Santos de Cartier: The Elegant Adventurer

Specialist Picks • 15 Jun 2023

Santos de Cartier: The Elegant Adventurer

How Louis Cartier’s friendship with one of the early aviators gave birth to the perennial Santos collection.


Santos de Cartier in gold and Santos de Cartier in steel and gold
Santos de Cartier in gold and Santos de Cartier in steel and gold


The early 20th century was a time of great technological innovation and with it, shifts in design philosophy. It’s no surprise, therefore, that within this context, certain friendships may be the catalyst for unexpected creations, and hence give birth to an icon.

The year is 1904. Aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont laments to his friend, Louis Cartier, about the unreliability and impracticality of using a pocket watch when flying. Cartier designed a flat wristwatch with a square bezel, inspired by a square pocket watch that Cartier had produced, with a highly legible dial design featuring Roman numerals, in an Art Deco style that would go on to define Cartier’s style in the subsequent decades.

When Santos-Dumont became the first person to be filmed in an airplane flight in 1906, the footage captured him with a Cartier watch on his wrist. By 1911, Louis Cartier put the watch into serial production, making the Santos collection the first marketed men’s wristwatch.

The Collection Today

The design of the Santos de Cartier watch epitomises Cartier watchmaking, drawing on the concept of form, a taste for minimalism, the precision of proportions and an eye for detail. It was the Maison’s first square watch, designed for the wrist at a time when the pocket watch was round. The screws, traditionally hidden in watchmaking, are made visible and become an aesthetic code of the collection.


Santos de Cartier in rose gold
Santos de Cartier in rose gold


Santos de Cartier watches have proven to be versatile and can be worn for all occasions. In addition to the classic stainless steel models, Santos de Cartier watches are available in a variety of materials, including gold, two-tone combinations, and stainless steel versions.


two tone square watch on a wrist


Cartier’s savoir-faire also exemplifies in the Santos de Cartier skeleton models. Fitted with a manufacture 9611MC manual-wound movement, the skeleton dial and movement showcases Cartier’s understanding of design. The simple double-barrel movement is mechanically straightforward, allowing for its baseplate and bridges to form the characteristic oversized Roman numerals. This transparency in the dial and movement create the illusion of the watch being forever airborne, true to the Santos de Cartier aviation roots.


Sketch and image of a square skeleton watch
Santos de Cartier skeleton watch in steel


The Santos de Cartier continues to encapsulate the spirit of the first aviators today. Its design, with visible screws and a daring square silhouette, adapts effortlessly to the times and stays true to its boundary-breaking inspiration: an elegant companion for modern-day adventure, and whatever that may bring.

Explore Cartier watches at The Hour Glass

Tags: art deco cartier history santos de cartier santos-dumont

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