The Legacy Behind the Santos Dumont Wristwatch

The Men’s Wristwatch Origin


In the early 1900s, wristwatches were in use, but took a while to become fashionable or even popular. While women were already wearing their jeweled wristwatches, the pocket watch was still favored by men all over up through the first decade of the 1900s. That was to change with the debut of two now-iconic wristwatches: the Santos and the Tank. 


The Santos wristwatch was created in 1904 for the famed Brazilian aviator, Alberto Santos Dumont, who wished to tell time in flight. A long standing friend of Louis Cartier, he had much difficulty in using a pocket watch to gauge his performance time while in the air. The pilot’s wish was granted and strapping on a wristwatch proved eminently practical and the Santos Dumont wristwatch officially went on sale to the public in 1911. 

A Brief History: Alberto Santos Dumont 


The heir of a wealthy family of coffee producers, Santos-Dumont dedicated himself to the field of aeronautical study and experimentation in Paris, where he spent most of his adult life. In his early career he designed, built, and flew hot air balloons and early dirigibles, culminating in his win of  the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize on 19 October 1901 for a flight that rounded the Eiffel Tower. 


He then turned to experimentation in the heavier-than-air machine field, and in 1906 his 14-bis made the first powered heavier-than-air flight in Europe to be certified by the Aéro-Club de France and the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. His conviction that aviation would usher in an era of worldwide peace and prosperity led him to freely publish his designs and forego patenting his various innovations.


The Legacy


Santos-Dumont is a national hero in Brazil, where it is popularly held that he preceded the Wright brothers in demonstrating a practical airplane. Countless roads, plazas, schools, monuments, and airports there are dedicated to him, and his name is inscribed on the Tancredo Neves Pantheon of the Fatherland and Freedom. 


Where does this all tie into the visionary maison known as Cartier? The Santos Dumont Wristwatch proved to be immensely useful in flight and incredibly helpful when it came to his record breaking timed flights. He was the first person to be filmed in an airplane in flight when he flew 220 meters in 21.5 seconds all the while wearing what may well be the first pilot's wristwatch in all of history.