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A guide to the Cartier Santos watches

Not just any normal watch, the Cartier Santos watch is a revolutionary design that made history when it was first released in 1904. Brazilian aviation pioneer, Alberto Santos-Dumont had initially approached Cartier for a watch that would enable him to reference the time without letting go of flight controls.

Cartier produced the Santos watch – a square-shaped case with lugs that gently curved. The Cartier Santos watch came fitted on a leather band for optimum comfort on the wrist. It also looked incredibly stylish. This innovative design for its time went on to become one of the most sought-after timepieces of the 20th century.

Today it is equally as stylish and collectable. Serious production for the Santos watch began back in 1911, appealing to professional pilots in need of a wrist-worn instrument for keeping accurate track of time whilst flying hundreds of feet in the air. Today it is collected by Cartier enthusiasts and pilot watch collectors alike. 


Why is the Cartier Santos watch so popular?

One of the main reasons why the Cartier Santos watch remains so popular is down to its faithful design, which has remained largely consistent over the course of the last century. Cartier has focused strongly on keeping all the key features of the Santos watch present, including its 8 screw-adorned bezel, its unmissable square-shaped case with gently rounded corners, and its Art Deco-inspired dial with crisp, easily readable Roman numeral hour markers. A central railroad minute track also distinguishes the Cartier Santos watch.

Despite closely following this original design, Santos watches have received some subtle modifications. A specially designed metal bracelet was designed for the Santos watch back in 1978. The bracelet featured screws that mirrored those found on its bezel. A new crown guard was also fitted to the crown at 3 o’clock when the first Santos 100 watch was released back in 2004. 

Cartier Santos watches are also available in 18ct gold versions, making the collection an incredibly versatile one. Its unmistakable style and case shape have become an icon, with additional complications including moon phases, chronographs and tourbillons later joining the range. During the time of its initial release, the Santos had a shape and style that set it apart from other perfectly rounded conventional watches.

Today, there are many reasons why investing in a Santos watch means so much to a collector. The model was classed as the world’s first pilot’s watch and has become a huge part of Cartier’s catalogue since 1904. Its iconic square shape is offered in both men and women’s styles and is made available in skeletonized dials exposing in-house made calibres. 


What are the different versions of the Cartier Santos watch?

The Santos-Dumont and the Santos de Cartier make up the two main lines within the Cartier Santos watch collection. The Santos-Dumont was first released in 2004 and offers a design that is closest to the original Santos watch from 1904. It features a beaded crown set with a striking blue sapphire cabochon, as well as a square-shaped bezel and rounded corners. This two-handed watch has received one main modification, however. What was once a centrally-positioned railroad minute track was moved to the outer section of the dial.

The Santos-Dumont is available in steel and 18ct yellow gold versions, as well as 18ct rose gold. In addition to this, you can also choose from two-tone versions, as well as models with diamonds. Unisex models are available in two sizes that measure dimensions of 27.5 mm x 38 mm for the small size and 31.4 mm x 43.5 mm for the large. An even larger model with dimensions measuring 33.9 mm x 46.6 mm is powered by an in-house movement and goes by the name of the Santos-Dumont XL. 

On the other hand, the Santos de Cartier watch, which first appeared in 2018, features a special crown guard and a tailored bezel that matched its metal bracelet for an overall sportier aesthetic. Similar to the Santos-Dumont watch, Santos de Cartier watches are available in steel, gold and two-tone versions but feature three-handed dial layouts, as well as chronographs and skeletonized dials that are elaborately developed.

There are medium and large-sized watches available from this collection, as well as XL sizes. The medium-sized Santos de Cartier watch measures a 35.1mm diameter, whereas the large-sized model measures a diameter of 39.8mm. The XL size adds another 4mm to its width. These watches too are powered by in-house developed calibres. 


Cartier Santos watches of the past

Santos 100

The Cartier Santos watch was originally launched in 2004 to mark the company’s 100th anniversary of the Santos. Production ceased in 2018, yet this variation of the iconic Santos is still widely sought-after on the second-hand market for its large and imposing style.

The Santos 100 featured a crown guard and measured a masculine and powerful size of 41 mm x 51 mm. With the growth of the watch’s case size came larger Roman numeral hour markers, along with some extra materials. As well as being offered in stainless steel and gold, the Santos 100 was also manufactured in a lightweight titanium material, as well as carbon. In addition to this, there are sleeker and more youthful-looking models that have been finished with a stealthy black ADLC coating. Differing from the Santos de Cartier watch and the Santos-Dumont watch - the Santos 100 was mainly powered by Sellita movements, although some variations were driven by in-house movements, as seen in models like the Santos XL Skeleton and Santos XL Tourbillon. 


Our Pick

Santos

Reference: 2878

Movement: 049, Self-winding

Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, 42h power reserve

Strap: Black Leather

Style: Classic

Cartier Santos watches from the 1970s and 1980s

Honing into trends, Cartier soon grasped the concept of the steel sports watch craze during an era where models like the Royal Oak by Audemars Piguet and the Nautilus watch by Patek Philippe were experiencing huge success. As mentioned during the 1970s, Cartier developed a new bracelet for its Santos watch, with screws that matched the decorative features on the watch’s robust steel bezel. Judging well, Cartier hit the jackpot with this design, as well as its two-tone counterpart also released during this time. 

The Santos Galbee is an example of a quartz-powered Santos wristwatch that was released in 1987 to keep up with the quartz phase and to avoid the crushing effect that the quartz crisis had over traditional Swiss watch manufacturers during this time.

The Santos Galbee was slightly curvier in design. Its curves were ergonomically formed to shape better to the wrist for enhanced comfort. This quartz-powered version of the Santo watch remained in Cartier’s catalogue until 2005 before it was phased out.  

As well as this quartz Santos watch, Cartier released the Santos Ronde available both in a quartz version and in an automatic variation. The model became a popular variant of the Santos during the 1980s and featured a round dial, equipped with a surrounding octagonal-shaped bezel. There were both male and female versions of the Santos Ronde watch, with materials that included stainless steel, 18ct gold and two-tone options. 


Our Pick

Cartier Santos Galbée

Reference: 1567

Movement: 157, Quartz

Functions: Hours, minute, seconds

Strap: Gold and stainless steel

Style: Classic

How much does a Cartier Santos watch cost?

Since the Cartier Santos watch spans a heritage of over 100 years, it comes as no surprise that the price of one will be variable depending on the materials used, its rarity, its features, and whether the model is brand new or purchased from the pre-owned market.

Current models like the Santos-Dumont watch ref. WSSA0023 can be purchased for around $4,300 from a stockist. Pre-owned, the watch can be purchased for around $3,300. The watch comes on a deep blue alligator leather strap, which contrasts beautifully against its brushed and polished stainless steel case and silvered satin-brushed and sunray dial. The two-tone ref. W2SA0012 with a rose gold bezel atop a steel case is priced slightly higher at $6,200 for a brand-new model and $4,700 for a pre-owned model. The large-sized rose gold version, however, can set you back $11,000 for a pre-owned version. 

There is a wide range of prices covered across the Santos de Cartier watch collection too. The Santos de Cartier ref. WSSA0029 costs around $7,700 from brand-new and features a steel-on-steel design, with blued steel hour, minute and second hands, a crisp black Roman numeral hour track and the Calibre 1847 MC powering the watch from inside its robust 100-meter water-resistant case. The watch sells on the pre-owned market for around $6,200. More expensive is a pre-owned XL chronograph version with a black coated bezel. The Santos de Cartier watch ref. WSSA0017 costs closer to $9000 for a second-hand version or $10,600 for a brand new version. Lastly, and significantly higher priced, are the diamond-set versions of the Santos de Cartier watch, which can cost up to around $47,000 for pre-owned models like the Santos de Cartier Skeleton with diamonds, crafted from 18ct rose gold.


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