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The new Santos gets a modern makeover

Cartier's first wristwatch sits even more comfortably on the wrist in its latest reincarnation.

Santos de Cartier's large model in steel.

Santos de Cartier's large model in yellow gold and steel.

Santos de Cartier's medium model in pink gold.

PATEK Philippe and Girard-Perregaux were thought to be among the first to produce timepieces for the wrist in the 19th century. But wristwatches of that period were known essentially to be pocket watches adapted for the wrist.

The first wristwatch designed and made from scratch is probably the Cartier Santos. The timepiece, recognised by its square case, was created in 1904.

While the early wristwatches were mostly dress watches worn on formal occasions, the Santos is arguably also the first wristwatch produced specifically for an outdoor adventurous purpose.


The Santos came about after Brazilian pioneer aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont complained to his pal Louis Cartier that he had a hard time checking the time on his pocket watch while flying. That was in 1901. Three years on, Louis Cartier, the son of the founder of Cartier who bore the same name, unveiled the Santos de Cartier, the first purpose-designed modern wristwatch.

The Santos has helped turn the aristocratic jeweller into a household name. Naturally it's now part of Cartier's permanent watch collections, appearing through successive decades in different variations of materials and sizes.

In its latest efforts to update the Santos, the Cartier design studio has given attention to comfort, intelligent proportions and respect for the watch's aesthetic.

It's still recognised by the square shape as, the brand says, "this echoes the refinement and symmetry of Parisian geometry of the era, as extolled in the four angular corners of the Eiffel Tower". But the rounded square shapes of old have given way to new straight lines.

The bezel has been straightened to meet the strap. The sleeker lines are supposed to enhance "the stylistic dynamic" of the Santos.

The eight screws on the bezel are still there in the new Santos. This functional hardware, a miniature nod to the proliferation of mechanical steel structures of the golden age of urban architecture, has been concealed in past models. The functional element is now on full display.

Thanks to the screw-down assembly design, the latest Santos is water-resistant up to 100 metres.

According to Cartier, the strap is the defining element in the Santos' history.

"The original strap was in leather, a totally new material in watch-making, and left the wearer free of the restrictions of the pocket watch," it says.

The strap continues to define the Santos. The new Santos is fitted on a new innovative strap or bracelet that's in keeping with the spirit of our time. "The new strap caters to modern lifestyles and ease of movement and can be tailored to suit any occasion according to the choice of materials and colours," Cartier says.

The new strap and bracelet have a patent-pending "QuickSwitch" mechanism that allows the strap or bracelet to be easily detached by pressing a tab between the lugs and sliding it upwards. To replace the strap of the bracelet, reverse the motion and it snaps in place with a reassuring click. So because they are easily interchangeable, the new Santos is sold with both a bracelet and leather strap.

Adjusting the bracelet's length will also be a breeze, requiring no special tools. Thanks to a "SmartLink" mechanism (also patent-pending), the attachment bar is unlatched at the touch of a button located on each SmartLink. One of the brushed metal links with screws can be added or removed from the watch.


A Cartier in-house automatic movement, calibre 1847 MC, powers the new Santos, replacing the ETA movements used in the earlier generations of the watch. The anti-magnetic movement runs at 4Hz and has a power reserve of 48 hours.

The latest Santos de Cartier comes in two sizes - medium (35.1 by 41.9mm) and large (39.8 by 47.5mm) - and in four metals - stainless steel, solid 18k yellow gold or pink gold, and "bimetal" of steel with yellow gold accents. Only the large model has a date display.

Prices range from US$6250 to US$43,200.

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