The Modern Cartier Santos-Dumont: A Closer Look

Cartier Santos-Dumont Steel and Steel and Rose Gold

The Cartier Santos-Dumont, introduced in 1904, holds the distinction of being the first pilot’s and men’s wristwatch. Consistently designed with a square case and slightly rounded corners and lugs, the Santos-Dumont was never meant to have a “wow factor” – what it offers instead is understated elegance, and the ability to easily read time and slide under a shirt cuff.

In 2019, it returned in a contemporary style and finish for modern collectors. Alongside the beautiful historic features of the original Santos-Dumont, the result is a still classic, but strikingly modern timepiece. Here’s a closer look at the modern Santos-Dumont.


Old vs. New Cartier Santos-Dumont Watches in solid Rose Gold and Two-Tone finish
Old vs. New Cartier Santos-Dumont Watches in solid Rose Gold and Two-Tone finish


A Brief History of the Cartier Santos-Dumont

The origins of Cartier Santos-Dumont can be traced back to 1904 when Brazilian pilot Alberto Santos-Dumont protested to his friend Louis Cartier about the impracticality of flying with a pocket watch. In response, Cartier created a flat wristwatch with a square bezel and slightly curved lugs, plus a leather strap so it could be worn on the wrist. It eventually became the first men’s wristwatch in history and the first-ever pilot’s timepiece. This piece ultimately caught on with other clients.


The first flight by Alberto Santos-Dumont on November 12, 1906,  which earned him the French Aeroclub Award
The first flight by Alberto Santos-Dumont on November 12, 1906,
which earned him the French Aeroclub Award (photo: Wikimedia Commons)


Characterized by 8 screws, the case of the Santos appears to have been influenced by a square pocket watch produced by Cartier, but the highly readable dial design foreshadows a transition to Art Deco style that would define the 1920s and 1930s, and continues to define Cartier’s design ethos to this day.

The Santos-Dumont was created in 1904 but was only introduced to the public in 1911. Since then, this model has been manufactured in small editions, mainly in platinum paired with a leather strap. However, yellow and white gold versions are also available but these are quite uncommon.


Cartier Santos Platinum and Gold White Dial Watch from 1930
Cartier Santos Platinum and Gold White Dial Watch from 1930 (photo: Christie’s)


The iconic watch would be relaunched by Cartier twice after: in 1998 to celebrate the Santos-Dumont’s 90th anniversary, and in 2005 as part of the Collection Privée Cartier Paris.



The Modern Cartier Santos-Dumont

At SIHH 2019, we saw the release of a new historically-inspired Santos-Dumont model with a sleeker look.


Cartier Santos Dumont Steel Rose Gold Watches W2SA0012 and W2SA0011
Cartier Santos Dumont Steel Rose Gold Watches W2SA0012 and W2SA0011



The Santos-Dumont comes in two sizes, a smaller option at 27.5mm wide (38.5mm lug to lug), and a larger version that is 31.4mm wide (43.5mm lug to lug). Both options, which are only 7mm thick and fixed on an alligator strap, fit comfortably on the wrist.

Given the classic Cartier styling, either size could work for both men and women. Additionally, given the square case, both models felt a bit bigger when worn than those dimensions would suggest.



Metals and Design

With options in steel, two-tone, and full 18k rose gold, the new Santos-Dumont’s look is dressy and elegant, but not at all fussy. Like many of Cartier’s more straightforward designs, it possesses versatility and style that is equally at home with a suit as it is with a more casual ensemble.


Cartier Santos Dumont Large Black Strap Steel Mens Watch WSSA0022
Cartier Santos Dumont Large Black Strap Steel Mens Watch WSSA0022


With this watch, designers have opted to bring back several exquisite historical aspects from the original model, such as the large crown and the slimmer and elongated Roman numerals/ While being a Cartier trademark, these numbers provide the dial a completely different design and distinguish the new Santos-Dumont from all other models offered by the French maison.

A more radical move, however, was Cartier’s decision to employ steel for the casing rather than gold for the first time in Santos’s history. Before recently, the Santos Dumont’s casing has always been made of gold or platinum; steel has only been utilized for watch cases by Cartier since 1978.


Cartier Santos Dumont Large Steel Rose Gold Mens Watch W2SA0011
Cartier Santos Dumont Large Steel Rose Gold Mens Watch W2SA0011




The omission of a mechanical movement by Frédéric Piguet or Piaget, as seen in previous generations, was another unexpected decision made by Cartier for the modern Santos-Dumont. The French maison developed a new high-efficiency quartz movement especially for this watch, which only needs to be fitted with a new battery every six years.


Cartier Santos Dumont Steel Navy Blue Leather Strap WSSA0022 / Cartier Santos Dumont Rose Gold Gray Leather Strap WGSA0021
Cartier Santos Dumont Steel Navy Blue Leather Strap WSSA0022 /
Cartier Santos Dumont 18K Rose Gold Gray Leather Strap WGSA0021 (photos: Cartier)


Quartz may be unappealing to some, but as a standard production model designed to be easy to wear, quartz makes sense. The Santos-Dumont, like the Tank Solo, can act as a grab-and-go workday watch or perhaps as a fuss-free dress watch. As the Santos line’s starting point, the Santos-Dumont will be many buyers’ first introduction to Cartier timepieces.



With the modern Santos-Dumont, Cartier aims to appeal to a broader audience and possibly gain a new consumer base. Its steel case and quartz movement both contribute to a lower price point, making the Santos-Dumont an ideal entry to the world of Cartier watches. Explore our selection of Cartier Santos-Dumont watches at

Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch Steel Mens Watch 3592.50.00 Review

Toll-free US and Canada Only:
Outside US:

Customer service:

Swiss Watch Expo
315 East Paces Ferry Rd NE
Atlanta, GA 30305

M - F 10 AM to 6 PM EST
Saturdays 10 AM to 5 PM EST