Santos De Cartier: From Aviation To Horology

Written by:IWS Team|

When Louis Cartier designed the Santos, he probably had no idea he just created one of the most iconic and versatile watches of the XX century.

This watch was first made in 1904 by the maison founder’s grandson for a Brazilian aviation pioneer, Alberto Santos-Dumont, who was also a well-known figure in French high society. Santos was complaining with Cartier about the struggle of reading the time on a pocket watch while flying.

Alberto Santos-Dumont and the first Santos

In the period which the Santos-Dumont was born, it was a true revolution in horology, for different aspects.

Esthetically it comes in a new and unique geometrical shape, in this case squared, with a strap and screw all around the bezel.

The screws were intended to remind the rivets of airplanes fuselages of the time, like the one of the Brazilian aviator.

It’s a whole new concept for the time, considering that the most common type of watch was the pocket-watch and wristwatches wasn’t a thing.

The 1915 model

Historically, it’s one of the first wristwatches introduced by the Parisian maison.

Before the Santos, Cartier only produced pocket-watches for men and bracelets with integrated watches for women. This model marked the advent of the brand into male wristwatches horology world.

Only the esthetics and the exterior were made by the brand, while the mechanism was manufactured by Jaeger-LeCoultre, trusty supplier of Cartier since the late ‘800.


 The watch made for Santos-Dumont remained an only-piece until 1911, when the first examples were built for the distribution.

During the XX century, the Santos quickly became a style and elegance icon, thanks to the cinema, like his “brother” born at the beginning of ‘900, the Tank.

The Tank by Cartier

It was manufactured in different materials, from yellow gold to platinum, and mainly during the 80s and 90s, it was equipped with quartz or automatic movements.

A rare platinum version with a salmon dial.
Ref.1575

The turning point for this watch came at 2018 SIHH.

In this occasion, Cartier re-introduced the classic model, replacing the “Santos 100” collection.

This new version introduces a new bracelet, a 42 mm case and a new movement, ready to become a must have of our century.

The Santos 2018 comes in two sizes with prices starting at €6.750 for mid-size in steel, going up to €36.600 for the gold large-size with integrated bracelet, not mentioning special editions or skeletonized dials.

On this new model is also present a new fast release bracelet/strap mechanism, making the watch extremely versatile and always adequate.

In 2019 SIHH a new color is added to the Santos’ History.

The large-size in steel is dressed with a modern blue dial, that pushes the classic aesthetics of the Santos in a new territory. (6.600€)

Along with the blue, a new traditional looking Santos Dumont was introduced.

Very pleasant to look at, small-wrists friendly with the smaller case, the new Santos Dumont left us disappointed because of its beating heart: a sophisticated quartz movement that, Cartier said, should encourage new enthusiasts into haute horology.

Priced between 3.000€ and 3.500€ (steel version) is esthetically stunning, but quartz isn’t a good choice in our opinion.


Speaking of vintage pieces, it’s easy to find examples from the 80s and 90s around 1.500€ (steel and gold for women) and 1.800€ (for men).

For the steel the starting price is 2.200€, for gold we’re talking over 4.000€.

Watches from the 30s and the 40s, made in white gold or platinum, sells for over 20.000€.


Translated by Lorenzo Spolaor (@itsdoc_oclock)

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Team Italian Watch Spotter
Italian Watch Spotter's Team
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