The aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont
The aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont

Iconic Times: Santos de Cartier

By Sophie Stevens
11 October 2018
Inspired by urban design and motion for its 1904 debut, here’s a look at the first purpose-designed aviation timepiece and its latest reinterpretation for 2018.

In 1901 the Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont complained to his friend Louis Cartier about the difficulty of using a pocket watch whilst manning his aircraft. Three years later, in 1904, the watchmaker presented Santos-Dumont with the first purpose-designed modern wristwatch as a solution: no more fumbling about in pockets during flights to check the time.

Cartier Santos Steel Gold

The 2018 Santos de Cartier still has the rounded square case and eight bezel screws of the original (large model in gold and steel, $10,400)

Having opened their Paris premises in 1899, Cartier drew on the urban geometry of the city’s designs for the Santos shape. Its rounded square outline nodded to the four corners of the recently erected Eiffel Tower, while its eight bezel screws smacked of the steel structures being assembled throughout the city at the time.

Jake Gyllenhaal Cartier Santos

In March 2018 Jake Gyllenhaal was announced as the new face of Santos de Cartier

It was a major step forward for watch design and in 1911 the Santos de Cartier became commercially available for the first time. Since then the overall design of the Santos has maintained its original signature design features despite several reinterpretations, including those in larger sizes and featuring the “bimetal” use of gold and steel.

Cartier Santos Leather Strap

The 2018 Santos de Cartier with interchangeable straps (large model in steel, $6,800)

Cartier revealed their 2018 version at SIHH earlier this year, which streamlines the synergy between the bezel and strap. The strap itself was also a focus, with the steel, gold, calfskin or alligator skin versions now interchangeable thanks to the Cartier QuickSwitch system that swaps them at a simple press of the mechanism.

Despite any design overhauls, however, the ethos of the Santos de Cartier has remained the same since its 1904 conception – a sleek “less is more” watch for the modern man on the move.