Alberto Santos-Dumont was born in 1873 to a wealthy family in Brazil. When Santos-Dumont’s father became paralysed after falling off his horse, the family sold up and moved to Paris in 1891. Here, Santos-Dumont began to explore his love of automobiles and aviation.
Very quickly, he moved on from taking hot air balloon rides as a passenger to piloting them himself, including models of his own design. The immediate flaw of the balloon, he discovered, was the inability to steer, and he found they would be carried by the wind in whichever direction it was blowing. Santos-Dumont began to design steerable balloons called ‘dirigibles’, and between 1898 and 1905 he designed, built and flew eleven different dirigible prototypes.
Always the showman, he would fly his dirigible through the streets of Paris, barely skimming the rooftops; he was even known to arrive at restaurants in this style, much to the surprise and excitement of the patrons. Such was his skill at piloting his craft that he successfully won the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize, a 100,000 Franc reward for completing a lap from Parc de Saint-Cloud to the Eiffel Tower and back again in thirty minutes.
Santos-Dumont took his craft around the world, winning admiration and respect — as well as more money — for his endeavours. He even met President
Roosevelt in 1904, who marvelled at his creation. His fame spread like wildfire; the rich began to mimic his style and his name was given to cities, airports and even craters on the moon.Heavier than air flight became a new obsession for Santos-Dumont, and by 1906 he had flown his own fixed wing aircraft ‘14-bis’ a distance of sixty metres.
He was beaten by the Wright brothers to the first powered flight by just three years. Determined to make his aircraft better, he used wheels rather than skids to aid self-powered take-off (rather than the catapult launch used by the Wright brothers) and also added moveable surfaces to the wings to stabilise flight, which lead to the development of ailerons. Santos-Dumont was so enthusiastic about his planes that he gave away the blueprints for his last and bestaircraft for free.
What has this got to do with the Cartier? Well, as has already been mentioned, Santos-Dumont was a trend-setter, and a key figure in developing the fashion for wearing wrist watches. Wrist watches were generally favoured by women and pocket watches by men, but Santos-Dumont changed that. During his flight testing, he found it difficult to time his flights using his pocket watch, so he had his friend Louis Cartier make him a large wrist watch. The watch was so admired by Santos-Dumont’s fans that in 1904 it became available to the public as the Cartier Santos.
Today, the Cartier Santos watch remains largely unchanged from its original design. The addition of models with subtle variations of the original — such as the Santos 100 XL have also appeared, expanding the range further. The classic appearance and fascinating history continues to make the Cartier Santos a very popular and successful watch.
[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]