The one watch in the world, that has probably been the most wanted, most loved, most hated and most copied watch for decades, is without any doubts the ‘Santos’ from Cartier. Of course there have been other famous models by other companies, but no brand has been in the spotlight for so long, with just one model.
Cartier Santos Story
Cartier’s decision, now 37 years ago, to release a steel/gold and therefor more commercial and affordable variation on their first mens watch, the Santos Dumont, was more or less, a down grade of the prestige Santos Dumont model in 18k gold. It was quite a departure for the brand, that used to have a very elegant and classic watch collection, in precious metals only.
The new and sporty Cartier Santos in stainless steel, now with crown guards and automatic movement, not only changed the collection, it also changed the way people looked at Cartier. Suddenly the new Cartier Santos became a “Must Have” watch and an item people spoke about. The launch of the new Cartier Santos watch in Paris, October 20th. 1978, was a real historic date, since this was THE re-invention of the first and most famous Cartier watch; the Santos Dumont, that Louis Cartier originally created in 1904, for his friend, the Brazilian aviator Santos Dumont. The presentation took place, during one of the so well known glamorous Gala evenings, Cartier was so famous for.
This time it was at the ‘Musée de l’Air’ in Paris. A really unique location, since the airplane of Santos Dumont, named ‘Demoiselles’, is still housed here. The new and much more casual Cartier Santos, with its case and bracelet in steel and gold, started a successful second youth, right after its launch. The Cartier Santos looked very sporty, with the screws all over the bracelet and on the bezel, yet it hadn’t lost any of its classic appeal. The white dial, roman numerals and blued baton hands, Cartier’s well known signature, was still there. Besides the black bakelite Santos that was sold around 1924, this was one of the first, or probably the first watch by Cartier, that was not made in a precious metal. This, for that time really incredible looking watch, was housed in a 29 x 41mm mm case. The mix of steel with gold was new and awaked the competition to create a lot of ‘Me Too’ products. Within a couple of years this new Cartier Santos became the most copied watch in the world, since it was, without any doubts, the watch to have, for the current and also for a new, mainly younger, clientele. Not long after the release, the watch was presented in all steel and every few years, variations on the model were added to the collection. Variations like an all yellow gold model, a plain grey dial version with just the date window @ 3, guilloche dials with applied gold numerals, a limited platinum version with a ruby set in the crown, round and octagon models, various Galbée versions in gold, in steel and in steel gold, a limited edition Galbée in platinum with applied numerals
and a stunning limited edition Galbée in 2002 with a grey dial, without a date window, are just to name a few. This special edition that was launched in 2002, had the classic dimensions and is one of the best looking versions, Cartier created. “Galbée” became the model name of the next variation of the Cartier Santos since the new case was slightly bend or curved, what the French call Galbée. The trend for larger watches was coming up and 2005 was the year that the XL version of the Galbée was presented in a steel gold- and in all steel case and bracelet. The bigger version of the famous classic Cartier Santos, was an extra choice for the next six years.
In 2012 there were just two mechanical mens Cartier Santos models in the catalogue left over, the Santos Galbée XL in steel with gold and the version in all steel, that I am using for this article, both powered with the automatic ETA movement, caliber 49. This XL version had a much larger case of 32 x 45.5mm, compared to the original, that measured 29 x 41mm.
Quite a bit bigger from the original and for many a step in the right direction, since not only the watch case was larger, also the bracelet became wider and gave a bolder look, especially on the inside of the wrist. The buckle with the prominent CC logo, was already replaced for a blind closure. Also the inside of the links were now completely flat instead of hollowed. But that was not all, a closer look at the dial learns that, unfortunately the word AUTOMATIC was added. On the other hand a really great improvement was the location of the new date window, that used to take all the space of the number 3, while the Galbée XL has a neat date window, located between the IIII and the V. Large enough to see it well, without messing up the classic design of the Roman numerals. That made all the difference!
Another important detail that changed the appearance of the watch, is the back of the case. The new curved shape of the case and the different movement, resulted in a flatter back. While the first model had that small funny tummy, the case of the Galbée XL is completely flat and curved. While there was no reason to complain about the fit of the classic Santos, the Galbée XL feels better and sits better on the wrist, mainly because of the curve.
The Santos is without a doubt among Cartier’s most legendary designs and, next to the Tank, the model people identify Cartier with. Which is no wonder, since the watch has been part of the collection for the last 38 years.
Despite the fact that fashion dictates larger watches these days, it is remarkable how many classic Santos watches are still in use and especially how well the 18K gold version of the classic version is doing in the second hand market. The XL model, that certainly is the better choice, was unfortunately never available in yellow- or pink gold.
The Santos Galbée XL did going to make it till its 40th. jubilee, since Cartier is upgrading their collection with new models like the ‘Calibre de Cartier’ and the ‘Clé de Cartier’, all supplied with Manufacture calibers, developed and made at Cartier in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
The famous Santos de Cartier, is now about to retire. But real Cartier connoisseurs know;
‘Legends never really die at ‘La Maison’.