21 December 2022


By In Brands, Cartier

The Cartier Santos dates back to 1904 when Louis Cartier created a watch for his daring friend Alberto Santos-Dumont, one of the aviation pioneers. Alberto, tired of carrying a pocket watch during his flights, was looking for a more practical watch that he could keep on his wrist. Thus, Cartier designed a watch according Alberto’s specifications and the Santos de Cartier was officially created. For over 100 years and despite the obvious evolutions, it has remained faithful to the original design and became a true icon.

Santos de Cartier 1904 – photo courtesy of www.cartier.com

From its presentation, the watch was a success and remained a Cartier signature product until the mid-twentieth century when the advent of World War II and the army demand for round watches changed the market. However, thanks to the concept of “luxury sport” launched by the Audemars Piguet Royal in 1972, the Santos came back to life and progressively became a true legend.

Indeed, in 1978 Cartier redesigned the Santos introducing an integrated bracelet in place of the more traditional leather strap but remaining faithful to the original model in yellow gold with a men’s size (24mm) and a women’s size (20mm). The introduction of the integrated bracelet in steel represented a real revolution for the maison, which until then had worked with precious materials only. In addition, gold touches were added to the case to make it more precious, such as the screws on the bracelet and the bezel, and strongly contributed to make the watch extremely popular in the 1980s. The watch was animated by the F. Piguet caliber 21, one of the finest manual calibers at the time, and there are also other and less sought-after examples that are fitted with an ETA caliber.

Santos de Cartier 1978 – photo courtesy of www.cartier.com

In 1987 the Santos de Cartier was completely revisited, losing its distinctive square features, becoming more sinuous and its name was changed to Santos Galbée. Most of them were equipped with quartz movements, but there were also samples with a mechanical heart and the date was moved at six o’clock. Then, in 1998 Cartier introduced the “Collection Privée Cartier Paris”, comprising countless historical models equipped with highly manufactured movements and including also two new Santos Dumont revisiting the historic model from 1904, made in platinum or yellow gold with a Frédéric Piguet caliber.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary from its birth, in 2004, the Santos was again renovated through the Santos 100 model. This timepiece truly represented a step forward for the iconic squared line watch since until then it remained very faithful to the original shapes and in 2005 the collection was even more enlarged with the presentation of the Santos Galbée XL. Both the models shared the same ETA movement. Through the Santos 100 Cartier experimented also the application of solutions never applied on this collection like chronographs, PVD treatment on the case and caliber skeletonization.

Cartier Santos 100 XL from 2004

Finally, after around 15 years from the introduction of the Santos 100, the Santos de Cartier was renewed with a substantial update both in terms of shapes and features. The case is now available in the medium size (35mm) and large size (40mm), and it results to be more curved, thinner than the previous reference, more sinuous and the square bezel is perfectly integrated with the bracelet. As it is possible to see, the case keeps iconic square shape with its bevels and curves making the watch extremely recognizable for every aficionado while the bezel it has been modified to perfectly integrate with the bracelet. Thanks to the 100m water resistance, today the Santos de Cartier can be considered as a sports watch, but it results to be perfectly suitable even for an elegant dinner thanks to its intrinsic elegance.

The screws on the bracelet, the square bezel and the Roman numerals are features that have never disappeared in the dozens of versions that have followed one another over the years and they have contributed to creating what is now in effect an icon of watchmaking. It is certainly not the watch for everyone, as it is not as easy to appreciate as an Oyster Perpetual with its simple and iconic design, but it is characterized by a great refinement and charm.

Santos de Cartier, 2018

In 2019, in addition to a chronographic version, it was presented also a new version of the Santos-Dumont, available in three different case sizes (small, medium and large), but only the latter has a mechanical movement. Its dial and case are particularly similar to the original 1904 model, so they make it a more elegant and an alternative to the classic Tank.

Cartier Santos Dumont, 2019 – photo courtesy of revolutionwatch.com

Cartier made an excellent job with the new Santos de Cartier. They managed to modernize an icon without distorting its essence and the growing success on the wave of other models with integrated bracelets is fully deserved. Within this watch-segment, the Santos is one of the few that can boast its own history tracing back even before the 70s, when it wasn’t created but simply relaunched. Thinking about its origin, we can also say that it was the first pilot watch, even before the dirty dozen of the Second World War. The Santos was then able to reinvent itself and change over time without ever losing the original spirit and it is a watch that conveys the essence of Cartier: cleanliness of design, shapes and simplicity, making it rightly one of the true icons of the 1900s.

Written by Giovanni Andrean

Born in 1999, energy engineer and truly passionate about watches since he was a teenager. He is attracted from the mechanical marvel of watches and their strong heritage in the same way one could be attracted by a piece of art.