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A visual history of the Cartier Santos

The over 100-year-old watch still worn today

Watch Cartier Design
Published by Ferdinand Vogler on March 24, 2020 · 5 min read

The Cartier Santos watch dates back all the way to 1904 when Louis Cartier created a watch for his friend, daredevil and pilot Alberto Santos-Dumont. Tired of fumbling around with a pocket watch, he wanted something practical to strap to his wrist. Since those humble beginnings a lot of variations have been produced, always building on the iconic original. Chronographs, special “iced-out” versions, gold, steel… if you can think of it, it has been made. The following dates mustn’t be historically, there taken straight from Chrono24. Anyway, enjoy this journey of this little quirky watch, that so perfectly connects the Old and New.

  1. 1916
    © Uhrenkosmos.com • Link
  2. 1970
    © Empire Time Inc, New York (USA) • Link
  3. 1975
    Here we can see the little “Cartier” wordmark in the thin stroke of the V as part of the roman seven indice.
    © Ashvil V., Grossbritannien • Link
  4. 1980
    © Bachmann & Scher, München (Deutschland) • Link
    The little “Cartier” wordmark now moved into the thin X stroke of the roman ten indice. The “railroad tracks” making it easier to track the seconds are now on the outer side of the dial, instead of inside.
    © Collector Square, Paris • Link
  5. 1982
    The “railroad tracks” are towards the center of the dial, back to the original. A center second hand is introduced.
    The back of the watch is not flat anymore, its angled and therefore reduces the surface area where the watch touches the skin. This reduces sweating below the watch.
    © Horus Watch, Düsseldorf (Deutschland) • Link
  6. 1985
    The bracelet slightly changes, getting rid of the screws and introducing central links resembling a “trio of rice beads” holding the bracelet together.
    The caseback is rounded and the surface area where the watch touches the skin is increased.
    © Vintage Watch Trading, Neuchâtel (Schweiz) • Link
  7. 1987
    © Cartier Santos in 18k Gold worn by Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) in the movie “Wall Street” • Link
  8. 1988
    © Stefano M., Italien • Link
  9. 1990
    © Xupes.nl, Amsterdam (Niederlande) • Link
  10. 1992
    © M.J.WATCHES, Antwerpen (Belgien) • Link
    You could say this watch looks borderline fake, but it comes with a redrawn dial, rather poorly exectued. Nonetheless a curiosity I wanted to show.
  11. 1999
    © Swoosie Kurtz wearing a bi-color Cartier Santos in the movie “Cruel Intentions” • Link
  12. 2000
    © Sky Diamonds, New York (USA) • Link
    The date window moves in the bottom right corner, displayed in a 135° angle. The dial features a new Guilloché version.
    © Juwelier Manuel, München (Deutschland) • Link
    Until now the indices were printed, here they are applied. Still no luminous material though. Second intervals with five-second-indicators are shown on the outer ring of the dial.
    © Watch Center London, Grossbritannien • Link
    Full Metal Santos.
  13. 2002
    © Swiss Time Buyers, Miami, Florida (USA) • Link
  14. 2008
    No visible bracelet clasp, almost flat caseback.
    © Watchmaster ICP GmbH, Berlin (Deutschland) • Link
  15. 2010
    Burgundy special edition done in a lipstick red.
    © Roberto S., Italien • Link
  16. 2018
    2018 brings a relaunch of the Santos. The bezel doesn’t go around the dial in a square manner anymore, but now slightly extends to both ends where the bracelet meets the case. Cartier previously used ETA movements, now the Santos is running with the in-house Caliber 1847 MC movement with a 42-hour power reserve. The medium size (35 mm) got rid of the date (again), whilst the the larger version at 39.8 mm still has it. The bracelet also has Cartier’s new QuickSwitch system, allowing you to switch bracelets easily and not needing a springbar tool. The bracelet size can also be adjusted by yourself with the SmartLink system.
    A slight curvature of the case further removes any gaps between the case and the wrist. This makes the watch wear more comfortable towards a bracelet.
    © Subdial, London (Grossbritannien) • Link

What does the future hold?

I only showed you a glimpse into the model variations that exist. Although Cartier is most commonly known as a jewelery maker, its watch history is strong and the timepieces it produces today are respected amongst watch nerds. What we can say is that Cartier manages to keep the balance between producing what has worked over the past 100 years whilst still keeping up with newest technologies. It was interesting for me to discover that the design of the watch didn’t change fundamentally. Still is doesn’t appear like you’re wearing “Grandpa’s watch”.

Personally the watch doesn’t suit me that well, still I’m fascinated by how something can still be that relevant after a long time. Against the common perception of timeless design, I don’t think things have to look bland like a 1960s Braun device, reduced to its utilitarian character. If I could speak to Adolf Loos—who clearly expressed his opinion on ornamentation in his essay “Ornament and Crime”—I’d tell him that ornamentation can still go a long way and a bit of pomp on the wrist produces a smile of the owner, doesn’t hurt anyone and therefore shouldn’t be punishable under law.