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The Sky Is The Limit For Cartier’s Santos Collection

How the iconic watchmaker is still pushing boundaries a century after the Santos-Dumont’s debut

The story of how the Santos de Cartier watch came to be is not without romance. Created by Mr Louis Cartier more than a century ago in 1904 as a practical alternative to a pocket watch for its namesake – the pioneering aviator and inventor Mr Alberto Santos-Dumont – the timepiece was the first of its kind to make time-telling while airborne less cumbersome. By simply swapping a chain for a buckled strap, Cartier accomplished not one, but two watersheds in watchmaking: the world’s earliest mens wristwatch and the original pilot’s watch. Novelty wasn’t the only feature that won it fans far and wide, though. Housed in an elegant “rounded square” case inspired by the Eiffel Tower’s fluid rigidity and set with a palatial dial; the design pre-empted the Art Deco movement’s aesthetic dominance by about 15 years.

The style’s idiosyncratic screws would come later, in 1978 when the watchmaker resurrected the reference, this time in bimetal gold and steel with a sporty bracelet strap. During the decade that followed the Santos de Cartier, as it was now known, would become a tangible symbol of 1980s opulence, immortalised on the wrists of Wall Streeters and, then, most notably, on the Wall Streeter in 1987’s Wall Street. Armed with a holy trinity of heritage, tradition and prestige, Cartier had mastered the horological universe and, apart from minor facelifts, the Santos rarely received any major modifications as time ticked on. That is, until 2018, when Cartier revived the collection with its 1847 MC movement, a softer, more ergonomic case, and its ingenious QuickSwitch strap-changing system. The news trickled out of that year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie Genève (SIHH): an icon had been reborn.

Just a year later, and a century after the Santos-Dumont’s initial appearance, the watchmaker has yet to rest on its laurels. Following a bumper showing at 2019’s SIHH – debuting no less than 75 references – Cartier has upped the ante with five new, game-changing additions to the Santos line. Read on for the lowdown on the latest models, available at MR PORTER now.

THE SKELETON

Designing a skeleton watch, let alone one as sophisticated as this all-steel Santos de Cartier one, would stump even the most seasoned engineers. But the watchmaker has managed to make it look easy. The brand’s clever trick is to use the existing structure of the stylised Roman numerals as the baseplate and bridge of the 9611 MC movement, so the internal mechanism (and the actual ability to tell the time) isn’t clouded or obscured from any angle. The result is deceptively unfussy which, in the often weird and wonderful world of skeleton watches, is quite an accomplishment. The extra blue alligator strap is a thoughtful addition, too, and one that, thanks to the QuickSwitch system, can be changed in a flash.

THE MODERN HOMAGE

The Santos-Dumont Skeleton might be an homage to the bona fide 1904 piece (it retains the original leather strap and does away with the screws), but it’s a modern watch through and through. For starters, there’s the extra-large case which, aside from being an altogether more striking proposition, allows for the intricacies of the skeletonised movement to be fully appreciated. And if you’re worried that its largess might weigh you down, fret not: the sizeable piece is forged from lightweight (yet incredibly robust) titanium with a scratch and scuff-proof ADLC (amorphous diamond-like coating) finish.

THE GAME-CHANGER

For a brand with centuries of experience under its belt, Cartier still knows how to cause quite a stir. Take the stealthy-looking Santos de Cartier “Noctambule”, or “night owl” (how’s that for a code name?) watch. Naturally – well, just look at it – the skeletonised watch set tongues wagging as soon as it was unveiled in Geneva earlier this year. Bolder and more daring than anything the house has debuted before, the ADLC-coated model is modestly sized (measuring in at 39.8mm by 47.5mm), but packs a punch otherwise. The movement itself integrates the Roman numerals as per the steel skeleton above, but this time each elegant bridge, as well as the sword-like hands, are filled with black SuperLumiNova. A glow-in-the-dark watch, you say? Cartier has just made all of our boyhood dreams a reality.

THE BLUE ONE

As a general rule, trends don’t tend to catch on very quickly in the watch world. It is, after all, an industry where tradition leads the way. But one of the key takeaways from most manufactures’ output the last couple of years is that blue dials are big business. It makes perfect sense, of course. Like a navy suit, azure, cerulean or sea-blue dials feel timeless, yet bang up-to-date. And, like that menswear perennial, it’s hard to envisage them falling out of favour any time soon. Cartier has long been at it – the brand’s signature sapphire-set crowns and Ballon Bleu de Cartier watches come to mind – but 2019 marks the first time a reference in the Santos collection has been given the royal-blue treatment. And the horologist has gone all in: continuing the theme, this extra-large stainless-steel model is supplied with a coordinating interchangeable calf-skin strap.

THE CHRONOGRAPH

Chronographs, by their very nature and function, belong to the sports watch family, presenting a unique challenge for manufactures such as Cartier. Compromising aesthetic integrity in exchange for improved reliability simply isn’t an option for the likes of them. Maintaining a certain grace while also satisfying increased demands on performance is no easy feat, but one the brand has pulled off assuredly here. Under the hood, the new Santos de Cartier Chronograph is powered by the watchmaker’s modified in-house 1904 CH MC automatic movement while, on the outside, its ADLC-coated steel case and strap (there’s also interchangeable alligator and rubber options in the box) and satin-brushed dial make for a piece every bit as elegant as a dress watch.

Santos de Cartier