The Metamorphose of the ‘Cartier Santos’

The Santos, as it is known today, is Cartier’s oldest model and it can at the same time, also be seen as one of the most modern watches of the collection. Therefore we have to go back in history, more than 100 years, in fact, the Santos dates back to the year 1904, when Louis Cartier was asked, by his aviator friend Santos Dumont, to design a watch for him, that he could wear during his flights. In those early years, wristwatches were not existing yet, and also Mr. Dumont was still wearing his pocket watch, that he could hardly handle when he had both hands on the steering wheel of his plane. Seven years-long Mr. Dumont was the only person wearing the watch since the model was only commercialized, named Santos Dumont, and sold in the Paris Boutique in 1911. All Cartier watches were, in these days only produced in yellow gold and platinum, but unfortunately, it is unknown, how the first watch, that was made for Mr. Dumont, looked like and in which material it was made. La Maison has e few vintage Santos Dumont models in their private collection, dating from 1911 to 1916. In fact, at the ‘Crystallization of Time’ exposition in Tokio (2019) a yellow gold model from 1912 was presented.

During the following years, the Santos Dumont watch was produced in small runs and was, in general just available in yellow gold and in platinum, other than a black bakelite Santos in 1924. Every few years, the model had tiny dial and case differences, but always in yellow gold or in platinum. Precious metals were the only way to go for watches and jewelry, also because most jewelers were not equipped yet, to work with steel.

– The 1978 Santos in steel & gold with matching Santos cufflinks –

The big turn around, that changed the whole way of how we look at timepieces, revealed in October 1978, at Musée de l’Air in Paris, when Cartier presented their first steel watch on a bracelet, with polished gold accents that was called; the Santos! The watch looked familiar with the early Santos Dumont, was bigger, thicker, more butch, watertight and it was, in fact, the metamorphose of the early Santos Dumont watch, that had become a real and easy to wear sports watch for daily use. This was actually the first steel watch that La Maison created. The Musée de l’Air in Paris was a perfect location for the presentation, because the airplane of Santos Dumont, the Demoiselles, is still here on display. The Gala party was enormous, especially for that time, which lasted two days and many national and international celebrities were invited. The new Santos was so new, attractive and different looking that it set the world on fire. This was the first Cartier watch that could handle all occasions, from daily office work to dinner parties and all locations like sports, outdoor activities and traveling. The watch became a huge success and Cartier launched several different dial versions in various colors, different bracelets and even different calibers, like quartz and automatic. Later on round models and octagon models were introduced.

While the concept of the watch was steel with yellow gold polished details, La Maison also introduced an all-steel and an all 18K yellow gold version, and around 1987 even a platinum version with applied numerals and automatic caliber.  

– Custom order Santos is platinum with a diamond-set dial, owned by a private collector –

Around that time the above pictured ‘custom order’ must have been created. All platinum brushed case and bezel, automatic caliber and a diamond-set dial. The success of the Santos also had another side and that was the many counterfeits that seem to come from everywhere. Despite the fact that Cartier did everything they could to fight back, the Santos became the most copied watch in the world.

– Santos Galbée XL from 2005 and the original Santos from 1978 –

Cartier did not rest on its laurels and changed the case of the Santos in 1987, when they introduced an updated model that was called the Santos Galbée. The curved case and the new bracelet gave not only the Santos a more smooth and streamlined look, but the way the watch sits on the wrist was also drastically improved.  2004 was an important year since the Santos as a model was 100 years in the collection and Cartier did not pass up the chance and introduced a collection of new models

– Santos Galbée limited edition with grey dial –

The trend for larger watches had already set in among other brands, but Cartier had not anticipated yet, so the surprise was noticeable when La Maison introduced in 2005 a really large watch in steel, called the Santos 100. The watch was that large that it attracted a whole new audience, that had never looked at Cartier before. It is safe to say that the Santos 100 was a huge success.

– Santos Dumont 1998, Santos Dumont (TV shaped case) 2005, Santos Dumont 1913 –

The next new model was a new Santos Dumont in 18k gold, without the bezel, in a large TV shaped case. Very classic looking chic watch, that is still available today. The Santos Dumont 1913, an exact replica of the original model, was also presented in a yellow gold case and was limited to just 100 pieces. But the star of the presentation for many was, the very wearable Santos Galbée XL. Not only was this version a little bigger, (32 x 45.5mm ) but it also had a date window between the number 4 and 5, what made the dial much more balanced, than the previous model, where the date window occupied the number three. The XL was powered with an ETA caliber, one of the very reliable movements that were in use by Cartier. The Santos Galbée XL has been available for more than ten years in the historic steel with yellow gold details, or in all steel and remained available until 2016. For almost two years the famous Santos watch was not available anymore and many collectors wondered why the model had been retired.

The answer didn’t take that long, in Spring 2018, Cartier introduced the model in a radical updated form, called the Santos de Cartier. Besides the fact that the new Santos models were equipped with in house calibers, the most important and very smart change was the introduction of the interchangeable bracelet.

– Current Santos de Cartier and the Santos Galbée from 2005 –

Without the need for any screwdriver, the metal bracelet can be taken off and replaced by the supplied leather strap with a folding buckle. This handling that doesn’t take more than just a few minutes, changes the look of the watch dramatically. The tan-colored calf leather strap for instance, gives the watch a very sporty appeal. In terms of looks, the new Santos has changed too, compared to the previous model. The square bezel, that Louis Cartier designed in 1904, what gave the model a porthole kind of look, had been redesigned on two sides. At the number twelve and at the number six, the bezel is extended and slopes down to between the lugs. Of course, the idea behind this drastic change, is to make the bracelet more integrated, and it absolutely does, but if it makes the watch a better looking Santos, remains the question and will be a matter of taste. The medium model, has no date window, measures 35.1mm x 41.9mm and is for me the best looking of the two with its plain well-balanced dial. The larger model comes in 39.8mm x 47.5mm case and has a date window at the location of the number-six.

– The Cartier Santos’ on the wrist of actor Michael Douglas –

Both models are available in all-steel, in satin-finished steel with a polished 18K bezel and screws on the bracelet, and in the stunning, all yellow gold, almost like it was on the wrist of actor Michael Douglas in his portrayal of ‘Gordon Gekko’ in the 1987 film, Wall Street.

The question we get almost every week via Instagram; ‘which version to get, the previous Santos Galbée XL or the new 2018 model‘, is actually easy to answer.

– Santos de Cartier in 18k gold –

When the flexibility of changing the bracelet to a strap and the new inhouse movement are important factors for you, the new 2018 is absolutely the model to go for. Besides that, it is the only version that is available in all 18K. When you’re more traditional and want to stick as close as possible to the 1978 model and you have no problem with the, absolutely reliable, ETA caliber, I would say try to find an old stock 2005 model. In any case, the two models have small pros and cons, but both models have managed to keep that same strong looks, the original 1978 model had.

4 thoughts on “The Metamorphose of the ‘Cartier Santos’

  1. Santos Galbee XL met kop.en schouder de mooiste!
    Nieuw model wijkt veel te veel af van het oorspronkelijk prachtige 1978 ontwerp, Santos Carre.

  2. One important difference (at least for me) between the new Santos de Cartier and the Galbee is the 100m vs 30m water resistance.

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