Why men should thank Louis Cartier and Alberto Santos Dumont for watches

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The Cartier Santos Dumont

The first aviation wristwatch and the watch that made watches manly.


This post’s all about the first aviation wristwatch.

Doesn’t sound like a big deal does it? But it’s also the watch that made it cool for men to throw out their pocket watches and pick up a wristwatch.


Firstly … Yeah, we do know that military men were using pocket watches strapped to their wrists for years before this. But that’s pretty much what they were, pocket watches strapped to wrists. Hardly hardcore stylin’. And we know that Dimier Frères & Cie created and patented a wristwatch in 1903 that included the, now standard, wire lugs. But these weren’t the watches that were seen plastered all over newspapers on the wrist of a celebrity and had everyone asking “What’s that strapped to his wrist?” … That was the Cartier Santos-Dumont.


Okay, so let’s set the scene. It’s 1904 and flying is the thing of the moment. The Wright brothers have just flown the first successful airplane in December 1903. And the famous Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos Dumont is hot on their heels… But his pocket watch is holding him back and pissing him off.


He ranted to his friend Louis Cartier about how impossible it was to check a pocket watch whilst flying. So, in 1904, Louis Cartier, being the top mate that he was, presented Santos Dumont with the Cartier Santos-Dumont watch. The first watch designed specifically for aviators. And it was designed to be worn on the wrist, so Santos-Dumont could check it easily when flying.


Louis Cartier … Possibly the first wingman.


Santos Dumont wore the watch on every flight, including when he set the first world record recognised by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale in 1906 (Yeah, the Wright brothers flew first, in 1903.  But no record keepers were invited to this. So if you asked any European, or Brazilian, who the king of aviation was, you’d be told Alberto Santos Dumont). This was also the first time someone had been filmed in flight. Santos Dumont was a celebrity, and he loved it.


For the first few pre-war decades of the 20th century, Alberto Santos Dumont was on the front of most newspapers in Europe. And so was his Cartier Santos-Dumont watch. People started asking what was attached to his wrist by a leather strap. And suddenly, because of his fearless, macho status, wristwatches were no longer seen as dainty feminine bracelets, but were cool and manly enough for even the most rugged bloke.


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