When I am asked which watch means the most to me, I always say the Santos. Not because it was my first watch, but more because it is the watch that I wear most and also because the watch became such an icon, so soon after its release in 1978. But where did the Santos come from? Well, that’s something I only learned, when I was already happy wearing my steel Santos, for some years, in the late 1980. My dealer explained to me that Santos as a model was actually inspired by Cartier’s first men’s watch, the Santos Dumont, that was designed in 1904. This was actually the first men’s watch that Louis Cartier designed and……….. it was the first pilot watch ever, although you probably do not see this Santos Dumont as a pilot watch since we’re more familiar these days with the round watches like for instance the ‘Longines Weems’. But that Longines was designed 25 years later.
When I, for the first time, saw pictures of that small flat yellow gold watch, I was so intrigued by the details of the model, that I took a train to Paris, to see the watch in the flesh. This must have been around 1984. It did not take long for me to decide that this was a timepiece that would fit my style very well. Slim, flat, elegant and ideal to wear to the office, with or without a cuffed shirt.
Since the release of the first model in 1911, Cartier produced very small runs of the watch, most of them in platinum, some in yellow gold. And they always had small differences, sometimes the minute tracking was in the center, sometimes on the outside of the dial, lugs were often done in a different way and many of the models had Breguet style hands. Later on, batton style hands were used frequently, but the model always kept that same strong and masculine Santos look.
During the 90th. anniversary of the Santos Dumont, Cartier presented a platinum version, with Breguet style hands and a salmon-colored dial, in a limited edition of just 90 pieces. The strap was made of a blue alligator on the outside and brown alligator on the inside, while the stitching of the strap was bright blue. Not very vintage looking and for that time certainly a pretty daring idea. Currently, this watch that was powered with a 021MC mechanical caliber, is about the most sought after, non-vintage, Dumont models.
In 1998 Cartier launched their ‘Collection Privée, Cartier Paris’, that was dedicated to Cartier’s famous watch designs and the Santos Dumont appeared during the first year already in the famous line-up and was available in yellow gold and in platinum. The watch had the same movement as the 90th. anniversary model, that was just mentioned. And even a smaller ladies model was presented. The watch had a flower rosette in the center, at least the second launch had that, and the word PARIS underneath Cartier, two sweet details the vintage models used to have. 2005 was the next important anniversary for the model and Cartier presented, within ‘Collection Privée, Cartier Paris‘, a new Santos Dumont in yellow gold and limited to just 100 pieces.
This watch was an amazing good recreation of the model from 1911/1913, with its faceted mineral glass. Even the buckle was different and an almost exact copy of the very firsts ones. The movement was a 9780MC hand-wound caliber.
It was simply called the 1913. In the meantime, we learned that La Maison also created a piece unique in platinum.
For that same anniversary also a larger model with a TV shaped dial stole the show. This larger Dumont watch, with Piaget mechanical caliber, had no bezel, was presented in the three colors of cold and was not a limited edition.
During the first year, the buyer had an option for another dial, but not many pieces of that special version were sold. This, with a 430MC supplied mechanical caliber, TV shaped timepiece, was for many years, one of the most successful Dumont models in the collection.
Not only the time-only version had this quite unique case design, but also the one, pictured above, with power reserve and triple date window and 9750MC caliber.
Another model that amazed many collectors was the Santos Dumont Skelette. Here the skeleton 9611MC caliber was made as a skeleton movement instead of a stripped-down existing caliber.
The result looked smashing and very minimalistic. White gold was the most popular model, but there was also a pink gold and a tough to read DLC Titanium model available.
Totally unexpected was the announcement of a new Santos Dumont in Spring 2019, not only because it was launched as a surprise, but moreover since the model was presented, for the first time in its history, in a steel case and had really nice historic details, that were not always understood by the public.
Like for instance the long, thin stretched numerals, that gave an entirely different look. This style was inspired by the Santos Dumont watch from 1911 and it actually made the look of this model. The crown was for the first time, larger and easier to hold and also this was a cool design feature of the very early models. To me this is a wonderful addition since the crown on most previous models, is very small and smaller than they used to be in the past.
The caliber, however, was not inspired by the past, since Cartier wanted to make this watch available for a large audience, and La Maison decided to supply the watch with a completely new and unique quartz caliber, that only once in the six years will ask for a new battery. This decision kept the price really low and made it a reliable and trouble-free watch, but I think collectors would have preferred to pay a bit more, for a mechanical caliber, that Santos Dumont models always used to have.
It is safe to say that the Santos Dumont, from a historical point of view, is the most important model in the Cartier collection of men’s watches and that is exactly why I gave this write up such a strong title.
In two months’ time, in April to be exact Cartier, will announce their 2020 collection of watches and I am sure we will be pleasantly amused what Cartier will present in its mainstream collection and what will be added to their new PRIVÉ line.
Santos Dumont dimensions and references:
Santos Dumont 90th Anniversary – W1516651 – 36x27mm
Santos Dumont 1913 CPCP – W1542352 – 34x24mm
Santos Dumont CPCP – W1505456 – 36x27mm
Santos Dumont 2005 TV shaped case – W2007051 – 44.5×35.9mm
Santos Dumont TV shaped case Triple date – W2020067 – 38x48mm
Santos Dumont skeleton – W2020033 – 38.7x47mm
Santos Dumont Steel – WSSA0023 – 38×27.5 and 43.5×41.4mm