The Santos-Dumont is a bit sportier, so sometimes I prefer that look over that of the elegant Tank. But just as often it’s the other way around.
The Tank and Santos-Dumont are the pillars of the Cartier timepiece collection. These two watches not only kickstarted Cartier’s watch empire but have also been retained within the collection for eternity, albeit with new variations introduced from time to time ranging from dress to sport.
As I described in The World‘s First Pilot’s Watch: Cartier Santos-Dumont 1904 To 2018, the Santos-Dumont was created in 1904 but only introduced to the public in 1911. Since then, this model has been produced in fairly small editions, usually in platinum with a leather strap and deployant buckle. But also in yellow and even white gold, though those are fairly rare.
From a materials standpoint alone, this watch could never become a bargain since precious metals have their price. It was therefore remarkable that Cartier decided to make an inspired sporty variation of the model simply called “the Santos” in 1978 in steel with a gold bezel and gold screws on the steel bracelet.
That Santos-Dumont marked the first time that Cartier released a watch not fully made of precious metal.
The 2019 Cartier Santos-Dumont
At SIHH 2019, we were surprised to see a stunning new historically inspired Santos-Dumont model. And to my eye it looks even better than the model from the now-defunct Collection Privée Cartier Paris (CPCP) line.
With its new dimensions, the Santos-Dumont is larger than Collection Privée Cartier Paris version.
And another huge difference – one that I like a lot – is the typeface of the numerals. Of course they are Roman, but now thinner and more stretched than we are used to, which gives the watch a highly vintage look more closely resembling the version from 1916.
Another new and important detail is the crown. Previous models had a relatively small crown, which made it sometimes hard to wind the watch and set the time. Cartier chose a larger crown for this new model that again reminds me of early versions. These details make this new Santos-Dumont a real homage to the historical model.
Bigger and wider, a better grip is the result. Pulling the crown out and adjusting the hands is very comfortable, although that doesn’t need to be done much anymore thanks to the quartz caliber now powering the time display.
The biggest surprise, though, is the case itself. The historical lines of the classic Santos-Dumont case are retained in a beautiful way, with the case back held by four screws fitting seamlessly into the slim steel case. Alberto Santos-Dumont’s signature is engraved on the back just underneath the brand name.
A stainless steel case for the Cartier Santos-Dumont?
Cartier decided for a steel case, which certainly must have caused some serious arguments at the brand’s Paris headquarters: releasing a men’s wristwatch in steel that had thus far only been available in precious metals is a very big thing.
That was quite shocking to me since I would have expected such an important model to be crafted in platinum, preferably with a platinum bracelet and only available upon request from one of Cartier’s three flagship stores.
But Cartier had a different view, opting to reach for a much wider audience with this historic Cartier watch. Following a strategy to keep price down, steel was then a perfect choice. And let’s face it, steel is a great choice for almost any watch: it’s strong, more scratch resistant than gold, and easy to maintain.
Still, that must have been quite a decision for Cartier, considering that this is the famous maison’s first men’s watch. But times have changed, and now this case variation makes it the perfect first watch for younger people or second watch for more seasoned consumers alongside a bigger daily-wear sports watch.
It’s a watch that’s always ready to go as it is powered by a quartz movement. Though, honestly, that may be another element for some to overcome.
But we’re not talking here about any ordinary quartz caliber: this is Cartier’s high-efficiency quartz movement with an autonomy of approximately six years – twice as long as traditional quartz movements. To achieve this feat, the Cartier manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds reworked and resized the movement to reduce its energy consumption and then combined it with a new high-performance battery.
Let me first confess that only when I rediscovered my old Panthère watch from 1977, which is also powered by a quartz caliber, did I start to appreciate this type of movement again. The fact is that thanks to the quartz movement, the watch is always ready to display the right time. It’s very precise and inexpensive to maintain.
The movement brings the price down to just €3,550 for the small and €3,800 for the large model, making it a real no-brainer for me.
In this price category, it is not essential that the watch be mechanical.
Over the past ten years, we have learned what amazing high-end calibers Cartier can develop and produce, and we will still continue see new watches released using those movements – like the new Tonneau XL Skeleton Dual Time, which is a prime example.
However, the maison remains king when it comes to design, and that is what this new Santos-Dumont is all about.
For more information, please visit www.cartier.com/en-us/collections/santos-de-cartier/santos-dumont.
Quick Facts 2019 Cartier Santos-Dumont
Case: stainless steel, two-tone steel and pink gold, or pink gold; 31.4 x 31.4 mm (large) and 27.5 x 27.5
Movement: manufacture quartz
Functions: hours, minutes
Price €3,550 (small model) and €3,800 (large model) in stainless steel
*This article was first published on January 20, 2019.