My Cartier Santos Galbée XL (reference 2823 from 2006) and Rolex Explorer (reference 114270 from 2004) are both stainless steel sports watches. Both of them have quite iconic dials, and both also look best on their original bracelets. But still, the two are not often compared to each other. Maybe that’s because Cartier and Rolex are each in a league of their own. But if I could only keep one, it would be very hard to choose which one has to go. Let me show you how similar they are, and while we’re at it, I’ll also highlight the small differences for you.

I already put my Cartier Santos up against the Omega Speedmaster Professional in a Sunday Morning Showdown once. Those are also two watches that seem quite different at first. But in the article, I try to explain that it can actually be kind of hard to choose between the two. And the score of that Sunday Morning Showdown shows how true that is. I just checked the balance between the two, and right now, they’re exactly at 50% each. Let’s see what the score will be for the Santos and the Explorer.

Cartier Santos Galbée XL

Yes, they are different

I’ll start by highlighting the differences between these two icons. The most obvious one is the shape, I guess. The Santos Galbeé XL, with its square dial and case, is definitely the more extravagant one here. Don’t get me wrong, the Explorer still has a lot of character, but its case uses a far more conventional round shape. And although the dials of both these watches have very characteristic numerals on them, they’re certainly also very different in style. In one corner, we see the Santos with Cartier’s signature black Roman numerals. At first, you wouldn’t really associate them with a sports watch, but I love the contrast between the strong-looking case and bracelet and the elegant numerals.

my Rolex Explorer 114270

In the other corner, we see the Rolex Explorer with its bold 3, 6, and 9 on the dial. They give the watch the tough attitude that differentiates it from its more elegant sibling, the Datejust. Then there’s the fact that the Santos has a date window, which, actually, is not so nicely executed. The Explorer does without a date, which makes it maybe a little less practical in daily life (I always understand the majority prefers a date on their watches). On the other hand, it helps keep the dial straightforward and clean. And finally, there’s the difference between the clasps.

I don’t really have a preference between the Santos’s fully concealed butterfly clasp or the Explorer’s incognito folding clasp. But it’s very nice to be able to micro-adjust the size of the bracelet, which is not a possibility on the Santos. That’s a shame, but the links are quite small, so finding the right fit isn’t too hard anyway.

Cartier Santos Galbée XL

But, in a way, they’re also very similar

Despite all the differences mentioned above, I still think the Santos Galbée XL and the Explorer are quite similar in the end. They’re both rated water resistant to 10 ATM, even though the Santos doesn’t have a screw-down crown. As I already mentioned, they both look best on their fantastic bracelets, and they also wear scratches equally well on their mirror-polished bezels. But what’s actually the most similar about these watches is how (good) they feel on the wrist. Even though one is square and the other is round, they’re still sized quite similarly.

Cartier Santos Galbée XL

The Santos Galbée XL has a 32mm diameter, but because it’s square, it wears a lot closer to the Explorer’s 36mm size. And with an 11mm profile, the Explorer is 2mm thicker than the Santos, but a big part that added “bulk” is caused by its protruding sapphire crystal, an element that I actually really like. Finally, the differences in the 44–45mm lug-to-lug lengths are negligible, and that means both watches wear so very comfortably on my 17cm wrist.

It’s so nice to grab either one of the two in the morning, open up its clasp, put it on my wrist, and firmly close the clasp again. Both feel so sturdy and well made, and boy, do they look great on the wrist!

So, who’s the winner?

But we’re here to pick the best one for daily wear. And as you can see, it will come down to the very small differences between the two. For example, it’s a bit trickier to set the time and date with the Santos’s seven-sided crown, which also sits between two crown guards. The Explorer’s crown is much more accessible, and the nice bonus here is that there’s no date to set. So that’s 1-0 for the Explorer. Then there’s the fact that it also has micro-adjustment holes for the bracelet, which is also very convenient in daily life. So I’d say it’s 2-0 now.

But I definitely think that the Santos Galbée XL is a bit more versatile. Since its style is a little more on the dressy side, I honestly cannot think of an occasion where it would look out of place. The Explorer is a bit more on the sporty side with its glossy black dial and fat numerals. So I think the Santos wins this one. Now it’s 2-1.

Cartier Santos Galbée XL

And not that it really matters, but the Santos, at least to me, also seems like a more original choice. Everyone and their mother has a Rolex these days, and the Explorer, in particular, is everyone’s friend. With the Cartier Santos, you’ll stand out a bit more in the crowd. That’s definitely something I like about it, so I’d say the score is 2-2 now.

You decide!

That means we’ve come to a draw, and I think the best way to solve this is by letting you, dear Fratelli, vote for your favorite. So please pick your favorite between the Santos Galbée XL and the Explorer, and let me know in the comments below why you chose the watch you voted for. I’m curious to see which one you think is the better daily wearer.

P.S. Last year, I wrote an article on how the Santos is “exactly the Datejust I was looking for.” But in hindsight, I think it was exactly the Explorer I was looking for.

You can find and follow me on Instagram: @fliptheparrot

Cartier Santos Galbée XL vs. Rolex Explorer