History and Notable History

All creations have a history. As long as time marches forward, by default yesterday is today's history and today will be tomorrow's.

Now, not all history is notable – much is forgotten, while some even revised.

Notable, however, is the history of the Cartier de Santos watch – a chronicle reserved as the first pilot's watch. In fact, the first watch designed for the wrist.

Here's how that unfolded.

Introducing Alberto Santos-Dumont

Alberto Santos Dumont piloting his airplane

Alberto Santos-Dumont, (born July 20, 1873) was not your everyday Brazilian. The son of a wealthy coffee plantation owner, he controlled a sizeable inheritance. Traveling to France to study engineering, Alberto became fascinated with balloon flight and outfitted his balloons with engine and steering capabilities. In 1901 he won the 100,000-franc Deutsch prize for an 11.3-km (7-mile) flight with his airship No. 6 from the Paris suburb of St. Cloud to the Eiffel Tower and back in less than half an hour.

European interest in Alberto’s aviator endeavors, as well as his attractive persona, quickly made him a celebrity. This was only enhanced when he presented one-fourth of the prize money to his crew and the rest to the poor people of Paris.

Santos and his Santos

Shortly thereafter in 1903, he accomplished the first public flight in Europe, on September 13 with a powered winged aircraft; went on to win the Archdeacon Cup on October 23 for a flight of 60 meters (about 200 feet); and won an Aero Club of France prize of 1,500 francs for the first flight of 100 meters (about 330 feet) on November 12.

Hampered by having to rely on a pocket watch, he complained to his close friend, Louis Cartier, a French jeweler and horologist, that he needed to keep his hands on the controls, and using the pocket watch was disruptive. Cartier developed a watch that was attached to the wrist via leather straps and presented that watch, a squared gold watch with exposed screws.

History created the first wristwatch and the first pilot watch at that moment in 1904, and Louis Cartier’s newly invented wristwatch worn by the popular young aviator, Alberto Santos-Dumont, created two celebrities – Alberto Santos-Dumont and the Cartier de Santos watch.

Clearly notable horological history.

The Cartier de Santos

Santos in Box

First available commercially in 1912, the Cartier de Santos has been offered in a number of variations. More recently (circa 2018) the Santos de Cartier – references WSSA0009, 0006 and 0011 – in stainless steel, two-tone and gold and sized at 35.1 and 39.8, has been released.

With a case thickness of 8.83mm and water resistance of 10 atm, the Santos is available in two sizes, a medium model which measures 35.1mm x 41.9mm and a larger option sized at 39.8mm x 47.5mm. As rectangular watches, these would appear to be equivalent, approximately, to 39mm and 42mm round watches.

CartierCaliber 1847

The Santos de Cartier deploys the inhouse automatic Cartier Caliber 1847 MC, which measures 25.6mm across, has 23 jewels, beats at 4 Hz (28,800 vph), and sports a 42-hour power reserve.

Santos Quickswitch system

Available in both a stainless steel bracelet and leather strap, both feature a “QuickSwitch” system which makes changing… well, quick. Since, however, this is specific to the Santos, other commercial strap options are not going to be available. This shouldn’t be an issue as there are a number of strap selections and the prices are within a range of acceptability – $250 in calfskin to $380 in alligator. You can check out the options at the Cartier site here.

In addition to the “QuickSwitch”, the Santos also features a “SmartLink” system. With this, you can adjust the band size by simply pressing on a button on each link and pulling out the pen to add and remove links to size the bracelet. This is actually really well-engineered and very cleaver. As with work on any stainless steel, you’ll need to take precautions not to scratch it.

The price point for the stainless steel version is $6,250 in medium and $6,850 for the large. It’s no longer really a pilot watch. In fact, the military had specified round watches as their choice of style long ago which left the Santos as the odd man out. It is, however, a nice crossover between a dress watch, with its slim profile and white face – especially with an alligator strap, and every day watch in a stainless steel bracelet.


Cartier de Santos

Is it a bargain? It's not cheap – certainly. But even without its historical significance, the fit, and finish, 10 ATMs in an automatic in a rectangular-shaped watch, as well as features like the QuickSwitch and SmartLink and optional straps with the overall masculine dress/sport/everyday looks of this watch, makes it extremely attractive. Add that to the notable history of the Santos, and you have a watch that easily makes my bucket list.