The Santos de Cartier Collection

Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont was one of the most famous men in the world at the turn of the century, thanks to his pioneering work with airships and controlled flight.

He is also one of the most important figures in the history of watchmaking, helping to popularise the use of wristwatches among men. Before Santos-Dumont took to the skies most gents would carry pocketwatches, but in 1904 the Brazilian ‘Father of Aviation’ asked his friend Louis Cartier to design a timepiece that could be worn on his wrist. The wristwatch had actually been invented decades before, but when he emerged from the cockpit after a world-famous flight in 1906 wearing one, the admiring crowd and media were intrigued – and an industry was born.

More than a century later, the Santos de Cartier collection still pays homage to the design and functionality requirements of one of the first timepieces designed to be strapped to the wrist. The original Santos had no structural break between the case and the attachments, fully incorporated lugs and a novel square case with rounded corners – all traits that can be seen in the four modern variations of the collection: Santos de Cartier Galbée, Santos-Dumont, Santos 100 and Santos Demoiselle.

The sporty and elegant feel of the original is encapsulated in the Santos de Cartier Galbée, which artfully combines gold and steel cases with silver dials and Cartier’s trademark sword-shaped blued-steel hands. Quartz and automatic movements are available, with size options to suit both sexes.

Launched in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the original, the Santos 100 could be considered the most masculine model of the collection, with case sizes around 10mm larger than its Santos de Cartier Galbée equivalents. The most exquisite piece in the range is undoubtedly the Santos 100 Skeleton, which features a palladium case, an individually numbered manual mechanical movement and a striking bridge skeleton face that reveals the intricacies inside.

The Demoiselle model – named after Santos-Dumont’s famous light aircraft – is designed specifically for ladies. Variations of this elegant and streamlined design include white, yellow and pink gold cases and bracelets, round-cut diamond adornments and a choice of ‘small’ or ‘mini’ sizes.

For those seeking truly understated elegance, the Santos-Dumont is a fine choice. Launched in 2004, this model favours simplicity over embellishment: the rectangular face shows only the time (and not the date), while the watchcase – available in a variety of golds and titanium – is streamlined and unencumbered by distraction. After all, an aviator does not welcome any kind of distraction…