When we first featured at the Santos-Dumont Skeleton Micro-Rotor right after it was unveiled at Watches & Wonders 2023, it was clear that the model had struck a chord among almost those who had the pleasure to see it in the metal. The design is distinctively Cartier in style, slightly whimsical, yet stands apart from almost everything else in the brand’s catalogue.
Cartier’s legacy as a renowned jeweller is indisputable, and this timepiece is a fusion of its knowledge in jewellery and watches, with a good dose of the traditional Cartier style. From the lacquer case inlays to the artful skeletonisation, the result is a balanced face that is entirely original.
- The design is an ideal combination of a contemporary, tasteful skeleton movement with the historical Santos case design
- The plane micro-rotor is just right in size, neither too big nor too small, and adds just the right amount of whimsy without being gimmicky
- The large, as opposed to XL, case is ideal for the movement, but some might find it too compact
- As it is with all Cartier skeleton movements, the Etachron regulator feels out of place
I usually take a loupe to a watch for a closer look, and when I did so with the Santos skeleton the movement’s design shone through. The plates and bridges of the brand-new cal. 9629 MC are both structural and add to the aesthetic brilliance of this piece. Though Cartier has long made skeleton watches a hallmark of its line-up, the cal. 9629 MC is particularly outstanding. While there is nothing terribly complex about the watch or its functions, the compact dimensions paired with the elegant design make it a great choice for a dress watch with a difference.
The crucial element that sets this apart is the miniature plane mounted on the micro-rotor, a nod to the history of the Santos Dumont as one of the first aviator’s watches. The plane is just right, neither too big nor too small. Any larger and it would have been gimmicky, and smaller it would be hard to make out. As it is the plane is perfectly visible when on the wrist, but indiscernible from across a table.
The geometric layout of the main components of the calibre is a masterclass in aesthetically arranging a movement, with barely a trade-off in functionality (the layout does leave substantial empty volume in the movement). Considering Cartier will almost always prioritise looks over function, this is to be expected and arguably applauded.
The only real downside is the relatively short power reserve of just 44 hours. This is obviously a construction constraint, since the design only allows for a smaller mainspring. And while it would have been preferable to have a longer-running watch, I think the strong aesthetics of this watch make it worth it.
As mentioned in our earlier article, we are fans of the yellow gold and blue lacquer version, which is also the only limited edition between the three (and replicates the success of last year’s lacquered case model). The blue lacquered case is quite an extravagant combination, so those who want something more discreet will prefer the the rose gold and steel versions that are monochromatic.
But across the range, the sense of proportion truly makes the Santos skeleton stand out. It is the large, rather than XL, version of the Santos Dumont and fits the movement perfectly. That said, those who prefer larger watches might find this slightly too compact. Its dimensions are more like those of a vintage reissue rather than a highly modern skeleton watch.
While Cartier has released a number of successful skeletonised watches in the recent past, this one feels like the most complete in terms of its execution. Given the way every component has been integrated into its design without compromising on the overall dimensions of the watch. Keeping it entirely wearable and in line with the slim profiles we have become accustomed to from the brand.
Intricate yet simple
The designs we are seeing from Cartier of late are impressive for their delicate use of form while staying faithful to historic timepieces. While this Santos Dumont is not a reissue of the vintage original, it still maintains many of the key details that are unmistakably Santos.
The screws on the square bezel and the ever-recognisable cabochon on the crown make up for the lack of a dial with the chemin de fer minute track and Roman numerals, which is usually one of the defining features of a Cartier watch. By doing away with these signature features, along with most of the dial, the Santos skeleton becomes incredibly light and modern. With most of the movement being see-through, the areas where there is metal are even more important.
The main attraction on the front is the miniature of Alberto Santos-Dumont’s lightweight aircraft, Demoiselle. Made of 18k gold, the delicately formed flying machine appears to be gliding over a stylised globe – a powerful image in such a small space.
Originally built in 1907 and flown for 60 m in Paris, the Demoiselle miniature sits on the platinum micro-rotor that takes up the lower left quarter of the watch. Notable for being a functional component rather than static decoration, the plane-rotor is the perfect blend of whimsy and history, and ideally sized.
Instead of going down the traditionalist route with finishing, Cartier took a more contemporary approach. Using minimalist brushing and crisp chamfered edges on the bridges reduces their visual impact, while the thin lines of lacquer that trace the bridges provide structure to the dial. This structure not only helps with reading the time, but also provides a “skeleton” for the movement to be built around.
It’s not just the bridges that have been arranged in a deliberate manner. The balance wheel, in the top left corner, is mirrored by the mainspring barrel in the top right. As we mentioned above, this mainspring doesn’t provide a lot of power reserve, but the symmetry of the pivots of both of these components sitting on the inner ring of the main bridge creates an extremely pleasing visual effect.
The movement decoration is similarly to prior Cartier skeleton calibres and comparable to other watches in this price segment. It’s. mix of hand-applied and machine finishing, but coherent and visually appealing.
The only detail that stands out as being unappealing is the Etachron regulator for the balance wheel, which is standard across all Cartier skeleton movements, even those in much pricier watches. Fortunately this is not visible from the front, but a watch of this price should sport something a little more tailored to the brand.
The keen-eyed would spot an intriguing detail in the movement just beside the rotor: an open-worked wheel with concentric spokes. Made with the LIGA etching technique, this wheel is provides constant tension due to its spokes, and is presumably to minimise play or backlash in the winding mechanism.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning the size of the watch. The Santos skeleton is a large model that’s 31 mm in width, a size that unquestionably sits well on almost any wrist (in comparison, the Santos Dumont XL is just under 34 mm wide). But it is the slimness that genuinely brings the model into the realm of elegance. At 8 mm tall, the case contributes to the watch’s ideal proportions, one that perfectly complements the skeletonized movement.
It is commendable that Cartier has finally started to shape the Santos into a model that both acknowledges its heritage while also remembering that its namesake aviator was one of the most creative, adventurous, and elegant aeronauts. After all, Alberto Santos-Dumont had the same grace and taste as his good friend Louis Cartier. With its contemporary movement inside a historical case design, the new Santos skeleton feels like a proper recognition of Santos-Dumont.
Key facts and price
Cartier Santos-Dumont Skeleton Micro-Rotor
Ref. CRWHSA0030 (rose gold)
Ref. CRWHSA0031 (yellow gold)
Ref. CRWHSA0032 (steel)
Diameter: 31 mm
Height: 8 mm
Material: Steel; rose or yellow gold
Water resistance: 30 m
Movement: 9629 MC
Features: Hours and minutes
Frequency: 25,200 beats per hour (3.5 Hz)
Power reserve: 44 hours
Strap: Alligator leather strap with pin buckle
Limited edition: Regular production, except for yellow gold model that’s limited to 150 pieces
Availability: Now at Cartier boutiques and retailers
Steel: €27,900; or 44,300 Singapore dollars
Rose gold: €36,400; or 58,000 Singapore dollars
Yellow gold: €37,500; or 59,500 Singapore dollars
Prices include local taxes
For more, visit Cartier.com
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