The Cartier Santos is a popular watch. In fact, it’s probably one of the brand’s best-selling men’s models. Stylish yet sporty, chic yet casual, the Cartier Santos does it all. Following a revamp two years ago, the watch has shot to the top of the wish list of many a dapper gentleman. There’s even an outrageously priced steel version with a skeletonized dial. That sells! So, what is it about the Cartier Santos that makes it so damn appealing?
A (Very) Brief History Of The Cartier Santos
The story of the origins of the Cartier Santos has become the stuff of legend. In the early 20th century, a Brazilian aviation pioneer named Alberto Santos-Dumont was living in Paris. He was the heir of a wealthy family of coffee producers. This allowed him to dedicate his life to aeronautical study and experimentation. In fact, many claim he was the first to achieve powered flight in 1906. As opposed to the Wright brothers who did achieve lift-off, but not unaided, at Kitty Hawk 1903. But that’s a story for another time.
Santos-Dumont had a problem though. Using a pocket watch during his field tests was proving impractical. Downright dangerous even. So, he turned to his friend for help. That friend happened to be Louis Cartier. The grandson of Cartier founder Louis-François Cartier. He ran the Paris branch of Cartier and is responsible for some of the company’s most celebrated designs.
After listening to his friend’s complaints, he created a flat watch with a distinctive square bezel. Critically, he attached a leather strap to the case so it could be worn on the wrist. And just like that, in 1904, the first Pilot’s watch was born.
Santos-Dumont loved his new watch. He wore it every time he flew. A celebrity of the era, it wasn’t long before people noticed something unusual on his wrist. At the time, men did not wear wristwatches. Instead they carried pocket watches. Santos-Dumont, being one of the original influencers, helped change all that. Queries started to flow in from curious customers.
Louis Cartier recognised the opportunity immediately. So, he commissioned movement maker Edmond Jaeger to mass produce the watch. In 1911, the Cartier Santos became what is considered to be the first wristwatch for men. Launched during an era defined by an obsession with progress it was an overnight hit. It’s no exaggeration to say the Cartier Santos played a key role in the move away from pocket watches.
Times change, though, and so do tastes. With the advent of World War II, square case watches began to decline in popularity. Round case watches were more practical and utilitarian. So that’s what the world’s militaries commissioned watchmakers to make. A few years later soldiers came home wearing these battle-hardened watches. This in turn started a new trend.
The Cartier Santos De Cartier
Fast-forward several decades to the 1970’s. A new genre has been created by Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak. That of the luxury steel sports watch. It’s not long before Patek Philippe follows with the Nautilus.
Looking for a way to capitalise, Cartier’s head of marketing Alain Dominique Perrin revisits the Santos. He calls it the Santos De Cartier. The DNA of the original is there but updated for the times. A key change is the introduction of a plate bezel held in place by tiny screws. Likewise, the leather bracelet is replaced by an integrated, riveted metal one. Two key features that are still core to the design today.
The first model was an affordable bi-colour (steel and gold) watch. Followed shortly by an all steel model. Manufactured for mass luxury appeal, the Cartier Santos soon became an ‘it’ watch in heady days of the 1980’s. Many variations would follow from the brand. Right up until 2016, when the collection was shelved.
Then, in 2018, Cartier delighted fans old and new with the unveiling of the new Santos collection. More refined. More coherent. And as popular as ever.
The Modern Day Cartier Santos
Today, Santos remains the only Cartier watch to carry the original wearer’s name. It’s available in 13 different variations. This includes the original bi-colour steel and yellow gold version that caused such a stir in the 1970’s. The model with the broadest appeal though is the all-steel Large model. The Santos De Cartier Ref WSSA0009. It has once again become the go to watch for stylish gentleman everywhere.
In spite of its name, this variation of the Santos is not actually that large. At 39.8mm wide and 47.5mm long, it sits very comfortably on the wrist. This is helped by the fact that the case is a mere 9.08mm thick. Not ultra-thin but thin enough to slide under a cuff.
Cartier is well known for its beautifully shaped cases. The Cartier Santos is a good example of why. Look at the way the horns curve down seamlessly into the integrated bracelet. It’s a thing of beauty. The seven-sided crown is set with a faceted synthetic blue spinel. It’s of the screw-down variety. This helps give the Cartier Santos a water-resistance rating of 100m (330ft).
The design of the square dial with rounded edges is immediately recognisable. A chic design in silvered opaline with hours marked by stylised Roman numerals in black. An inner chapter ring for the minutes. And, of course, sword-shaped blued steel hands. A date window appears at 6 o’clock. Framing the dial is the iconic square bezel plate. It’s polished and held in place by eight screws. It stands out nicely against the brushed finish of the case and bracelet.
One of the coolest features of the modern Santos Collection though is Cartier’s “QuickSwitch” system. The press of a button on the underside of the watchband releases the strap or bracelet from the lugs. This means you can change the look of your watch in a matter of seconds. Wear the steel bracelet to the office. Then switch to a leather strap for dinner. Best of all, every Cartier Santos model comes with a bracelet matching the metal of the case and a leather strap. Or two different straps.
Cartier takes this ‘no tools’ technology even further with “SmartLink”. Using this system, each link of the bracelet includes a release button to detach from its neighbouring link. This allows you to adjust the size of the bracelet to fit. No tools needed. No visit to the unauthorised “watchmaker” in the mall.
Inside the Cartier Santos is the in-house automatic calibre 1847-MC movement. Operating at 4hz, it offers a 42-hour power reserve and is equipped with 23 jewels. It’s hidden away beneath a solid steel caseback.
Suggested retail of the Cartier Santos Large Ref WSSA0009 is GBP 5,900.
Why Is It So Popular?
Well, for a start the Cartier Santos is a great looking watch. It’s masculine but with some nice curves. It’s also very versatile. You can wear it for formal occasions but it’s not a traditional dress watch like the Calatrava. Likewise, it’s sporty but not as casual as say a Seamaster. The interchangeable straps also add a lot to the mix. Not to mention the in-house movement. And it’s reasonably priced.
What makes it so popular though is its enduring design. The Cartier Santos of today doesn’t look that different from the model Louis Cartier first conceived over a century ago. Functional, practical and yet inherently attractive. What more could you ask from a luxury watch?
Technical Specifications: Cartier Santos De Cartier Ref WSSA0009
Case: 39.8mm width x 47.5mm height x 9.08mm thickness – stainless steel, polished and brushed – sapphire crystal on the dial side – 100m water resistance.
Dial: Silvered opaline – sword-shaped blued steel hands – time only with small seconds and date at 6 o’clock.
Movement: Calibre 1847 MC, in-house – automatic – 4Hz frequency – 42h power reserve – 23 jewels – hours, minutes, seconds, date.
Strap: Fast interchangeable system – steel bracelet with SmartLinks for adjustment – additional leather strap included.
Price: GBP 5,900.