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In 1904, Alberto Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian aviator, voiced his concerns to his friend Louis Cartier about the impracticality of using pocket watches while flying. In response, Cartier crafted a flat wristwatch featuring a distinctive square bezel, marking the inception of the Santos wristwatch. This pioneering timepiece, initially designed for aviation, soon captivated a broader audience. Simplicity. Practicality. Innovation. These were the three major principles of Alberto Santos-Dumont and every single one of his projects was guided by the desire to make further progress.

While the debate persists about the first aviator, Santos-Dumont or the Wright brothers, there is very little dispute about the first mass-produced men's wristwatch being the Cartier Santos. In 1911, Cartier commenced full-scale production of the Santos-Dumont, integrating a movement from Jaeger. This marked a pivotal moment in horology, as the Santos became the archetype for men's wristwatches.

The Santos' case, inspired by a square pocket watch, showcased a highly legible dial design that signalled a transition to the Art Deco style. The robust case design incorporated screws reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower's legs, and the blackened Roman numerals drew inspiration from the radial layout of Paris' streets and boulevards. These design elements not only reflected the spirit of the times but also shaped Cartier's enduring aesthetic.

The Santos-Dumont watch played a pivotal role in challenging traditional perceptions. While Patek Philippe had earlier introduced wristwatches for women, Cartier's design, paired with Santos-Dumont's public embrace of the timepiece, made it socially acceptable for men to wear wristwatches. This marked a cultural shift, solidifying the wristwatch as an essential accessory for both men and women.

The Santos' square design faced a decline in popularity during World War II due to military requirements favouring round watches. Despite this, Cartier continued to manufacture the Santos through the first half of the 20th century, demonstrating resilience and adaptability in the face of changing trends.

Visit Cartier to find the whole range of Santos de Cartier timepieces and much more.

Cartier advert of the Santos watch

Santos de Cartier

In 1978, Cartier embarked on a significant transformation of the iconic Santos-Dumont, leading to the birth of the Santos de Cartier. This redesign was a response to the changing landscape of luxury sports watches, inspired by the success of models like the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the Patek Philippe Nautilus, both designed by Gerald Genta.

One of the most striking changes introduced with the Santos de Cartier was the shift from a traditional leather strap to an integrated bracelet. This marked a departure from convention and reflected the contemporary trend of luxury sports watches with seamlessly integrated bracelets. The bracelet design was a departure for Cartier, known for working exclusively with precious metals until then. However, Cartier added a touch of opulence by incorporating 18ct gold elements into both the case and bracelet, striking a balance between sportiness and luxury.

Modern Day Santos

In 2018, Cartier unveiled the latest iteration of one of its most iconic collections, the Cartier Santos, at SIHH. Renowned as the first men's wristwatch, the Cartier Santos has undergone a transformation that not only preserves its historical significance but also introduces innovative features for contemporary versatility.

The defining feature of the 2018 Santos Collection is the introduction of Cartier's innovative "QuickSwitch" system. This mechanism allows for the effortless changing of straps and bracelets with a simple button press on the underside of the watchband. Whether transitioning from a bracelet to a leather strap or moving from a formal to a casual look, the QuickSwitch system enables a swift transformation in a matter of seconds. In addition, the collection introduces "SmartLink," a technology where each link of the bracelet includes a release button, allowing easy adjustment of the bracelet size without the need for tools.

The Cartier Santos Collection offers versatility not only in functionality but also in design and size. Two size options are available: large at 39.8 x 47.5mm and medium at 35.1 x 41.9mm. The cases come in various materials, including steel, two-tone steel and 18ct yellow gold, full 18ct yellow gold, and full 18ct pink gold. The square dial maintains the classic chic design with stylised Roman numerals in black.

The 2018 Santos collection features two mechanical movements. The main collection is powered by the in-house automatic calibre 1847-MC. This movement operates at 4Hz, providing a 42-hour power reserve and ensuring accurate timekeeping. The large version includes a date display at 6 o'clock. The skeletonised options, exclusive to the large case size, boast Cartier's calibre 9611-MC. This hand-wound movement, equipped with double barrels, offers a substantial 72-hour power reserve, revealing the intricate workings of the movement through a skeletonised dial.

A video demonstrating the QuickSwitch & SmartLink systems can be found here.


Available Now

The Santos de Cartier watch stands as an icon, credited as the first modern wristwatch. Its distinctive design, characterised by visible screws and a bold square silhouette, has seamlessly evolved with the changing times, all while remaining faithful to the watch's groundbreaking inspiration. Check out below two stunning Santos de Cartier models available now at MVS Watches:

Two Cartier Santos models resting on Cartier display boxes


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