The Cartier Santos de Cartier — much like the Tank and a few other references from the brand — needs no introduction. You’ve likely heard the history lesson before, about how the Santos holds the title of the world’s first pilot’s watch — not to mention that it’s arguably the first mass produced wristwatch, having been made a public offering in 1911. We’re not here for a history lesson today, but rather a closer look at one of its many modern interpretations. This steel and slate grey reference of the Santos is precisely the kind of wristwatch that’s driving Cartier forward; the brand’s ability to modernize without bastardizing its history is what continues to drive watch enthusiasts to the brand, and is what’s keeping the demand for its wristwatches higher than ever.
Ticking the Right Boxes
There’s an art to getting a watch “just right,” and it’s not always as easy as finessing a spec sheet. Yes, the fact that this Cartier Santos has a very wearable 39.8mm case width and slender 9.38mm case thickness is a good start. It’s also great to see that it uses a quick-change strap system, allowing owners to alternate between rubber, steel, and leather strap and bracelet options (though our tester happily lived on its rubber strap during the loan). These details aside, it’s things like the mixing of brushed finishes on its dial, the heavy application of luminous material on its Roman indices, and the comfort of its curved rubber bracelet that properly complete the package.
Cartier is one of those brands that has always known how to nail it on the details, and this Santos is no exception. They’re one of a few brands that still hide a secret signature on their dials — a technique dating back to the early days of watchmaking that was first used to combat counterfeit attempts. In the case of this reference its hidden in the VII numeral. You’ll also note a detailed trim surrounding its date window, and a date disc that’s properly matched to the ADLC coating used on its bezel and strap. For some, a date indication is still a touchy subject, but the execution here is what we’d expect from a brand operating at this level.
Modern vs. Classic
Over the course of the review period it was surprising how frequently the conversation about comparing this reference to more traditional Santos models came up. What was less surprising was how polarizing the topic was. In one camp were the collectors who love history — the ones who promptly argued that this was a bit too far out of left field, and who believe that if one is to wear a Santos it needs to have a white dial and black numerals. In contrast, the second camp enthusiastically proclaims that this Santos is a more modern and casual reference that’s easier to wear in a variety of environments, and equally dressed up and dressed down. Frankly I align more with the latter camp, but that’s the nice thing about the modern Santos; there are plenty of options to choose from, depending on your personal preference.
Though hidden under a stainless steel caseback, the caliber powering this and other Santos references is an in-house manufacture caliber from Cartier known as the 1847 MC. The self-winding caliber was first launched in 2015, and powers a reasonably large number of Cartier timepieces that offer automatic winding and display both time and date. The 23-jeweled movement offers a power reserve of 42 hours, which remains rather standard in the industry for the time being.
Cartier is filling an interesting gap in the watch world lately, and their modern releases are harder to come by than ever. Much like the watch industry’s big three, you can expect waitlists on certain Santos and Tank models, as well as rather strong performance on the secondary market. While we aren’t ones to encourage purchasing based on value retention alone, the Cartier Santos can be a solid alternative for those looking for something outside of the usual suspects from Rolex, Patek, or AP.