Swellboy on… Cartier’s classic Santos watch

Does the latest iteration of the storied Cartier watch herald the return of Gordon Gekko chic?

Santos 18ct rose gold Skeleton manual, £56,500
Santos 18ct rose gold Skeleton manual, £56,500

The Geneva watch fair occupies most of the Swellboy January. The days leading up to it involve much girding of loins and strenuous preparation for the marathon of watch ogling that now occupies an entire week. The step counter on my iPhone goes haywire as it is hardly accustomed to such action, and after a day spent power-walking between stands I find myself out in the glittering Geneva night – one evening saw me attend three dinners in various parts of town.

Santos steel automatic with a range of calfskin straps, £6,100
Santos steel automatic with a range of calfskin straps, £6,100

After it is all over, there is a period of due reflection and cogitation, otherwise known as being slumped in front of the flickering images of the television, as I return to the ancestral terraced tenement with what remains of my mind doing its best to stave off horological Stendhalism as it processes the timepieces I have encountered.

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My chief lesson from this year’s fair was that I am approaching the age at which I can remember the launching of watches that are now being revived for a new generation. The timepiece that taught me this lesson was a new Cartier Santos. Even I am a little too young to have attended the launch of the original Santos, which is said to have made its debut in 1904 on the wrist of Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont. But in 1978 I was in my early teens and, while I may have been a few years too young to attend the gala launch of the reimagined Santos at Le Bourget, it was impossible to grow up in the 1980s without becoming familiar with the Cartier watch that took a belle époque idea and turned it into a disco-era status symbol.

Santos 18ct yellow gold automatic, £35,400
Santos 18ct yellow gold automatic, £35,400

The Santos was reinvented as a bracelet watch, with screws visible on every link of the bracelet as well as around the bezel, and the 18ct gold iteration received the ultimate 1980s benediction when it appeared on the wrist of Gordon Gekko in Wall Street – it can be clearly seen in the memorable “lunch is for wimps” scene, when Gekko is checking his pulse while smoking a cigarette, in front of a mesmerised Bud Fox.

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I was just as entranced when I saw the watch’s latest iteration, the Santos-Dumont (from £5,550), in Geneva. I knew about it before the fair, but nothing prepared me for the sight of the watch and the feel of it on the wrist. For full retro power, less is more, so avoid the bigger version and instead go for the midsize (in full 18ct, of course).

It was pitched so perfectly that it made me wonder why I had not worn one back in the 1980s. The answer was simple enough: I did not work in finance. I was immediately flooded with a sense of regret. If these really were standard issue to all successful financiers during the Thatcher years, then I missed my vocation.

However, it got me thinking that maybe the Gekko look will make a comeback. Accordingly, I have been consulting Tom “The Sharpener” Stubbs on broad braces, white collars on solid-coloured shirts, and – of course – hair gel.

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