Fair and square: The history of Santos de Cartier

28.11.2018
Born some 115 years ago, Cartier Santos was destined to become a pioneer in a number of historical achievements: the first wristwatch for men developed from scratch, the first pilot watch, and finally the first watch-legend by Cartier. But their charm is by no means confined to a list of past merits. Sometimes the form and content suit each other so naturally, that they create a truly long-standing example of harmony and pure imagination. 

 

As a real horological classics, the history of Cartier Santos goes through dozens of iconic events, many of which are linked to various cultural milestones. For the start, the model is named after one of the first aviators, Alberto Santos-Dumont. The heir to the family of the Brazilian coffee planters, he was at the forefront of aviation of the first decade of twentieth century, and has been competing on par with the Wright brothers in the conquest of the air. Being an iconic figure of the Parisian bohemia, Santos-Dumont led a friendship with Louis Cartier, to whom, as the legend says, he complained for the lack of a convenient time measuring device for the pilots. You are not get into your pocket if your hands are busy controlling the flying machine, right? And the average flight time of those years – about 20 seconds – made no difference. The head of the French jewelry and watchmaking maison accepted the challenge and in 1904 presented the unique piece to the aviator. The model became the first ever tool watch, in some sense the grandfather of all future special editions issued by the industry to the men of dangerous professions. 

 

By helping his friend, natural-born businessman Louis Cartier pursued some basic marketing goals. Alberto was first and foremost a superstar, a man of the future. By todays standards, something like a mix of a fashionable rapper and eccentric owner of the software company: no one by and large did not understand what exactly he was doing, but the spectacle was nonetheless exciting. Santos-Dumont enjoyed public attention and often posed for the editorials. The device on his wrist simply could not remain unnoticed – it was the living dream of advertising for Louis Cartier. 
The wristwatch – then, a purely feminine accessory – suddenly became square, turned into an indispensable assistant for a person of progress, and their dial was filled with an ultra-modern angular indication. Even the leather strap looked something completely out of ordinary. 
The first Santos existed has remained a unique piece for several years, mass production started only by 1911. But even then, against the background of competitors, the design still looked pretty bold. After all, rectangular and square clocks will become mainstream only some 10-15 years later. 

Thanks to combined fame of Cartier and Santos, as well as the excellent hand-winding movement from the Edmond Jaeger’s factory – the future half of the Jaeger-LeCoultre – the watch had significant commercial success. It’s quite ironic how every detail of the first pilot's watch contrasts with what will later become the defining features of this still very successful segment of the industry. 

 

A rare model can last a century-long production with almost unchanged exterior. And yet the importance of its tiny upgrades should not be underestimated. For several decades, Santos experienced dozens of transformations, but the first significant one occurred at the turn of the 1970s – 1980s. Answering the demands of the era it brought up massive bracelets with two screws on each link – just like on a trademark bezel. In addition to gold, customers could now opt for a steel or two-tone versions. Crown guards took their place in the right side of the case, and the movement became automatic. As you might guess, the updated model instantly found itself somewhere near Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus, which were just gaining momentum in the segment of sports luxury. Suddenly, the Roman numerals and the obvious art deco design codes seemed once again modern and chic. 
The next serious wave of changes has reached the shore at the beginning of 2000-s and coincided with the 100th anniversary of the collection. Trying to keep up with fashion Santos significantly grew, and now were available in XL size with impressive proportions of 32 to 45.5 mm. At the same time, all kinds of complications from chronographs to tourbillons became a common sight in the collection, and finally there were the stunning skeletonized versions. The Santos universe grew richer and richer. 

 

The 2018 collection is full of surprises too. If talking about the exterior, the most notable innovation is the increased bezel size, the lower and upper part of which now extend right up to the ears. Designers noticeably modernized the classic silhouette of the product, adding to the geometry of rounded lines, while not violating the trademark ‘squareness’. A new lightweight system for changing the bracelet / strap also worth mentioning, especially since both are bundled with each piece. Now you can give your Santos an alternative look in a matter of seconds, make it dressy, or sporty, or simply fun for a particular event. The versions from different metals are also available in two sizes: the average is 35.1 by 41.9 mm and the large one is 39.8 by 47.5 mm. The latter is also equipped with a date function, although in both cases the watch is powered by the same automatic caliber 1847 MC.