Billed As The World’s First Modern Men’s Wristwatch, The Cartier Santos Has Become A Timeless Horological Icon.
The Santos Was Borne Out Of Friendship
On paper, at least, Louis Cartier and Alberto Santos-Dumont had little in common. The former was a Parisian scion to a luxury goods empire. The latter was a Brazilian engineering and aviation buff. Yet, Louis Cartier and Alberto Santos-Dumont became such firm friends that, after meeting in 1900, their mutual admiration would result in one of the most legendary timepieces of all time.
In 1901, Santos-Dumont, a pioneering aviator, asked Louis Cartier to make him a timepiece that he could use while piloting his aircraft. His pocket watch was too cumbersome and distracting. Inspired by the early wristwatches for women of that time, Louis Cartier decided to do the same for Santos-Dumont. He mounted a square cased pocket watch on a strap for his friend to wear it on the wrist. In doing so, Louis Cartier effectively created the Santos—the first wristwatch for men— in 1904.
It Was An Early Testament To The Power Of Celebrity
Rather unwittingly, Santos-Dumont became one of Cartier’s earliest celebrity ambassadors. One time, while flying his plane, Santos-Dumont was photographed wearing the wristwatch that Louis Cartier had made for him. The image caused a huge sensation and garnered the watch incredible visibility.
While aware of the public’s interest in the watch, Cartier didn’t put the timepiece in regular production until 1911. The first iteration of the Santos was named ‘Santos-Dumont’, after the namesake aviator. Housed in a rectangular case, it was offered in platinum or gold, and generated huge demand.
The 1970s And 1980s Were Pivotal Decades For The Santos
The Cartier Santos of today owes its trademark aesthetics and spirit of casual luxe to a period of resurgence between the 1970s and 1980s. Those decades saw the birth of several groundbreaking timepieces from other luxury brands that defined the then-burgeoning category of luxury sports watches.
In 1978, Cartier offered its own take on luxury sports watches with a new Santos de Cartier. Housed in bi-metallic gold and steel, the watch brandished the Santos’ trademark square case with a bezel sporting exposed rivets, and a bracelet that echoed the design accents. The collection underwent yet another update in the 1980s, this time with a slightly curvier silhouette and marketed as the Santos Galbée. The Santos’ aesthetic transformations of those decades would set the blueprint and foundation for the collection’s modern iterations.
The Santos’ Modern Resurgence Celebrates Form And Function
In 2004, Cartier commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Santos with the Santos 100. Designed for modern watch aficionados, the Santos 100 watches came in 41mm cases with more pronounced design accents, crafted in materials like black PVD-coated titanium.
But it was in 2018 that the collection reemerged in a big way. The class of 2018 was varied, yet distinctive. The watches came in two case sizes (medium and large), as well as a variety of executions including full-stainless steel, two-tone gold and steel, and full pink or yellow gold versions. Within the revamped collection were also models powered by in-house automatic movements, as well as skeletonised creations.
At the same time, Cartier imbued the collection with thoughtful technical features. They included a patent-pending QuickSwitch system that allows the user to swap between a strap and bracelet with minimal fuss, and a feature called SmartLink, which lets you adjust the bracelet length without tools.
You Decide Which Santos Suits You
Today, the Santos collection is broadly categorised into two lines: the dressy Santos-Dumont and the sporty Santos de Cartier. For 2023, Cartier fans are spoilt for choice with a selection that spans the refined to the capricious.
Those who desire the Santos’ athletic allure can look to three new Santos de Cartier models. Encased in steel with matching bracelet, the brandish graduated blue or green dials that add a touch of exuberance to the sportiveness.
However, if you prefer a more elegant version of the Santos, there are five new Santos-Dumont references that emanate quiet luxury. The models in platinum, rose gold and yellow gold flaunt Roman numerals crafted in jasper, jade and dumortierite, respectively. Each is capped with a matching cabochon on the winding crown. On the other hand, a yellow gold offering with gorgeous navy blue, as well as a two-tone steel-and-gold model with grey dial express a sense of restrained flamboyance.
Last but not least, Cartier pays tribute to the Santos’ roots this year with three beautiful Santos-Dumont skeleton watches. Crafted in steel, yellow gold, and pink gold, the trio of watches showcase Cartier’s mastery of the decorative art. The new 9629 MC automatic skeleton calibre taking centerstage, and your eyes are inadvertently drawn to the micro-rotor at eight o’clock, crafted in the shape of the Demoiselle, a groundbreaking aircraft designed by the Alberto Santos-Dumont in 1907. Almost 120 years on, the Cartier Santos watches continue to soar with unbridled inventiveness and imagination—just as Louis Cartier and Alberto Santos-Dumont had intended back in the day.