REVIEW: Hands On With The Santos De Cartier

by Matt Clymo

We spend a week with the new Santos De Cartier Large brown dial released at this year’s Watches & Wonders and see how this timeless piece wears in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

What We Love

  • The timeless design
  • Ingenious quick change and quick link system
  • The slim profile on the wrist

What We Don’t

  • Lack of fine adjustment on the bracelet
  • The brown dial may not be to everyone’s tastes
  • A see-through caseback would be a great addition

Overall Score: 8.75/10

  • Value for money: 9/10
  • Wearability: 8/10
  • Design: 9/10
  • Build quality: 9/10

As far as watch releases go, there are few brands that garner global attention come the first day at Watches & Wonders. One of these is Cartier. The second biggest watch brand by sales in the world and a brand synonymous with luxury, Cartier always manages to surprise with both their “everyday” pieces, as well as their Cartier Privé, and High Jewelry collection from their Maison Mètiers d’Arts. So this year I was excited to see first hand what the Maison would bring out, and hopefully, get my hands on these as I’ve not reviewed a piece from Cartier before. One of these pieces was the Santos De Cartier Large with a 70’s vibe brown gradient dial, and being something very different to what I’m used to wearing, was keen to put it on the wrist

Related Reading: Cartier Drops Their New Santos Collection

Initial Thoughts

I always write down my initial thoughts when first handling a new watch. It’s a great way to effectively “Judge a book by its cover” so to speak. What do I think of it, picking it up for the first time and handling it? In the case of the new Santos De Cartier Large with this year’s brown dial novelty, this was during our photo shoot with it at the Cartier Booth at Watches & Wonders 2024 in Geneva. Overall, the design is pure Santos, but with this reference, it was the dial colour that was the draw card here. A vintage-style brown gradient sunburst dial that comes alive in the sun, or has a more subdued tone for those evenings out. It’s highly versatile, which if I’m being honest, is one of the selling points of Cartier. You can really wear them anywhere and they’ll look good.

The Design

I feel Cartier is one of those brands that if you know, you know, (IYKYK), and it is this reason that I feel many watch lovers may not appreciate Cartier as much as they should. They make some great pieces, many of which have a rich history and a story to tell. As I’ve started to deep dive into the Maison of Cartier, I’ve had that moment where I’ve said “Ah, I get it now!” The lightbulb has gone off for me. This was most probably 100% solidified when we visited the Cartier Manufacture and their fine watchmaking facility, their Maison Mètiers d’Arts in La Chaux-de-Fonds back in April.

The design of the Santos De Cartier dates all the way back to the early 1900’s, when Alberto Santos-Dumont – a good friend of Louis-Joseph Cartier, Grandson of Cartier founder, Louis-François, asked for his help in designing a wristwatch he could wear while flying. Of course, Louis-Joseph obliged and the world’s first pilot’s watch was born – the Cartier Santos. Back in 1904 the design of the Santos was what you would recognise today as the Santos Dumont. The design of the current Santos De Cartier actually comes from the Galbèe in 1987 when Cartier revived the Santos collection.

The Blue Spinel

Another classic Cartier design cue is the blue-faceted spinal on the crown. The spinel and cabochon-shaped spinel on the Santos and Santos Dumont are iconic to the Maison and have been used for over 100 years. If the spinel is red, then you’re looking at a Platinum piece!

Related Reading: Looking Into A Brief History Of The Iconic Watch

The Santos De Cartier showcases softer lines when compared to the original Santos, with the polished bezel and screws that have remained prominent for over 100 years. On this particular model, the main variation is the dial, with its brown 70’s styling and gradient that starts out almost black at the very edges and merges into a warm light brown towards the centre. Now this dial may not be to everyone’s tastes, and took me a little bit to get used to wearing a brown dial when I traditionally gravitate towards black, white or blue dial. But I did get used to it, it was fun looking at it in the sun and playing around with it in the light. However, if I’m being true to myself and was buying the Santos De Cartier, I would probably stick with my comfort zone and choose either the white or blue dial, but this is purely my personal preference. With many dial colours to choose from, you will be able to find one that speaks to you in the Santos range.

Keeping with the design of the modern Santos De Cartier, the curvature of the case and polished bezel mirrors those design cues from the Galbèe in 1987, and along these lines, the curved sapphire crystal seamlessly follows this. Having seen these sapphire crystals being made at the Cartier Manufacture, it’s amazing the process that happens and being Cartier, the artisan crystal makers shape and check each and every one by eye.

While the basic design of the Santos De Cartier hasn’t changed a whole lot over the years, and nor should it: The most timeless and iconic watches today haven’t and this is what makes them both classic, timeless, and in a way, contemporary. However, Cartier has put a lot of thought into the functionality of the watch and incorporated some very clever elements into the design of the case and bracelet.

The first is the QuickSwitch quick change system at the back of the watch. With the push of a button, it allows you to slide the bracelet or strap out of the case quickly and easily without damage and swap with any other of the Cartier straps you want to pair with the watch. In the case of the brown dial Santos De Cartier, you also receive a brown alligator leather strap with a folding buckle to change the look of the piece. Now, a quick change strap isn’t all that new these days, however, what I absolutely love about Cartier’s bracelets is their SmartLink system.

Cartier has developed a way to be able to take out or add links to the bracelet without the need for tools. So with the Santos De Cartier, gone are the days of fiddling with screwdrivers and risking scratching the bracelet when you need to take a link out or add one in. With the push of a hidden button on the inside of each link, the spring-loaded pins pop out and you can easily then slide the pin all the way out, and take out a single link, or add one back in. Once done, just push the pin in with your finger and it locks into place. This is bracelet innovation at its best!


The inside of the bracelet with Cartier’s SmartLink system. You can see the small buttons near the butterfly clasp which when pushed, eject the spring-loaded pins part of the way out so you can release each link individually.

How It Wears

Cartier makes their watches to be worn, admired and loved. For this reason, the Santos De Cartier has been designed to hug the wrist and wear very comfortably – which is does. To put this in context, this is the Large version of the Santos De Cartier, which measures 39.8mm in diameter and has a lug-to-lug of 47.5mm. This coupled with being only 9.4mm thick, the watch wears pretty true to size, and is not large at all on my 17.5cm wrist. The other aspect to take into consideration is the case back has a gradual curve that allows it to follow the natural shape of your wrist and gets more prominent as it blends into the lugs.

When it comes to bracelet watches, Cartier does these incredibly well, which is evident based on the different elements I mentioned previously and shows through when you have it on the wrist. My only small criticism is the lack of micro-adjust on the bracelet, which is one downside of all integrated-style bracelets with a butterfly clasp. I’ll admit, my wrist is in that weird zone where most watches like this are either too tight for my liking or just that little bit loose. Again, this is more of a “me problem” than any issue with the watch. Thankfully, the Santos De Cartier comes with the leather strap, so if you want to get a better fit, if you have the same idiosyncracies as me, then this will help.

Another aspect of the Santos De Cartier that I like is the versatility factor. The watch has one of these designs that will look good with most outfits and for most occasions. Suited up it looks the part, but conversely, you can dress it down as well, and again, it will look good. I’ve probably said this many times in articles, but it is one aspect of a watch that I personally look for – the ability for it to be worn wherever, and whenever. In addition, with 100m of water resistance, this is a watch that can be worn in most places. You can be on holiday in the pool at a resort, then you can change and head out for dinner without having to change your watch. (Can you tell I’m thinking about my next holiday?)

I’ve spent a good deal of time wearing the Santos De Cartier around, and when you test a watch out, the more time you have with the piece, the better an idea you have of how it will fit into your daily life. Not only this, I find you only start picking up the little things you either like or don’t like about the watch after a few days of consistent wear. This also gives you time to adjust to how the watch feels on the wrist, as all watches are different, and how they sit can at first seem foreign based on the design and you may not like it. But, after a couple of days, you adjust to it and at this point, you will either like the way it feels and if not, then you know it’s not for you. The Santos De Cartier has been one of those watches for me where on day one it did feel a little strange compared to my normal daily worn watches, but on about day three, it felt at home on the wrist. At the time of writing this, it now feels like I’ve worn it for ever and unless I look down, I’m not aware of it on – which for a watch is a good sign!

The Movement

Inside the Santos De Cartier beats the Manufacture Cartier 1847 automatic winding movement. Pivoting on 23 jewels and beating at a frequency of 4Hz (28,800 VpH) it delivers approximately 42 hours of power. While I would normally say this is at the lower end for a modern automatic movement, my sense is that people who purchase the Santos will do so for everyday wear. This means that the power reserve isn’t a major concern and won’t be for most people. And for those that are buying this a special piece, then winding it after it’s been off the wrist for a while won’t be too arduous, or if you’re like me, a watch winder will keep it ticking nicely once you’ve set it to the right amount of rotations per day.

Durability Tests

Cartier watches and movements are put through a series of tests to ensure their durability and accuracy. As an example, they are put through a simulated 10 years of wear and tear such as shock tests, UV exposure & magnetism!

Like the above says, Cartier tests all their watches and their movements stringently to ensure they stand up to the rigors of everyday life. On our visit to the Cartier Manufacture, I saw these being performed and even though you know that watches get out through their paces to make sure they are going to be durable, you don’t really think about this much until it’s pointed out, or in my case, you see it first hand. As an example, the movements are tested before casing and after casing in all positions over 8 days. The movement is then tested again, using a robot to simulate the watch in all possible positions on the wrist, and the movement is monitored to ensure accuracy and stability. Even before this, the prototypes developed are put through 30 different tests to ensure they withstand all possible scenarios. So if you think the Santos De Cartier may not be durable, I would say this proves otherwise.

Final Thoughts

The Santos De Cartier was a piece that I wasn’t 100% sure of prior to picking up the piece for this review. But by the same token, I was excited to try it as I’ve been wondering if the Santos De Cartier is a watch I could see myself owning one day. Say what you want about Cartier, but you have to admit, they are timeless and classic for a reason, and also, there is a reason Cartier is, well, Cartier! Even my 6-year-old daughter knows Cartier thanks to her Claris from Paris books.

After a week or so, the Santos De Cartier has grown on me, and if i take all objectivity out of it from a review perspective, then I can say I did like wearing it around, and didn’t look out of place on my wrist during the course of me going about my daily activities. And no, I wasn’t in a suit for most of it, and as a more casual piece, suited my lifestyle well. This was one concern I had and now has been alleviated by seeing the piece in both formal and non-formal situations.

At A$12,600 the Santos De Cartier represents a good value proposition relative to what else sits around this price point. Here you are looking at pieces like the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch (A$13,250 on the bracelet with sapphire crystal), The Breitling Navitimer Chronograph 41 (A$12,890 on the leather strap), or even a more formal Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Monoface (A$17,000) to name a few other brands’ iconic pieces. And with the timeless design cues of the Santos De Cartier, the QuickSwitch bracelet with interchangeable leather strap, not to mention the ingenious SmartLink system in their bracelet, it seems that you get a lot of watch for the money in comparison.


  • Case Size: 39.8mm / 47.5mm lug-to-lug
  • Case Thickness: 9.4mm
  • Case Material: Brushed and polished stainless steel with polished fixed bezel
  • Dial: Satin-finish graduated brown sunray-brushed dial with rhodium-finish polished steel sword-shaped hands and luminescent material.
  • Movement: Automatic Winding 1847 MC movement. Pivoting on 23 jewels, beating at a frequency of 4Hz (28,800 VpH)
  • Power Reserve: Approx. 42 hours
  • Water Resistance: 100m (10bar)
  • Crystal: Curved Sapphire crystal
  • Strap/Bracelet: Stainless steel interchangeable bracelet with the QuickSwitch system and SmartLink adjustment, plus a colour matched brown alligator leather strap with QuickSwitch interchangeable system and folding buckle.

Australian Recommended Retail Price: A$12,600

Availability: Available through Cartier Boutiques or online at

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