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The Santos de Cartier adapts to the times

A subtle design cue transforms the classic timepiece into a contemporary statement. Is it worth it?

I find square and rectangular classic watches quite handsome. Timepieces like the Cartier Tank, which continues to have a cult following since its creation in 1917, rank highly in my list of dream watches. 

In fact, the French luxury goods conglomerate has an interesting past with these shapes. Take the Santos de Cartier, named after Brazilian aviator and inventor Alberto Santos-Dumont, a revered and important figure in the early development of aircraft. 

The timepiece is defined by its square silhouette, balanced proportions, visible screws, precise lines on the watch dial, and overall minimalist design. Louis Cartier made the watch for Santos-Dumont in 1904 when the aviator wished to be able to tell the time while flying. This cemented the timepiece as the first modern wristwatch. 

Over the past century, the Santos de Cartier’s core design has remained unchanged. The screws allude to the golden age of urban architecture, while the square design evokes the symmetry of Parisian geometry. The straps have evolved to suit contemporary tastes, with steel and gold bracelets joining calfskin and alligator skin options. 

One of the recent additions to the Santos de Cartier line, revealed during Watches & Wonders 2022 at Geneva, proves that the design DNA of this storied watch can coexist with a modern and sporty aesthetic. 

Available with either a blue or white dial, this particular variant has interchangeable rubber and steel bracelets and a physical vapor deposition (PVD) coating on the bezel—in simpler terms, Cartier added a thin layer of metal onto the bezel to give it extra protection and, undeniably, a robust look. 

The choice of using PVD on a classic watch is an interesting move, as it may raise a few eyebrows from those who prefer the Santos de Cartier to remain as classic as it can get. I personally don’t mind the contemporary refresh—if anything, it breathes new life into the timepiece and allows itself to be worn by a wider variety of watch enthusiasts.