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 brand possesses.
For those unfamiliar with its rich history, the Cartier Santos traces its origins back to 1904, standing as one of Cartier's oldest and exclusively male-focused collections. Named after Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, who enlisted the expertise of his friend Louis Cartier in 1904 to craft a wristwatch for his aerial endeavours, the Cartier Santos holds the distinction of possibly being the inaugural men's (and pilot's) wristwatch ever created. Distinguished from its contemporaries by being purposefully designed for wristwear, as opposed to being a modified pocket watch typical of its time, the Santos holds immense significance not just for Cartier but also for the broader history of horology. Since its inception, Cartier has continued to introduce numerous variations of the Santos, further cementing its enduring legacy.
What we have on offer today is the Cartier Santos-Dumont “Lacquered Case” in stainless steel and black lacquer from 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 more on the petite side as far as dimensions go, measuring only 43.5mm x 31.5mm. It features a mysterious black-colored lacquer that highlights the impeccable geometry of the sleek stainless steel case. When you brush your fingers across its lacquered surface panels, you will notice that instead of lacquering the entire case, the lacquer was 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 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 colour-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 which holds a power reserve of 38 hours.
While I do appreciate traditional Cartier designs for their timelessness and understated elegance, I must admit that 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 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” is an outstanding offering by Cartier in almost every aspect. Classical in physical form yet novel in technical execution. I believe that this is a reference that will undoubtedly age well and be fondly remembered by collectors a long time from now.