Pilots’ watches are among the most important niches within the watchmaking industry. This style has defined the history and evolution of modern timepieces as we know them. This is why it is important for all watches fans to know a few main details about the first pilot watch ever made and how it shaped the functional and aesthetic standards of those times.
The Santos is a watch that was born in an era when men risked their lives to explore the sky. This is the reason why its owner is a distinguished gentleman who is looking for the most refined adventure of his life. The Cartier Santos Dumont appeared in a time when the entire world held its breath and waited for a noticeable timepiece, a perennial tribute to a fearless century when courage and bravery had no boundaries.
Franco Alberto Santos-Dumont was a Brazilian pilot who in 1906 made an amazing flying demonstration by taking off in a flying machine with wheels and by using its own power as required by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. This has turned him into the most important name within the aviation industry, synonymous with extreme performances and the inspiration for the world’s first pilot watch.
Louis Cartier came up with idea of making a watch dedicated to this very famous pilot after he had a friendly conversation with Alberto and he was constantly complaining about how difficult it is to check his pocket watch when he is the air. Instead of keeping his hands on the plane’s controls, he was supposed to flounder after the pocket watch. As any other good friend who is very skilled in constructing complex and functional timepieces, Louis Cartier decided to build a watch especially for Alberto and this is how the first Santos-Dumont wristwatch was made.
Needless to say, Alberto Santos-Dumont wore this watch every time he flew. Due to his increasing fame and the numerous tours across Europe, soon this Cartier watch became as popular and successful as the personality who inspired it. Everyone wanted to know what was that device around his wrist, what does it do and why does it carry it like this. This wristwatch was a complete novelty. The public was impressed to find out that it is a watch. Instead of a difficult to use and carry around pocket watch, the pilot chose to use a versatile wristwatch that wraps around your wrist by a comfortable strap and is secured with a sturdy clasp. Indeed, Patek Phillip has invented the wristwatch concept, but at the beginning this was adopted only by women. Santos was the one who made men from around the world understand the necessity and value of a wristwatch.
When it came to mass-produce the Cartier Santos Dumont watch, Louis Cartier decided to work with Edmond Jaeger, the movement maker. This watches line was named after the famous Brazilian pilot who inspired it and it was first available for sale only in 1911. As you have probably guessed, the watch was a true success right from the beginning. The only thing that influenced the popularity of this timepiece was the fact that when the World War II started, the military introduced the standard of round watches for service. This is the moment when the popularity of squared shaped watches began to decline, a decreasing trend that continues as we speak. Somehow, Cartier Santos wasn’t influenced by this and it still remains one of the company’s signature models. Watches aficionados agree, Santos designs are timeless classics.
Throughout its long evolution, in 1978 the Cartier Santos suffered a major chance. The brand decided to switch from using precious metals to manufacturing its products from the more affordable stainless steel. The public received very well this change as Cartier’s audience was represented by both mature and young people who were looking for the perfect ratio between quality and price. At this point, the Cartier Santos in stainless steel became an iconic watch. Another important improvement was the plate bezel that was attached to the case front with very small screws. Over the years, this feature has become a signature detail of the Santos line.
Nowadays, Cartier offers numerous variations of the Santos basic design. This very iconic timepiece comes in many different sizes and plenty of color combinations. It is still remembered as the first pilot watch and the company continues to bring constant improvements to its functionality and aesthetics. One of the most recent versions is the Santos 100 carbon. It is not considered anymore an adventurous time keeping device, always ready to conquer the sky limits. Instead it is a very stylish luxury watch with fascinating origins, ideal for securing its owners identity, social status and style.