Aging Gracefully: Cartier’s
SANTOS DE CARTIER
Before the wristwatch was invented, men carried only pocket watches. Men, that is, who wore waistcoats, with the appropriate pockets to store watches that were often as big as a hockey puck.
—By Carol Besler
Only women of royalty or aristocratic wealth wore watches on their wrist, as it was considered a form of adornment, a type of bracelet. England’s Queen Elizabeth I is said to have worn the first bracelet watch in 1580 during a visit from the Pope. The Queen of Naples commissioned a Breguet wristwatch in 1810, and Countess Koscowicz, a Polish noblewoman, had one made by Patek Philippe some years later.
Men were less inclined to so adorn themselves until 1904, when Brazilian socialite and aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont stepped up to stop the nonsense. He asked his friend Louis Cartier to create a hands-free watch that he could use while flying his aircraft, something that would strap to his wrist so he wouldn’t have to let go of the controls to pull out a pocket watch in order to navigate. Soon afterward, Cartier marketed the Santos watch to the public at large, and so the “pilot watch” was born. It was as un-pocket-watch is it could get, with a square case shape – designed to mirror the four sharp corners of the Eiffel Tower – and a screw-set bezel. It was also a more manly option than the heretofore “bracelet watch,” and by the 1940s, the pocket watch all but disappeared in favor of the growing number of more practical wrist versions.
The Santos has remained in the Cartier collection ever since, with the basic design remaining intact through various updates. It was most recently refreshed last year with new in-house movements and self-changing strap attachments that allow the wearer to switch from leather to rubber to a steel bracelet at the press of a button. The new skeletonized Noctambule, with its Super-LumiNova coated bridges carved into Cartier’s signature Roman numerals would have lit up the cockpit like a disco light and would surely have amazed and delighted Alberto Santos-Dumont. The new monopusher chronograph would have consolidated the collection as entirely masculine – although women have been known to covet the watch, the present writer included.
The Santos de Cartier is assembled, calibrated and tested by the Cartier Swiss workshops for resistance to variations in position, humidity, temperature, pressure and exposure to impact and acceleration, all of which can interfere with the accuracy of the watch. Thus, the new Santos is calibrated for robust, everyday wear: it should be good to go for at least another 115 years.