you’re on the lookout for a Milspec tonneau watch to add to your collection you’re in luck because now you can personally design and build one yourself with the NMK950 Pilot Tonneau watch case! Available in PVD Black and Stainless Steel, this barrel-shaped case is modeled after the W10 British Military Tonneau Watch mentioned in the previous section. Like any of our field watch cases, this one features a utilitarian minimalist aesthetic that MilSpec fans will appreciate. The 36mm case comes with a top hat crystal to add to its vintage vibe, and also comes with a matching sterile crown.



Alongside it, we also released a few variations of the California Ghost Dial to match the look of the case. All you’d need next are some thick lumed hands to get your very own self-made Pilot Tonneau. If you want to skip the mods though, we also have a ready-to-wear version that you can check here.

Wrap Up

We at namokiMODS love introducing unique case options for the modding community, and the Tonneau is no exception. It has a very straightforward look in a smaller package so you can make an on-trend pilot watch according to your exact spec requirements, or you can flip the script and make a subtle but sexy dress watch with it, the choice is absolutely yours!

Happy modding!

February 08, 2024 — Jeremiah A

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