‘In 1904, Alberto Santos-Dumont approached his friend Louis Cartier about creating a watch optimised for flight. The result was a small watch fitted with a leather strap that could be attached to the wrist with a buckle. It was then the first wristwatch and first pilot watch were born: the Cartier Santos.’
In 1904, Alberto Santos-Dumont approached his friend Louis Cartier about creating a watch optimised for flight. Santos-Dumont was a pioneer in aviation. He found the pocket watch to be ineffective for tracking flight times and precarious to operate during flight. So, he asked Cartier to build something better. The result was a small watch fitted with a leather strap that could be attached to the wrist with a buckle. It was then the first wristwatch and first pilot watch were born: the Cartier Santos.
Birth of the Wristwatch and the Pilot Watch
French watchmaker Louis Cartier founded the brand Cartier in 1847. It began as a modest workshop in Paris. Here, he and his nephews focused on crafting mechanical pocket watches.
By the early 1900’s, modern aviation was beginning to advance. There was also a growing demand for watches developed specifically for military forces prior to World War I. Both of these factors contributed to the birth of the wristwatch and the pilot watch.
Debut and Rise of the Santos
In 1904, Cartier was approached by his friend Alberto Santos-Dumont about creating a watch optimised for flight. Santos-Dumont was a pioneer in aviation. He found the pocket watch to be ineffective for tracking flight times and precarious to operate during flight. So, he asked Cartier to build something better. The result was a small watch fitted with a leather strap that could be attached to the wrist with a buckle. It was then the first wristwatch and first pilot watch were born: the Cartier Santos.
From that moment forward, Santos-Dumont wore his Cartier timepiece on every subsequent flight. The Santos gained widespread recognition just two years after its inception. In 1906, Santos-Dumont set the first world record recognised by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale for flying 220 metres in twenty-one seconds. During his history-making flight, he was wearing none other than his Cartier Santos.
The Santos Reaches the Public
In the early 1900’s, the wristwatch grew in popularity, and people began to take note of the Santos. Cartier knew he need to be able to increase his production to get the watch onto the wrists of the public. So, he partnered with the renowned movement maker Edmond Jaeger of Jaeger-LeCoultre to help him mass-produce the Santos. The watch first went on sale to the public in 1911.
Evolution of the Santos
The Santos remained largely unchanged from its original design until the late 1970’s. In 1978, Cartier released a more casual and less expensive two-tone version of the model. It featured stainless steel with yellow gold accents as opposed to being made entirely of gold. Still, the new Santos kept its classic appeal with Cartier’s signature white dial, Roman numerals, and blue baton hands.
This modern and sporty variation not only changed the Santos collection but also the perception of Cartier. It represented the brand’s new approach to affordable luxury. It also spoke to a younger generation of up and coming watch buyers.
Soon, the Santos became one of the top wristwatches on the market, yet again. The two-tone design was not only more affordable but also novel. Numerous competitors began to create their own models in a similar vein. Within just a few years, the Santos became one of the most copied watches in the world.
Modern Variations of the Santos
After the success of the re-imagined 1978 model, Cartier began releasing new variations of the Santos every few years. A couple notable versions include an all-stainless steel model and a limited edition platinum model with a ruby set in the crown. The brand even began offering additional features like a moon phase complication and a chronograph function.
The model received another major overhaul in 1987 with the introduction of the Santos Galbée. The harder square edges of the original Santos were rounded and the case was curved to form more comfortably to the wrist. Overall, the model lost its boxy appearance and became a bit softer.
The Santos celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2004. To commemorate the occasion, Cartier unveiled the Santos 100.
By 2005, the trend for larger, bolder watches was growing. That year, Cartier debuted an XL version of the popular Santos Galbée in both stainless steel and two-tone steel and yellow gold.
Cartier made history with the release of the Santos Triple 100 in 2008. The variation was modelled after the 100th anniversary edition but features a first-ever rotating dial function. With a turn of the crown, you can switch the dial between three different options: the iconic Cartier Roman numerals, a detailed portrait of a tiger, or one set with diamonds and sapphires.
Disappearance and Re-Emergence of the Santos
In 2016, the Santos began to disappear. The model started to sell out in boutiques around the world and even went missing from official Cartier retailers. The public was baffled, and there was much chatter about what happened to the beloved model.
Cartier finally broke their silence about the Santos in 2018 with the debut of an all-new Santos collection. The model has been re-issued in two sizes, and the larger features a date window. It’s available in several style options, including stainless steel, yellow gold, rose gold, and two-tone steel and yellow gold. There’s also a skeleton version, available in both rose gold and stainless steel. The most significant update to the latest Santos collection is Cartier’s revolutionary, toolless QuickSwitch and SmartLink systems. The QuickSwitch allows you to change out the strap, and the SmartLink allows you to adjust the bracelet’s length to the nearest link.