The Cartier Santos undoubtedly deserves a place in this series of blogs as one of the most significant watches through time – definitely one of the watches that changed the world – because it was the first in a long and prestigious line of pilot’s watches.
The Santos is also often credited with being the world’s first wristwatch but unfortunately for Cartier, this isn’t actually the case – to be honest the taking of a small watch and strapping it to one’s wrist was such an obvious development that it’s impossible to say who actually ‘invented’ it.
What we do know is that Jaquet-Droz and Leschot of Geneva made a “watch intended to be fixed to a bracelet” as far back as 1790 – way before the Santos. However, wristwatches weren’t popular with gentlemen because they were considered effeminate and there was some doubt regarding whether a watch small enough to be worn on the wrist could ever be sufficiently accurate for a gentleman to wear (although obviously good enough for mere ladies…..).
Enter esteemed pilot , gentleman roister-doisterer and good friend of Louis Cartier, Alberto Santos-Dumont.
In 1906 in his wheeled aircraft “14 Bis”, Santos-Dumont “took off under his own power and achieved flight”, thus winning the esteemed Deutsch-Archdeacon prize. It was during the celebrations later that day at Maxim’s restaurant in Paris that Santos-Dumont complained to his friend Louis about the difficulty of reading his pocket watch while maintaining control of the ‘plane.
Shortly afterwards, Louis Cartier created the Santos-Dumont wristwatch for his friend Alberto who was so delighted with the invention and with his gift that it immediately became an essential and permanent part of his flying equipment. Often reported in the press, Alberto’s Santos-Dumont watch was “affixed by a comfortable leather strap and secured with a small buckle”.
Working with movement maker Edmond Jaeger, Cartier manufactured the Santos which was launched in 1911, five years after Santios-Dumont’s inaugural flight – the world’s first mass produced wristwatch for gentlemen was an immediate success.
The Santos was relaunched in the late 1970’s to fantastic acclaim, first in bimetal and then in stainless steel. The classic Santos styling has always been there, even down to the sapphire cabochon on the crown which is a lovely touch and true Cartier style.
Today Cartier makes several variations of the Santos some of which are pictured above, including the slender quartz model, the more curvaceous automatic and the ultra modern Santos 100. The standard version has recently been renamed the Santos#Dumont as an appropriate further nod to its origins.
A true classic.