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Cartier - The Watch for Those Who Aim Higher

Cartier The Watch for Those Who Aim Higher

In 1904, Cartier created a timepiece to be worn on te wrist at the request of his aviator friend Alberto Santos-Dummont, making the birth of a watchmaking classic

In a corner of the reception room of his apartment, he politely welcomes his guest. One can easily imagine that the subject of their discussions is the conquest of the sky. In theory, it is a completely ordinary scene. In theory only, because the host and his visitor are perched on furniture raised off the ground! The little story surrounding this photo dated circa 1900 tells us that Alberto Santos-Dumont had acquired this strange habit in order to acclimatize to the effects of altitude. This aviation pioneer from Brazil was known for his eccentricity as well as his visionary spirit at a time when aeronautics was still in its infancy. An adventurer at heart and an impeccably groomed dandy, he never shied away from experimentation. He shared this daring temperament with his friend Louis Cartier, grandson of the founder of the eponymous company, who was also an aviation enthusiast. While the first wristwatches of the time were reserved for women’s wrists because they were considered too delicate and fragile, Alberto Santos-Dumont commissioned him in 1904 to create a timepiece to be worn not in the pocket as was customary at the time, but on the wrist so that the time could be read easily in flight. 

Contemporary watchmaking takes flight

From 1912, Cartier began marketing this model which distilled the aesthetic codes of the brand and echoed the inspirations of the time. The watch’s square riveted bezel, elongated Roman numerals, railroad minutes track, cabochon sapphire on the crown, leather strap: the outline of the watch is reminiscent of the steel bridges crossing the Seine in a Paris entirely redesigned by Baron Haussmann. It presides over a long-running stylistic odyssey by Cartier in the world of ‘form’ (special-shaped) watches. 

The Watch for Those Who Aim Higher

Santos-Dumont © Cartier

Inside Story

There is no shortage of archive photos of his exploits in the air. One can make out his silhouette on board the multiple airships he invented – about a dozen – at the turn of the 20th century. Later, he could be seen at the controls of one of his many flying machines. Alberto Santos-Dumont aimed high and far, without ever giving up on his dreams: “Inventions are, above all, the result of obstinate work in which there must be no room for discouragement.” His obstinacy was amply rewarded on 12 November, the day the Brazilian aviator managed to fly two meters above the ground over a distance of 220 meters at the (for the time) amazing speed of 41.3km/h. A feat that, according to the chronological concordance, suggests that the watch that his friend Louis Cartier had imagined to accompany him in his adventures was probably not so far away.

Understated, slender and graced with taut lines inspired by the Parisian geometry of the time, the recent variations of the Santos-Dumont watch can easily vie with the elegance and refinement of the original model – as can the three new editions in translucent lacquer that have enriched the collection already updated in 2018. Burgundy and platinum, beige and gold or black and steel: cleverly mingling brilliance, relief and depth, the Santos-Dumont continues to cultivate the famous elegance distinguishing the man afte which it is named.


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The Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève in the spotlight

GMT Magazine 78 © GMT Magazine


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Characterised by audacity and inventiveness, Cartier’s watchmaking history reflects a unique state of mind: “jeweller of kings and king of jewellers”. Its renown is bound up in the tradition of excellence to which it is heir. Cartier was a forerunner in the use of platinum in jewellery and one of the pioneers of watchmaking.

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