The name Cartier needs no introduction. As one of the most influential and celebrated jewelry and watch brands of the last 100 years, it has always stood as a mark of luxury and desirability. Without taking away from its historical significance, I would say that when it comes to watches, Cartier has always been predominantly known as a ‘design’ brand rather than a pure watchmaking one, with stunningly iconic models such as the Tank, the Crash, and the Santos all seen as important due to how it looks. In fact, to this day, it is the beautiful and unconventional designs that attract collectors and it is a unique position in the watch brand hierarchy that no other possesses.
For those who do not know, the history of the Cartier Santos dates back to 1904, and it is one of Cartier’s oldest collections and one that is entirely dedicated to men. The collection was named after Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont who commissioned a watch from his friend Louis Cartier in 1904 to be worn while piloting his flying machines. The Cartier Santos was arguably the first men’s (and pilot) wristwatch to have ever been made - a watch designed from scratch to be worn on the wrist and not a converted pocket watch like most from that era. The Santos is undoubtedly an important and significant watch, not only for Cartier but also for the history of watchmaking in general. Since then, Cartier has been producing many different variations of the Santos.
What we have on offer today is the Cartier Santos-Dumont “Lacquered Case” Limited Edition in platinum and burgundy lacquer from last year’s Watches & Wonders 2022. Firstly, I must say, this has got to be one of the most intriguing and beautiful modern iterations of the Santos-Dumont to date. Despite its label as a “large” model, the watch is actually more on the petite side as far as dimensions go, measuring at only 43.5mm x 31.5mm x 7.3mm. It features an attractive burgundy-coloured lacquer that highlights the impeccable geometry of the sleek 31.5mm case. When you brush your fingers across its lacquered surface, you will notice that instead of lacquering the entire case, the lacquer was actually meticulously applied to the recesses engraved into the bezel and lugs, and hand polished to create a smooth surface. Personally, I have always been fascinated with lacquer as a finishing technique, and the one thing I really liked about its application on the Santos-Dumont is how it respects the rounded edges of the watch case so well, leaving no excess whatsoever. In fact, I think it further enhances the beauty of the silhouette of the case, which is a nice elegant touch to the Santos-Dumont as a whole.
When you turn the watch over on its caseback, you will be greeted by a stylish engraving of Alberto Santos-Dumont’s signature that’s filled with color-matching lacquer. Underneath this engraved solid caseback is the hand-wound Cal. 430 MC, a movement that is based on the ultra-thin (2.15mm) Piaget Cal. 430P and holds a power reserve of 38 hours.
While I do appreciate traditional Cartier designs for their timelessness and understated elegance. I must admit, there are times when certain vintage-inspired iterations just missed the mark for me. In watch design, there is a very fine limit as to how much one can push in terms of innovation or novelty. Cross the line, and you’d end up with a design that completely diminishes the spirit of the original model as well as the essence the Maison originally set out to express. That said, this Santos-Dumont Lacquer showcases a masterful balancing exercise of elegance, contemporary design, and a proper tribute to brand heritage.
What else can I say? The Cartier Santos-Dumont “Lacquered Case” Limited Edition is an outstanding offering by Cartier in almost every aspect. Classical in physical form yet novel in technical execution. Limited to only 150 pieces worldwide in this particular platinum and burgundy lacquer configuration, I am of the opinion that this is a reference that will undoubtedly age well and be fondly remembered by collectors a long time from now.