Like many of history’s greatest creations, the invention of the Cartier Santos started with a gripe.
In early 1906, Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont–notorious for being one of the first men to fly in a fixed-wing aircraft–complained to watchmaker and businessman Louis Cartier about his need for a more functional and ergonomic watch while flying. The contemporary pocket watch he was using simply didn’t cut it. In the dangerous days of aviation that required split-second decisions and the use of both hands, wasting time fishing out a pocket watch was potentially life-threatening.
At the time, the wristwatch was almost exclusively aimed at women, so Cartier designed a more masculine watch with a leather band and a small buckle. While Patek Philippe is credited with inventing the very first wristwatch in 1868, Cartier is almost singlehandedly responsible for the development and popularization of the wristwatch for men. Without the contributions of Louis Cartier and Albert Santos-Dumont, we wouldn’t have the same rich and textured history of modern timepieces to look back on today.
The Santos de Cartier watch was an innovation that altered the watch world forever.
The Santos de Cartier
With the outbreak of the First World War and subsequent military specification for round watches, sales of Cartier watches declined sharply. However, it wasn’t the end for Cartier watches, not at all. Later, the Cartier Santos boasted such famous wearers as criminally-underrated Bond actor Timothy Dalton, Tom Cruise, and possibly the coolest rock and roll frontman of all time, Mick Jagger. The Cartier wristwatch was to stay a firm favorite for years to come.
Multiple versions of the Santos have been introduced over the years, such as the Santos Dumont, which was based directly on Alberto Santos-Dumont’s original, groundbreaking timepiece, featuring the signature industrial elegance, leather strap and small buckle, and the Santos de Cartier Galbée, a more luxurious, glamorous two-tone gold affair, released much later on.
The Cartier Santos 100
The Cartier Santos 100, the most recent iteration of the Cartier Santos watch, is deceptively small. Despite sitting large on the wrist, the case measures just 38mm wide and 10.34mm thick. This makes the Cartier Santos 100 incredibly versatile. However, in the spirit of a true Cartier Santos review, the fact is, square watches don’t always jibe with the organically rounded human form.
That’s not to say, however, that everyone experiences dissatisfaction or discomfort with the square form, and its iconic shape remains part of the Santos’s unique charm.
Despite its potential shortfalls, it would be incredibly foolish not to accredit Cartier with designing possibly the most ergonomic square watch ever (slightly oxymoronic, we know). The fact is, while the Cartier Santos 100 looks chunky and angular, it curves to fit the wrist.
Add to that its brushed steel finish, polished bevel edges along the case sides, water resistance up to 100m, and an automatic movement, the Cartier Santos 100 is a true sports watch. The dial shows off the trademark Roman numerals in black, contributing to the elegance of the piece. The overall luxury of the design never oversteps the boundaries and retains the everyday look of a working man’s watch. The appeal of the Cartier-Santos 100 cannot be overstated—this is a watch that stands the test of time. Having gone through several iterations in its time, the Cartier-Santos 100 has settled on an effective design of inarguable style and good looks.
Far from being the most gimmicky and exciting of luxury watches, the Cartier-Santos 100 nonetheless stands true as a monument to the ideal of simplicity in modern sports watches. Its lack of excessive complications takes this watch beyond the realm of simple status symbol and into a must-have, timeless classic.
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