Louis Cartier designed and built the first ground-up wristwatch in 1904. The resulting aviation timepiece, the best fake Cartier Santos, was finally ready for public consumption in 1911. Louis Cartier wasn’t happy with the Santos because the lugs were still, in his thinking, “attached” to the case, and in 1918 Cartier finally released the Tank, a rectangular watch that effectively solved the problem of attaching a strap to a round watch.
The Tank almost single-handedly turned wrist-worn watches into a fashion trend during the roaring 1920s, and that trend changed horology forever. The Tank lent itself to endless riffing, and the number of Tank variants alone is mind-boggling (let alone the rest of the Cartier watch catalog).
By the 1970s, the three main Cartier branches — Paris, London and New York — had been sold off to various holding companies, and a proliferation of “accessible luxury” watches began to pour out of the lower-grade Must de Cartier line during the disco era. The high quality copy Cartier continued to make handmade, high-end watches, but the brand never made movements themselves until 2005, when they opened their stunning, ultra-modern manufacture in Switzerland. Since then, Cartier has been delighting watch fans with a bevy of gorgeous in-house watches each year.
This guide will help you navigate the current Cartier watch offerings, and it should help you understand 1:1 replica Cartier watches more generally, as well. It’s a deep and historically rich catalog, one that reaches back to — and includes — the birth of the wristwatch itself.
NOTE: We are covering men’s watches here, and realize that this excludes many of Cartier’s greatest creations, as their watches for women are often dazzling examples of mechanical prowess and, of course, gorgeously set jewels. But steel cases Cartier Santos copy watches have been unisex since before that was even a term, with the Tank leading the horological gender fluidity movement a full century before the conversation took a turn in that direction.
Arguably the first ground-up wristwatch ever produced, the Santos remains one of Cartier’s most popular models. Features include the beautifully screwed-down square bezel, the stylish rectangle case, and the shapely lugs (which tormented Louis Cartier and resulted in the Tank). Today you can find both quartz and mechanical models. (The two models we’ve highlighted below represent the Santos perfectly.)
With it classic style, alligator strap, steel case, and 100% pure Cartier flair, this modern, larger take on the Santos is a very pure expression of the original.
Dimensions: 31.4mm diameter x 7.3mm tall
Material: Stainless steel