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Elegant adventurer’s timepiece gets modern updates

Aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, for whom Louis Cartier designed the first Santos watch

The myth of the Santos de Cartier watch has been maintained since its creation in 1904, and goes beyond the story of Alberto Santos-Dumont.

The square shape remains unchanged. It echoes the refinement and symmetry of Parisian geometry of the era. Also unchanged are the eight screws on the bezel, a tribute to the mechanical steel structures associated with a golden age of urban architecture. Here, Cartier dared to display a functional element that had been hitherto concealed.

The strap is the defining element in the history of the Santos de Cartier, the first modern wristwatch. The original strap was in leather; now available in steel, gold, calfskin or alligator skin, all versions are interchangeable, thanks to the Cartier QuickSwitch system (patent pending) hidden under the strap.


Another cutting-edge feature is the SmartLink self-fitting technology (patent pending), which adjusts the length of the metal bracelet to the nearest link without the use of a tool.

Thanks to the screw-down assembly design, the new Santos de Cartier offers water resistance up to 10 bar (~100 m) with minimal case thickness.

Alberto Santos-Dumont was an icon of modern aeronautic engineering who famously piloted the first hot air balloon flights in 1897 and invented the predecessor of the airplane, La Demoiselle, in 1907. He was more than just an aviator; his style, personality and sense of innovation made him a thoroughly modern man.

He was close to Gustave Eiffel, Jules Verne, and other members of the industrial, artistic and scientific elite. After he met Louis Cartier in 1900, the ensuing friendship was a catalyst for progress. In 1901, the aviator complained of his difficulty checking the time on his pocket watch while flying. Three years later, Louis Cartier invented the

first purpose-designed modern wristwatch for Santos-Dumont.

Cartier also unveils its new Santos de Cartier campaign, a 60-second film directed by Seb Edwards and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, that lets the imagination take flight.

The film is inspired by the persona of Alberto Santos-Dumont. His story of irrepressible ambition is told in 60 seconds that capture the thrill of adventure.

Seb Edwards, a British director who trained in New York, is known for his award-winning campaigns.


“I wanted to create a Fellini-style fantasy world to tell the thrilling story through the eyes of Cartier. I tried to capture the spirit of Alberto Santos Dumont and his obsession with flight, speed and danger,” Edwards said.

The artistic collaboration with American actor and producer Jake Gyllenhaal proved thoughtful and rewarding. (Watch it on www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7y4ctPznzY&feature= youtu.be)

Strategy director

The artistic, image and strategy director behind the Santos campaign is Cartier’s Pierre Rainero, who joined Cartier in Paris in 1984 as international advertising manager. Today, at Cartier International, the Frenchman heads research and strategy, the communication department, artistic direction of Cartier products, and all image-related matters.

Cartier’s Pierre Rainero

He supervises the constantly enriched Cartier Collection, representing today more than 1,300 historical pieces. Here, excerpts from an interview exclusive to Inquirer:

What is the value or relevance of Cartier creations, specifically the Santos de Cartier, to today’s generation?

There are two essential values conveyed by the new Santos de Cartier watch. First is its notion of elegance, which is common to all Cartier masculine timepieces. This is extremely important because Cartier was originally a jewelry house. To bridge jewelry making and masculine objects strikes the notion of elegance.

Next is the concept of boldness in this creation. The Santos de Cartier was created in 1904 first for a pioneer in the aviation field, the first timepiece created for an aviator. The combination of this pioneering field and elegance is very much associated with Cartier.

In a previous interview, you mentioned how a woman could be elegant yet not fashionable—could you elaborate more on this?

There’s a notion that elegance is always fashionable. I think elegance is linked to a faithful expression of your own personality. You feel the elegance of a person in the way a person behaves and the way they wear whatever the attire is, the way it’s natural—“natural” meaning that it’s not something forced, and you don’t feel there’s a desperate attempt to look like other people. It doesn’t mean that it’s homogenized or a look or appearance just like everybody else. It can be, on the contrary, something very, very different, as long as you feel that it expresses the real personality, and you get that strong feeling of something effortless. I think that’s what true elegance is, together with a certain sense of, of course, beauty.

Tell us about the Santos de Cartier watch—its design, what sets it apart, and the philosophy behind it.
Before the Santos watch, watches worn on the wrist were mostly feminine and consisted of a pocket watch attached to a decorating lace, cord or chain to wrap on the wrist. Similarly, we are aware of records of soldiers wearing watches on their wrist prior to the Santos, and these were also pocket watches. With Santos, Louis Cartier specifically designed the watch to integrate a bracelet, with the horns following the shape of the case, hence “the first watch designed to be worn on the wrist.”

The straight lines of a redesigned Paris in the 1900s inspired the angular square shape of Santos.

Santos de Cartier in gold and steel

Santos de Cartier Skeleton Watch in steel

What are the considerations Cartier had in mind in redesigning of the New Santos de Cartier watch?
The design of the New Santos watch embodies the historical codes of Santos, the square shape and visible screws, reinterpreted and complemented by a new bezel seamlessly integrating case and bracelet, and complete redefined proportions, where every millimeter and every gram was carefully engineered to offer the best comfort on the wrist. The creation of the Santos watch in 1904 stems from the encounter of Louis Cartier with his friend, pioneer and aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont. What is fascinating with this story is the creative genesis of the watch. Why make it square? Why show its screws?

Answering these questions comes down to realizing the effervescence of Paris in the 1900s. Paris had just been profoundly redesigned, under the impulsion of Baron Haussmann. These straight lines, visible from the sky, inspired the angular square shape of Santos. In the midst of an industrial revolution, Paris hosted World Fairs in 1889 and 1900 that left their mark on history as manifestations of technological progress.

What innovation makes it most relevant to this age?

The patented QuickSwitch interchangeability system enables you to change the strap of your Santos without any tools, in an instant, to fit any occasion and any taste. Another new function, the also patented Smartlink system, enables you to adjust the size of the metallic strap, link by link, once again without any tools and in a matter of seconds. The entire development and manufacture process of the new Santos guarantees optimum comfort and lasting quality and reliability.

Can you describe the Santos Man—his lifestyle, his needs?

A man who has a Santos de Cartier on his wrist is a man of tremendous character. Alberto Santos-Dumont was an aviator and a pioneer who designed 22 flying machines; in a way he invented the future. His will and determination enabled him to break records, pushing society forward. He was also a man of style, recognized for his particular allure, stemming from a quest of elegance and practicality. Finally, his character and exploits attracted a lot of attention and fascination.

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