The name Cartier needs no introduction. As one of the most influential and celebrated jewellery 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 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 is arguably the first men’s (and pilot) wristwatch to have ever been made. Designed from scratch to be worn on the wrist and not a converted pocket watch like most from its 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.
The Santos Dumont, still being sold by Cartier today, represents the epitome of timeless design. One particularly coveted model is the Ref. 1575 in 18-carat yellow gold, which is also the reference offered here today. Renowned for its elegance, this Cartier timepiece showcases a satin-brushed case with polished beveling and a polished round-edged bezel that interacts with light, creating a delightful interplay. Adding to its allure, the watch boasts a classic Cartier white dial adorned with black Roman numerals and a railroad minute track, complemented by blued steel hands. Notably, the dial proudly bears the "Paris" marking, proudly telling the wearer its country of origin.
Moving on from the visuals, the Ref. 1575 houses the manually wound Cal. 021 MC movement within its 18-carat yellow gold case. Based on the Frédéric Piguet Cal. 21, the Cal. 021 MC was designed to be the thinnest watch movement available at the time, allowing the Ref. 1575 to lay flat against its wearer’s wrist. Oscillating at either 18,000 vph or 21,600 vph, depending on the particular period the movement was made, the Cal. 021 MC boasts an impressive 42-hour power reserve given its tiny 20.4mm x 1.75mm profile.
In the midst of the current resurgence of vintage Cartier pieces, the Santos Dumont stands out prominently as a coveted must-have.