The impossible happened. The Cartier Santos Galbée changed my mind about bimetallic watches. Just a bit, but every bit counts.

Every time I’ve seen steel and gold mixed together on a watch face or a bracelet, I give it a wide berth. Maybe it’s just my childhood memories of walking through cheap markets full of rubbish goods (calling them gadgets would be an overstatement) from Russia or China. As much as I love debating with people and encouraging them to try new things on their wrists, I remain chained to my radical views on bimetallic watches.

Gold and steel together

When I see cold steel and warm gold together, I have to cover my eyes to un-see an outfit ready for a local ’90s disco. I wasn’t around in ’78 when Cartier resurrected the Santos, so I had to read up on the history. Apparently, the gold/steel combination was seen as audacious upon its launch. And maybe that’s putting it mildly. I believe this was not only due to the fact that the resurrected Santos was one of the first Cartier watches not made from precious metal, but also the daring combination of metals chosen.

Santos for a new audience

The Santos in steel was allegedly an idea from a smart marketer who wanted to push the brand to a new audience. Boy did he succeed. If the fact that the watch was the world’s most copied timepiece just a few years after market release isn’t a compliment, I don’t know what is. The Cartier Santos looked very sporty from day one. That’s still true today. The screws all over the bracelet and on the bezel bring a specific designer to my mind, but this wouldn’t be particularly new or original speculation. However strong and industrial the Santos seems to be, the classic Cartier DNA is undeniable.

It’s fascinating how “Cartier” all Cartier watches are and they remain so relevant for decades.

Despite the fact that every single year many other watch manufacturers try to challenge it, the Cartier charm becomes stronger and stronger. It doesn’t matter if you hate or love Cartier. I didn’t belong to either camp, I was just an ignoramus who didn’t bother finding a reason to acquire any particular attitude. Honestly, I only started to pay attention to Cartier when I found out that my girlfriend, now wife, wore one. Upon one of our first dates, we traded watches. I gave her my vintage Medana, while she gave me her Cartier Tank for a day. It wasn’t at all bad and thus my affair with Cartier began.

Unexpected find

It is only a few months ago that I got an email from a random lady that she was in possession of a Cartier watch and wondered if I would like to take a look at it. I asked for more pictures and that was the first time I ever spent more than two seconds looking at a Cartier Santos. When she said that the highest offer she got was 180 Euros, I immediately told her I would take it.

At the time, it was purely a rational decision. I didn’t have a particular desire to own a Cartier, definitely not the bimetallic kind, but it would be a disgrace not to land such an icon for close to nothing. We discussed the watch in a lot of emails over the next few days with the seller. Learning the surprising story behind the watch made me love this Cartier even before I first put my hands on it.

Simple story

Spoiler alert, no blue-eyed actors, astronauts, nor presidents owned this watch. The most recent owner?  nurse named Lenka. Lenka had been looking after an old lady (94) for quite some time. She visited the old woman daily. The old lady didn’t allow her to clean the apartment or to cook, the only thing she wanted from her was to sit and talk to her and take her out to get some fresh air every day. They often went to a coffee shop or for a glass of wine. The old lady, called Tatiana, was married for 60 years to a man that she never had children with. She did, however, have a son from her first marriage who was an internationally respected doctor. The watch that lays on my table right now probably would have sat on his wrist, but he died of AIDS when he was 45.

The old lady was never the same after the loss of her son.

The Cartier Santos belonged to her husband, a well-educated academic that traveled the world. The moment Tatiana was unable to stay at home anymore and had to go to a special care facility, she decided to give the Cartier Santos to Lenka. As Lenka had no affection for watches and it otherwise would have sat in a drawer, she decided to sell it. Thankfully, I was the recipient. When my wife takes her Cartier Tank, I take my Galbée. There hasn’t been a single day with the Santos that I don’t think about Tatiana or her husband, wondering what he looked like. What he was like and where the watch traveled with him.

From Santos to Galbée

The Cartier Santos Dumont was completely revised in 1987 and was relaunched as the Santos. The strictly straight lines became more curved around the lugs. This meant that the new Santos sits better on the wrist than the original one. The Galbée model was introduced 8 years later. The reference number 187901 is followed by another 5 digits on the next line. The serial number of my Santos starts with a zero. That suggests I may have landed one of the earlier pieces. According to the records I have located, that would date this piece towards the early ’90s.

Most of Santos Galbée models are fitted with quartz, and so is my example. After we gave it an ultrasonic bath with my watchmaker, all the grease disappeared, and its sharp edges came to original glory. We obviously chose not to polish so that the thousands of micro-scratches remain visible, reminding me this watch was worn often.

The dial

I won’t share the notoriously obvious things, such as Roman numerals and blued hands, Cartier’s well-known signature. What gives me the greatest amazement is the cork tone of the dial. I tried hard and I found two or three reference models sold online that developed this tone. Mine is the only one so dark, consistent and homogeneous that it looks like it was printed in such a color. If you have any reference pictures you might share with us, we would be grateful.

Shotgun notes

I like the paper-like finish of the dial, it’s simply beautiful. The railroad minute track that is the mother of all other railroad tracks precisely fits the second-hand cuts. The date window is so small and the date font so thin that you can hardly see it. This brings us to the 29mm x 41mm dimensions that probably had a lot to do with the massive steroid injection the brand gave this model in the year 2005 with the Santos Galbée XL.

Time reading is nothing but perfect…

I love the original classy dimensions. I am no Cartier expert nor a die-hard fan, but for me, a true Cartier feeling is connected to more modest proportions. Time reading is nothing but perfect, with sword hands crossing the minute track and numerals at the same time. The integrated bracelet looks fabulous and sits fabulously too. It reminds me of the comfy days I spent with the legendary Royal Oak 5402B, also as a part of the 52Mondayz series.

Last thoughts

With the majority of sales going through dealers lately, discovering genuine personal stories is a bonus. Call it the beauty of a private sale. Knowing the story behind your watch doesn’t mean you’re starting from scratch. It is your responsibility to preserve the story of previous owners and continue building upon it. My relationship with the Cartier Santos was completely random and unexpected.

I don’t feel like a bimetallic gypsy king.

When I look at my wrist now, I don’t feel like a bimetallic gypsy king. The Cartier Santos reminds me that watch collecting is not only about watches that spend years on my bucket list. I am thankful for my spontaneous trip to the previously hated bimetallic club and I encourage you to go tripping too. Feel free to share watches you’re your collection that changed their status from “over my dead body,” to “definitely in.” I am sure there are some.

More about the Cartier Santos here.

A big thank you to George Cramer for some corrections and pointers.