The Cartier 2019 Santos-Dumont Is Now Available: Happy Landings
Exclusive and ultra-complicated timepieces often seem to make the most noise at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie Genève (SIHH). But with Cartier’s 2019 offerings it was the other way around.
After showing high complications such as minute repeaters and tourbillons at the SIHH for the past decade, 2019 saw the release of Cartier’s oldest men’s model in a surprisingly new and simple version that became the talk of the trade show.
Louis Cartier designed the Santos-Dumont in 1904 for his friend, aviator Alberto Santos Dumont, and it has been in the collection in different versions since its launch in 1911, making it the first world’s first dedicated pilot’s watch.
Until 2005 the Santos-Dumont was offered in versions no larger than 27 x 36 mm, a size that is on the small side for many men today, but whose shape and details are still perfect.
Observations on the 2019 Cartier Santos-Dumont
Along with the classic size 27.5.4 x 27.5, Cartier presented its new 31.4 x 31.4 mm Santos-Dumont – a size that many men like to wear on their wrists today. It is also a size that goes perfectly with both a casual outfit and a suit.
Quite unusual is the fact that the designers have chosen to bring back some beautiful historical features from the original, including the robust crown and the eye-catching thinner and elongated Roman numerals, which are derived directly from the 1911 model.
These numerals, despite being Cartier-characteristic Romanesque, lend the dial a totally different look and differentiate the new Santos-Dumont from all other Cartier models. This provides the watch with a bit of a chic vintage look.
A more radical decision, however, was that for the first time in the history of the Santos-Dumont, Cartier decided not to use gold for the case, but steel. Until now, the case of the Santos-Dumont has always been crafted in gold or platinum; steel is a material that Cartier has only used for watch cases since 1978.
The other surprising decision was the absence of a mechanical movement by Frédéric Piguet or Piaget as we have seen in the Santos-Dumont watches of previous years. Cartier had a new high-efficiency quartz movement developed especially for this watch, which only needs to be fitted with a new battery every six years.
Quartz: an incomprehensible yet understandable addition to the Cartier Santos-Dumont
The 2019 Santos-Dumont is a stunning timepiece, if only for the fact that it is necessary to bring it in for service only every six years. While a quartz-regulated movement for the Santos-Dumont might be incomprehensible to mechanical watch enthusiasts, it is also understandable that Cartier opted for a quartz movement this time.
Incomprehensible because this is not just a random watch from the Cartier collection, but its very first men’s watch – a model that helped turn Cartier into the powerhouse that it is today. The Santos-Dumont was, after all, the source of inspiration for the steel/gold Santos that arrived on the market in 1978, becoming so popular that it was the world’s most copied watch.
Precisely because the Santos-Dumont is such a famous watch it is often worn more formally. And because Cartier has given this new model so many historical details, one would have expected it to be released in gold or platinum and be equipped with a hand-winding movement as dress watches traditionally are. Many watch enthusiasts and connoisseurs would undoubtedly have appreciated that.
But Cartier’s decision is understandable. With the 2019 Santos-Dumont, the brand has clearly chosen to appeal to a broader audience and perhaps find a new customer base. The steel case and the newly developed quartz movement both contribute to a much lower price point, making the Santos-Dumont worry free and easy to wear. While in no way inferior to the more expensive models in the collection, the new Santos-Dumont is now ideal to wear daily for both work and play.
The timeless Cartier Santos-Dumont
In 2012 and 2013, Cartier released two variations of the Santos-Dumont model: the Santos-Dumont Power Reserve and the Santos-Dumont Skeleton. The latter’s movement is not skeletonized in the classic sense but developed from the start in the skeleton style. The hour numerals are formed by the movement’s bridges.
Its case – first launched in 2005 – is a lot bigger and no longer square, but rather more TV shaped. Typical for these smooth, rounded case shapes is that the famous visible screws are missing from the bezel, which gives the watch a less sporty and more formal appearance.
A limited edition of the 1913 Santos-Dumont model was also released in 2005 in yellow gold: a relatively small model measuring 24 x 34 mm, its beautiful faceted crystal was an absolute highlight. Cartier even went so far as to bring back historical details such as the non-adjustable folding clasp so that the leather strap had to be tailormade for every customer. A lot of work for the boutiques, but it was an edition of just 100 pieces.
The non-limited Santos-Dumont from the same period was slightly larger and also a bit flatter. It came in a yellow gold or platinum 36 x 27 mm case and was powered by a Frédéric Piguet movement. The platinum version is still one of the most popular and easiest-to-find models on the second-hand market.
Comparing it to the smaller 2019 steel version, I would say that the two watches almost have the same dimensions.
In 1997, Cartier launched one of its most beautiful and sought-after versions on the occasion of the ninetieth anniversary of the Santos-Dumont (the commercial version of the watch was not released in 1904, but rather in late 1906): a platinum edition fitted with a salmon-colored lacquer dial and blued Breguet hands – two elements that are bound to make enthusiasts drool. The hand-winding movement again came from Frédéric Piguet like that of the previous model, and the sizing was also the same.
There were more variations of the small model that I have not mentioned, especially in the 1980s when the shapes of the crowns and the case heights differed slightly. Unlike, for example, the Louis Cartier Tank, the Santos-Dumont has always been a men’s watch, though a smaller women’s version was also available.
In whatever size, the Santos-Dumont is and remains a timeless thoroughbred men’s watch.
For more information, please visit cartier.com/en-us/collections/watches/santos-de-cartier-watches.
Quick Facts 2019 Cartier Santos-Dumont
Case: 31.4 x 31.4 mm (large) and 27.5 x 27.5; stainless steel, two-tone steel and pink gold, or pink gold
Movement: manufacture quartz
Functions: hours, minutes
Price €3,500 (small model) and €3,700 (large model) in stainless steel