About Time: Dress To Impress With Cartier’s Ballon Bleu And Santos-Dumont

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About Time: Dress To Impress With Cartier’s Ballon Bleu And Santos-Dumont

Words by Mr Chris Hall

18 June 2021

Our latest episode of About Time sees us pit two Cartier dress watches against each other, the Ballon Bleu and Santos-Dumont, in what must be one of the most stylish head-to-heads imaginable. But really, it’s about asking what we expect from a dress watch, and why Cartier is so good at delivering it.

It’s funny really. Most categories of watches – such as dive watches, chronographs or pilot watches – evolved out of the need to keep time in a specific way, or in the face of certain challenges. Legibility and reliability when you’ve descended deeper than the sun’s rays can penetrate, or when you might be experiencing severe G-forces and a, shall we say, high-stress environment, become potentially matters of life and death. For dress watches, though, the brief has evolved out of almost the opposite situation: these are watches we want to be unobtrusive, slender almost to the point of receding. We don’t want them to flaunt their technical abilities. Nor do we want them to be big and bold, because we intend to wear them in situations where keeping a watchful eye on the time is unnecessary, perhaps even downright rude. But we do want them to impress – a dress watch is called for when we want to look our most polished, so it must have a certain je ne sais quoi about it.

No one understands this better than Cartier. Plenty of brands make outstanding dress watches, and you cannot fault a Jaeger-LeCoultre, Patek Philippe or Vacheron Constantin when it comes to flawless displays of pared-back yet luxurious watch design. But Cartier brings something extra – that sense of occasion. A finishing touch, much like a dress watch itself, in fact. Elegance is a difficult quantity to pin down. You know it when you see it, though, and the proportions, materials and typography of Cartier dress watches have it in spades.

For this film, we chose to look at two quite distinct approaches to the dress watch brief – one long-established, one more contemporary. But it’s the contemporary model that’s cased entirely in gold (tradition dictates that a formal watch be made from precious metal) and the older design that’s perhaps showing greater sartorial flexibility.

Because that’s the thing about dress watches in the modern world; we no longer go suited to work every day or spend our leisure hours looking like Jay Gatsby. And, while it’s nice to have a watch that you only bring out for special occasions, if you own one of these beauties, you’re going to want to put them on a bit more often than that. Not to mention what happens when a pandemic robs us of the opportunity to dress up for the best part of two years. What we’re saying is: a dress watch is for life, not just for Christmas.

Visit the MR PORTER YouTube channel to watch all previous episodes of About Time, including NOMOS Glashütte, Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC and Vacheron Constantin.

Fancy dress time