Cartier Santos: A Complete History
Widely recognized as the first watch designed for the wrist, the Cartier Santos has broken barriers between traditional watchmaking and modern design. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people were actually strapping pocket watches to their wrists and fitting old movements into modified cases with straps. However, the Santos was always a wristwatch, from its conception and release in 1904. That year, Louis Cartier designed a watch for his friend Alberto Santos-Dumont who was a Brazilian aviator in need of a timepiece that he could check with ease during a flight. Cartier was up to the challenge, creating a small gold watch with exposed screws and a square silhouette—a first of its kind.
In 1911, Cartier officially moved the Santos into production, selling a more refined version of the original prototype. Keep in mind that this took place five years before the Cartier Tank was created. Interestingly, early Santos models were produced in partnership with Jaeger-LeCoultre who created the small hand-wound movements. Although various iterations of the watch have been released over the years, defining characteristics and design hallmarks include the square dial with Roman numerals, the square case, and the screws on the bezel. The famed bracelet style also warrants a discussion.
In 1978, Cartier released what is now known as the first “modern” Santos watch which was a two-tone steel and yellow gold model with a polished yellow gold bezel, and a new bracelet that was reminiscent of the bezel’s screw design. This time though, the screws were yellow gold, complementing a stainless steel bracelet. More recently in 2004, Cartier released a Santos 100 collection to celebrate the centennial anniversary of Louis Carrtier making the first piece for Santos-Dumont.
Interested in browsing other luxury watches with a similar style or history? Peruse our pre-owned suite of stainless steel and dress watches. Or, check out our assortment of pilot’s watches—although the Santos isn’t considered a true pilot’s watch, it is praised to have been the inspiration behind this style.
Explore Exquisite Santos Models
As the world’s leading platform for buying, selling, and trading pre-owned luxury watches, we strive to curate an exclusive suite of Santos watches that can’t be found anywhere else. Check out a few of our favorite pieces, and learn more about the collection’s value when you read, “Cartier Santos: The Best Watch for Your Money.”
Self-winding and stainless steel, this piece features an 18k yellow gold bezel, a white dial, and a yellow gold bracelet. Practical functions include hours, minutes, seconds, and date.
Searching for a silver lining? This automatic timepiece flaunts a stainless steel case, silver dial, and a matching stainless bracelet. Functions are kept simple with hours, minutes, and seconds.
Slightly smaller for those who prefer a more subtle case, this 29mm automatic piece boasts an 18k yellow gold bezel, an ivory guilloche dial, and a stainless steel and 18k yellow gold bracelet. Functions include hours, minutes, seconds, and date.
Bold and robust, this 51.1mm x 41.3mm stainless steel watch features a silver dial, blue alligator strap, hours, minutes, and seconds.
Paying homage to its namesake, this manual-wind watch features a rose gold case, silver dial, and brown alligator strap. Functions include hours and minutes.
How Much Is a Cartier Santos watch?
Like any pre-owned watch model, the Cartier Santos varies in price depending on a number of factors like condition, material, functionality, rarity, and official documentation. However, our current inventory ranges in price from $6,950 to $74,950. Most mid-price models are between $25,000 and $35,000.