How to Spot a Real Cartier Santos Watch
Once upon a time in 1904, a Brazilian aviator named Alberto Santos-Dumont complained to a friend about the impracticality of using a pocket watch while flying. That friend was French watchmaker Louis Cartier, and his solution culminated in the first wristwatch for men: The Cartier Santos. Santos-Dumont went on to make history when he became the first person to be filmed in flight, flying 220 meters in 21.5 seconds — all while wearing the Cartier Santos on his wrist. In 1911 it was officially launched for mass consumption, and it is still coveted today for its reliability and precision.
The look of the Cartier Santos was bold and ahead of its time. Known for its iconic square face, the geometric design predated the Art Deco style that became popular in the 1920s and 30s and still informs the aesthetic of Cartier watches today. Inspired by the visible rivets on airplanes, the exposed screws of the watch were an unconventional, first-of-their kind design element. But besides being aesthetically pleasing, these details also help us separate counterfeits from the real deal. To learn more, we tapped Fine Jewelry & Watch Valuation Managers Kelsey Hickox and Serge Ekmekjian to point out the key details to look for when authenticating a Cartier Santos timepiece.
The world’s first pilot watch may be coveted for the precision of its inner workings, but its outer appearance is just as noteworthy. “When the Santos Dumont was first made available to the public in 1911, it was made in platinum and yellow gold varieties. Today, the Santos Dumont is produced in many different styles and sizes. Cartier has made the collection more accessible by including stainless steel models, as well as two-tone stainless steel and gold versions,” says Hickox. “A Cartier watch is built for eternity. Depending on how often it’s worn and how well it’s maintained, a hundred-year-old Cartier Santos watch could continue to function like it was built just yesterday.”
Many inauthentic pieces will have snap-on cases, so a lack of screws is an indicator of counterfeiting. “The screws are actually what holds the case together. They’re not just for the aesthetics,” says Ekmekjian. “They are always rounded and have one line, just like the LOVE collection. If the watch comes in factory condition, the screws will all be tightened and their direction will be matched.”
The Crown & Crystal
King Edward VII dubbed Louis Cartier “the jeweler of kings and the king of jewelers” so it’s no surprise that gemstones are used in the crowns of many Cartier watches. “The winding crowns on Cartier Santos watches are made from either synthetic sapphire or earth-born diamond depending on the model and metal,” says Hickox.
Pay attention to the way the gem is attached to the crown. It should be securely set into the crown rather than glued. “It’s also important to note the quality of the diamond or sapphire used — Cartier only uses high-quality gemstones on all its pieces,” adds Ekmekjian. Apart from the crown, “we expect the crystals on modern timepieces to be crafted from synthetic colorless sapphire, a hard and shiny material,” says Hickox.
Turn over your Cartier Santos and you’ll find an inscription on the back. “The engraving should always be deep in the metal, not just a surface laser inscription,” says Ekmekjian. A serial number should be deeply engraved onto the back or side. Shallow etching is a red flag that could signify counterfeiting. Important to note is that “the Cartier signature and font may vary depending on year of manufacture,” according to Hickox.
The unconventional square shaped dial of the Cartier Santos holds many details that can aid the identification of counterfeits. “The dial should have ‘Cartier’ written on it very clearly and centered perfectly,” says Ekmekjian. “Often, Cartier will include a secret signature on the dial. If you look closely, you will see the word ‘Cartier’ hidden in one of the arms of the Roman numeral VII at 7 o’ clock or X at 10 o’clock.” Also look out for blue indicators and a guilloche, which is an ornate geometric pattern printed onto the watch dial, that appear on some but not all Cartier Santos watches.
Besides these key details, you can also examine the overall look and feel of the watch. “Counterfeit pieces are typically made with fewer resources,” says Hickox. “True Cartier watches will have a significant heft, especially if made from solid gold or platinum.”
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