Vintage Eye for the Modern Guy: Cartier Santos 2018

The new Cartier Santos collection was one of the quieter releases of SIHH 2018, although it marks a significant transition for the world’s first wristwatch. With curvier elements, various sizes and materials, and a fresh refinement, the re-introduction of the series, after the discontinuation of the Cartier Santos 100 collection two years ago, is a welcome revamping of one of the most consequential series in watchmaking.


Cartier Santos - vintage

The Santos collection is named for the Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, who received the first of these watches in 1904 from his friend Louis Cartier to assist with in-flight timekeeping (vintage model pictured above). Santos-Dumont wanted a watch that was easier to use and could better free his hands for flight controls than the traditional pocketwatches of the era, and so Cartier — whether realizing he would spark the dawn of the wristwatch or not — developed the piece, which would be introduced to the mass market in 1911. These original pieces were characterized by square-style cases screwed-down from the top of the face, Roman numerals and a square minute ring on the dial, and the hallmark sapphire-tipped crown on the case’s side.

Cartier Santos de Cartier collection

The newest collection (above), known officially as the Santos De Cartier Watch, has twelve different models offered in “medium” and “large” sizing at 35.1-mm and 39.8-mm, respectively. Ten of these models use the traditional black and white dial and will be our central focus, having been released in steel, steel and yellow gold, yellow gold, and rose gold; the two other models opt for skeletonized dials and a different movement from the rest of the updated collection.

Cartier Santos de Cartier - two-tone - strap

Each of the watches uses a square-style Santos case, and — with the exception of the two rose-gold models— are strapped on what has become the very recognizable “screw-punctuated” bracelet that has been associated with the Santos since it was first used in 1978. On the side of the case is a pair of curved crown guards protecting the sapphire-tipped mechanism. Within the screw-down bezel, which mirrors the dimensions of the case, is the familiar dial configuration of the Santos line (along with many other Cartier watches)  — with black, italicized Roman numerals printed on the outer edge, a square-shaped inner minutes “ring” cleanly framing the central, blued steel sword hands indicating the time. Notably, the large models of the watch feature a subtle date window at the 6 o’clock position, while the medium models are dateless.

Cartier Santos de Cartier - case curve

Behind the solid, screwed down caseback of the Santos models is the automatic in-house Caliber 1847 MC. The movement hosts a 42-hour power reserve and is optimized for the non-date models of the watch to avoid an excessive crown position. As the collection has been released in various sizes and materials the pricing varies, with prices beginning at $6,250 for the all-steel, medium model, and going as high as $37,000 for the large, all-gold versions.

 Cartier Santos - vintage 1978

If we’re to properly compare the Santos model to its vintage predecessors, it’s appropriate not only to view it in parallel to the early models of the 1910s, but to the revamped design of the 1970s (picture above, via Christie’s) which is frequently considered a milestone in terms of design for the collection. Of the overarching similarities throughout the last century and more, the modern watch maintains the general case shape, the dial configuration in regards to the outer hour markers and inner minute ring, the blued steel hands, and the famous sapphire-tipped crown of the brand. Yet, undoubtedly, the 2018 release is more reminiscent of the 1970s style than the antique design, most apparently in the screw-accented bracelet, attached outer bezel, flat-style crown with crown guards, and modern sword-style hands.

Cartier Santos - Gold - soldier

Yet while the contemporary piece is easily identifiable within the historical Santos line, it features a number of differences to the vintage models, and more appropriately geared toward a modern consumer, even more so than the Santos 100 line discontinued only a few years earlier. These attributes are seen in the curvier and more integrated style of the case as a whole— from its crown guards and the slightly domed sapphire crystal they protect, to the general case shape and the outer bezel that mirrors its features. On the dial, while the configuration has remained the same, the features on the face are slightly enlarged to meet the size of the case, and which, alongside the expert brushed and mirror polishing on the case, give the watch a very refined and modern look.

Cartier Santos de Cartier - RG - bracelet

This new collection, in my view, has done well in paying homage to the past while consistently moving forward in terms of modernization and design. It comes on the heels of last year’s commemorative century celebration of the iconic Cartier Tank, and — although not explicitly — marks the 40th anniversary of the 1978 Santos model which transitioned the series towards a larger audience. Besides this, it has suitably replaced the old and easily forgotten Santos 100 collection, and has accomplished this not by overhauling the historical design of the series, but by recalling both luxurious nature of the antique models and the modernizing features of the ‘70s in a better-integrated design.

Cartier Santos de Cartier - steel - bracelet

For the most recent article in the “Vintage Eye” series, in which we compare Yema Superman Héritage to its historical counterpart, click here.

Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first discovering horology, he has garnered extensive knowledge in the field and spends much of his time sharing his opinions among other writers, collectors, and dealers. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on many topics, and a casual runner.

Leave a Reply