Cartier has a keen sense for elegant, original and effortless watch designs. Among the many shapes and designs, one of the most emblematic watches is the Santos, generally acknowledged as the oldest men’s wristwatch. Over the years, the collection has evolved along sportier and bolder lines, well-represented by these recent models. However, in 2020, the Parisian brand reintroduced the original design of the iconic Santos-Dumont model with its typical dandy flair in an XL size with a hand-wound movement. Along with the permanent collection, Cartier also launched limited edition watches inspired by Alberto Santos-Dumont’s flying machines, which were pretty well received. For 2021, there’s a new pair of Cartier Santos-Dumont XL Limited Edition watches, including this handsome two-tone watch that we’ll be looking at today.
The Santos watch is one of Cartier’s oldest collections and one entirely dedicated to men. The collection is 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 without having to lift his hand from the controls. According to the legend, this how the first men’s wristwatch was born – and by that, it means a watch designed from scratch to be worn on the wrist and not a converted pocket watch. The Santos is thus a significant watch, not only for Cartier but also for watchmaking in general. And, in addition, this makes the Santos the first pilot’s wristwatch in history.
The original watch was characterised by its squared bezel with visible screws, in radical opposition to the round faces found on pocket watches of the era. What started as a bespoke commission for the Brazilian aviator went into serial production in 1911 with LeCoultre movements. The Santos took off again in the 1970s when it was revisited in a bracelet piece with screws on the bezel and bracelet. Taken out of production in 2016, the Santos de Cartier reappeared in 2018 with a refreshed, sportier and more curvaceous presence.
But until 2019, we were only talking about a modern, larger and sportier watch inspired by the original Santos, not a watch with historical accuracy. This would be the mission of another model, the Santos-Dumont, a name that refers to the more elegant, more historically accurate models in Cartier’s books.
This watch was revived in 2019, first with quartz movements and a design that paid tribute to the 1904 model, including a beaded winding crown and the prominent blue cabochon along with a flatter, less voluminous case than the Santos de Cartier. The following year, Cartier launched the model that most were waiting for, the XL (for Extra-Large… but still not that large) with a mechanical movement, which we reviewed here. There was a teaser just ahead of Watches & Wonders 2020, with four limited versions of the Santos-Dumont with engravings of the aviator’s legendary flying machines on the caseback. These luxurious and slightly punchier models well not only well received but also sold well. But there are more coming for 2021.
The Cartier Santos-Dumont XL Limited Edition 2021
This year, the Parisian brand introduces two new limited edition models based on the Cartier Santos-Dumont XL Hand-Wound. First, and not presented here, is a costly platinum version with a light blue dial (reference CRWGSA0048, limited to 100 pieces). Second, and far more accessible (and probably also even more visually attractive), is this steel and rose gold model with a whole new dial design (reference CRW2SA0025).
The novelty of this new limited edition is the dial. All the other features, including the XL case, are identical to the watch we reviewed last year. The XL appellation can be quite misleading. In reality, it isn’t an XL-sized watch at all; it is more about compact dimensions and elegance. It measures 46.6mm in length, which is about as large as most 38mm round watches, but the width of the case is only 33.9mm – which is, admittedly, quite small compared to modern standards. Nothing wrong here; these small proportions are part of the inherent charm of the Santos-Dumont. The case, thanks to the Piaget-based hand-wound movement, is also pretty thin, at 7.5mm.
Small doesn’t mean that the watch lacks personality… Actually, far from that. The case of the modern Santos-Dumont is the direct descendant of the original 1904 model, with its thin lugs, beaded winding crown with cabochon and, of course, its screwed angled bezel. The central case is made of stainless steel with a vertically brushed surface and with a polished bevel running on the side. The bezel is executed in 18k rose gold and entirely polished. While I’m not usually a fan of two-tone watches, steel-and-gold certainly works well on the Santos-Dumont XL. It even reinforces its personality by drawing attention to the most distinctive element of its design: the bezel. It also adds warmth and a pleasant touch of luxury. All in all, with this combination of colours and the compact size of the watch, this Santos-Dumont XL Limited Edition is once again typical of Cartier’s vision of elegance. Not conservative, slightly original, effortlessly elegant, très dandy.
Where things change compared to the watches offered in the permanent collection is on the dial side. Normally, the XL model is available with a silver-coloured or dark grey dial with printed Roman numerals and a sunray-brushed pattern. This dial, which in my opinion lacks originality and depth, was the main flaw of the new Santos-Dumont. The new limited edition watch changes this drastically by updating most aspects of the dial.
First, the colour, which is now a warm and rather striking rosé. Second, the dial has a stamped guilloché-like pattern in the centre, adding depth and animation. Also, the signature Roman numerals have been replaced by applied, rhodium-plated Arabic numerals, once again changing the look of the watch quite dramatically. Finally, the hands are blued and echo the colour of the crown’s cabochon.
Turning the watch over, the closed caseback reveals an engraving of Alberto Santos-Dumont’s flying machine N°19 – a theme that was first used in the 2020 limited editions. Beating inside the case is the calibre 430 MC, which is based on the Piaget 430P, a 2.15mm hand-wound movement also used in the Drive Extra-Flat. Relatively simple, it is distinguished by its compact dimensions. Beating at 3Hz, it delivers a relatively short power reserve of 38 hours.
This steel-and-gold Cartier Santos-Dumont XL Limited Edition is worn on a well-integrated dark grey alligator strap closed by a pin buckle. It is equipped with a quick-release system to change the strap without the need for tools.
Availability & Price
The Cartier Santos-Dumont XL Limited Edition 2021 Steel-and-Gold reference CRW2SA0025 is a limited edition of 500 pieces. It is now available for orders and is priced at EUR 6,960 (excl. taxes) or USD 8,350 (excl. taxes).
For more details, please visit cartier.com.