Going Over To The Dark Side: Hands-On With The Black Lacquer Cartier Santos-Dumont
I already have the Cartier Santos Galbée XL in my collection, and I’m not too fond of blacked-out watches. So I thought I had nothing to fear from the stainless steel Cartier Santos-Dumont with its black lacquer dial and case finish. Well, I couldn’t have been any more wrong because this watch is a true black beauty. On paper, it looked like a watch that was trying too hard, but in person, it totally won me over. Let’s take a look at how that happened.
A friend of the show already came to the Fratello offices earlier this year to proudly show us his rose gold Cartier Santos-Dumont with the creme lacquer finish. I liked the size, and the lacquer finish on the case looked a lot better than I expected. But somehow, that watch didn’t quite grab my attention as much as this black version did. I think it’s the lack of contrast on the rose gold version that “bothered” me the most. In a way, I think this black lacquer version is the one to get. And the good thing is, it’s a non-limited version that should still be available at quite a reasonable price.
The Cartier Santos-Dumont lacquer edition; a nice surprise
The rose gold/creme, platinum/burgundy, and stainless steel/black Cartier Santos-Dumont models came out in 2022. It was pretty hard to get, and still, there’s no mention of them on Cartier’s website. The rose gold version was limited to 250 pieces, and the platinum version to 150 pieces. The black version isn’t limited to any specific number, but I can imagine production numbers aren’t very high. Maybe that’s why prices on the secondary market are around €8,500. This is quite a bit higher than the original retail price of €5,100.
But as the stainless steel version isn’t limited and I couldn’t find it on the brand’s website, I asked whether we could get one in for a hands-on review. A few weeks later, the watch arrived at our office, together with a few other recent Cartier releases. But this stainless steel Santos-Dumont with that black lacquer finish quickly became our favorite. And the funny thing is that I think it caught everyone a bit by surprise. This wasn’t last year’s biggest blockbuster release, and it’s the most affordable version of the lacquer trio. But still, it made a significant impact.
Dumont, the more elegant Cartier Santos
So what are we actually talking about here? The original Cartier Santos was designed by Louis Cartier for his Brazilian aviator friend Alberto Santos-Dumont at the beginning of the 20th century. The watch is considered to be one of the very first wristwatches ever. Moreover, it’s one of the very few watches of its time that had a square instead of a round shape. Nowadays, Cartier still carries an extensive Santos collection, within which the Santos-Dumont represents the more elegant side of the collection.
The Santos-Dumont at hand today has a fully stainless steel case that measures 31.4mm wide, 7.3mm thick, and 43.5mm from lug to lug. Cartier calls this the large size, yet it’s certainly not a big watch. But make no mistake because this one offers a lot of wrist presence for its modest size. Part of why it catches your attention is that thin layer of black lacquer on top of the case and bezel. It’s almost like someone put stickers on top of the original design. And that’s precisely why I thought it would look a bit cheap in person.
The perfect highlights
But that’s not the case at all. On the contrary, it adds another layer to the already quite brilliant design of the Santos. Mainly because the lacquer doesn’t cover the sharp bevels of the Santos case, it perfectly highlights that very unique and very attractive design. The glossy black dial is engraved with squares that create a three-dimensional effect. And on top, you’ll find the characteristic applied Roman numerals. The sword hands perfectly match those numerals, and it’s all surrounded by a printed railroad minute track.
I’m usually not a fan of blacked-out watch cases, but I enjoyed this one very much. It almost looks like a pop-art version of the Santos-Dumont. And there’s still enough contrast to be enjoyed with those stainless steel bevels shining through. I’ve also repeatedly mentioned that a Cartier dial should be silver with black numerals. But again, I think this inverted dial works so well with that two-tone case. The same goes for that shiny black alligator strap. It wouldn’t be my choice on almost any other watch. But on this black lacquer Santos-Dumont it just sings.
Simple and smooth
I also like that there’s no folding clasp but just a simple pin buckle on that alligator strap. Folding clasps can be very user-friendly, but they can also be a bit finicky. Especially the Cartier ones that require you to fully fold the strap aren’t the easiest to adjust. Besides, that pin buckle looks distinctive and allows you to quickly adjust the strap in a pinch.
The 430MC hand-wound movement inside winds very smoothly. It’s based on an ultra-thin movement from Piaget, which runs at 21.600vph and offers a power reserve of around 38 hours. It does what it needs to do, and what I really enjoy about it is that there’s no running seconds hand and no date window to be found. Those are two things that my own Santos Galbée does have and which I think it could very well do without. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still delighted every time I put that watch on my wrist.
On the wrist
But I’m sure I’d feel the same way with the black lacquer Santos-Dumont. As I said, it’s not the biggest watch. In fact, it’s just a tad smaller than my own Santos. That means I still think it wears pretty similarly to a 35-36mm round equivalent. It’s more dressy than a non-lacquer stainless steel Santos. But with the brushed sides and those sharp corners, it can still handle many different kinds of situations. In addition, its thin profile makes it feel at home on any wrist, and indeed on mine.
I’ve always been looking at that gray-dialed limited edition Santos, reference number 2319. But now that I’ve seen this black lacquer version in person, I think it has surpassed that version on my list. This one is totally distinct from my Santos and feels like a different watch altogether while still remaining recognizable as a Cartier Santos. Anyway, I’ll be trying to get this one out of my head soon because it was a very positive surprise that I hadn’t factored into this year’s watch budget.
What do you think?
It helps that it looks like it’s pretty hard to get your hands on one of these black lacquer Cartier Santos-Dumont watches. However, I checked with Cartier before writing this article to see if the watch is still available, and it is. Its price has increased slightly and is now set to €6.600. That’s still lower than what they’re being offered on Chrono24 and less than what they’re asking for that limited edition 2319. So maybe it’s not entirely off of my mind just yet.
What do you think of this stainless steel Cartier Santos-Dumont with a black lacquer finish? Let me know in the comments below.