A direct comparison between the large and the medium-sized Santos de Cartier raises the question: what is actually large? Normally the term ‘mid-size’ is marketing slang for a ‘ladies’ model’, but that’s definitely not the case here. We put the Cartier Santos mid size and large size, side by side.
With the reintroduction of the Santos, Cartier really hit the right note at the 2018 edition of the SIHH. The revamped icon (yes, we hate that word as much as anyone, but hey, this watch genuinely deserves that designation) was a success for several reasons. The chief reason was undoubtedly the style of the watch. The new Santos is instantly recognizable, masculine, modern while still carrying that unmistakeable Cartier elegance.
The famed Parisian Maison not only recognized the potential for such a statement watch, but it also put the right price tag on it: EUR 6,000-7,000. The entire collection is built on that strong foundation and turned out to be both aesthetically and commercially interesting.
One of the coolest details on the new Santos watch is the bracelet system. Every watch comes with one extra strap (one steel, one leather), that is easy to change. This is not a small accomplishment; more and more watch brands these days have exchangeable straps, but often the fixation feels a bit flimsy. This definitely isn’t the case with the Santos, where the bracelet has been an essential design element since its first edition in 1904.
The length of the bracelet can also be adjusted by what Cartier calls its SmartLinks. By pressing a small oval push-piece on the underside of the links, a bar is released without the need of a screwdriver. Push, release, remove the extra link, insert it again and it’s fixed. We tested it for a few minutes and the function is simple, smart and well-executed.
TWO SIZES, same proportions
But Cartier didn’t stop with the different bracelet options. The Parisians went one step further with the sizes offering the Santos in a large and mid-size format. That’s always a bit tricky; a smaller version of any luxury product is almost always the poor man’s choice. The small price difference between the two (just EUR 600) clearly indicates that Cartier wanted to avoid the pitfall of creating a downsized, cheaper brother.
In my years as an editor at Esquire, I’ve written quite a few articles on car design. And nearly every car designer I spoke to brought up the same word to describe good design. That word was rarely aerodynamics or practicality. It almost always was ‘proportion’. Good design is always balanced, connecting all the striking visual elements in a coherent style. (Or, as Jeremy Clarkson put it: “with a well-designed car, every good line connects with another good line”.) That means you’ll never see a well-designed car with equally long front and rear ends, for example. Or for that matter, small wheel rims on a sports car. Proportions are always key. And if design proportions are good, it’s going to show when you change the size of that piece (this is the real secret behind why all Porsches look alike but are different anyway– they’ve all got the same basic proportions: that of a 911).
This trick can also be applied to watches. If all the proportions in the basic design are maintained, both sizes will be equally good. (This is what went wrong with the Rolex Explorer a couple of years ago, for example; the case grew but the hands didn’t, thereby changing the proportions of the watch; something they updated a few years later.)
The Parisians are proven masters of proportion, a skill they showcased with the Drive de Cartier; that design worked very well in both the normal and the ultra-thin version. With the Santos they had to show that particular skill again, thereby proving whether the design works as well in any size. So we went hands-on with both versions to see which of the two is actually the better one.
small is big at cartier
The first thing that has to be noted is that neither of the timepieces is actually small. Normally the term ‘mid-size’ is marketing slang for a ‘ladies’ model’, but that’s definitely not the case here. The medium model still commands a notable presence on the wrist. And indeed, classically speaking, this 35.1mm x 41.9mm is actually a large watch. The ‘large’ version is even bigger – and measures a whopping 39.8mm x 47.5mm. The latter is notably thick as well with a height of just over 9mm.
One of the biggest design accomplishments of the Santos is the style of the bezel. A fat rim with screws has always been the hallmark of this model, but in making it contemporary – and maintaining some of that world-famous Cartier elegance – I suspect the designers had to pull every trick not to make the watch look too bulky. So what the designers did was to make the case and glass curvier. They also added one smart design feature: a polished layer on top of the brushed steel (or gold) case. This adds depth and a sense of luxury to the bezel. It does the trick perfectly by making the face of the watch stand out, without making it too bulky or a dull piece of steel.
calibre 1847 MC
The two different sizes have nothing to do with the size of the movement or any other practical reason. Both versions feature the calibre 1847 MC, a basic (4 Hz, 3-hand, 42-hour power reserve, date or no date) in-house developed and produced movement. The two different sizes are therefore solemny meant to make a statement – a task they carry out very well. Cartier’s International Marketing and Communications Director Arnaud Carrez, who could also be called the mastermind behind the reintroduction of the Santos, told me last year that these manly sizes were a very conscious decision. Cartier wanted to make a statement and show a character that would attract men with a ‘bold and fearless attitude’ towards life. An attitude, Carrez said, that was inspired by that illustrious first wearer, Mr Santos-Dumont.
variations on a theme
When it comes to real boldness, the golden Cartier Santos will make all the statements anyone will ever need. This is the watch that fortified even Gordon Gekko’s legendary greediness in Wall Street (Oliver Stone, 1987). This statement piece is a little bit too much for my personal taste, but if your life motto equals Gekko’s ‘greed is good’, this über-Santos will definitely please all your senses. The bracelet is really good, the screws are beautifully assimilated in the design and the Roman numerals on the dial come out very strongly. The watch is also typically heavy.
Earlier this year, Cartier also introduced quite a nice new blue dial to the Santos collection. This colour is not yet available in the mid-size version, and it’s not sure if that will ever happen. The blue really stands out, although my preference would be the slightly more elegant and classic white dial. On the wrist, the large steel case shows a strong presence. Despite its size and weight, it wears quite comfortably thanks to the formidable bracelet (or strap, of course) and the curved case. It fits narrowly under a shirt, but I wouldn’t say it’s a really happy marriage. This watch is definitely more at home in a casual (working) environment.
That actually is the same with the 35mm version. It’s important to point out that my wrists aren’t large at all, so I might be prejudiced, but I think this size fits the Santos even better. It still is very much a statement watch. To understand what this watch does to your appearance, it’s very important to take into account what the name and fame of Cartier do to anyone wearing a watch like this. Cartier is obviously a strong brand, and the bold design of the Santos accentuates that even more. The big, shiny bezel makes for a very strong first impression. Then there’s the square dial with the instantly recognizable Roman numerals that are perfectly stretched out in the corners (that means without going too far into the edges). This is really one of the other secrets of this design: the size of the numerals is done very well.
One detail that hasn’t gotten enough attention from its makers is, in my honest opinion, the glass. When seen from the side, the glass shows a little bobbly-wobbly distortion that could’ve been prevented by using more elegantly cut glass.
But having said that, I really do think the Santos de Cartier is a watch that would do very well at any informal occasion; at home, casual Friday at work and at a cocktail party. Both sizes sit perfectly on the wrist, and they really make a statement that’ll tell you’ve got style and knowledge about watches. To me, the mid-size fits much better than the large version, but that has to do chiefly with my wrist size. On Frank’s wrist, in the photos with leather and blue bead bracelet, the large size its better. I really do think both watches give the same statement, bold and elegant at the same time. Because in the end – and Cartier really deserves praise for this – the choice for a bigger or smaller Santos is exactly what it should be: a matter of wrist size, not wallet size.