Cartier Santos-Dumont XL Hand-Wind Watches

Few modern watchmakers measure up to Cartier when it comes to century-old, yet evergreen, designs. We feel like we could write a book on Cartier watch design evolution — but we’ll spare you that and instead will shift focus right away to the new-for-2021 Cartier Santos-Dumont XL Hand-Wind watch collection, a range of three new watches, all with a Piaget-derived hand-wound movement, lowered prices, and now a steel variant.

The Cartier Santos has played a major role in carving the path not only for pilot’s watches, but also for men’s watches, in general. In its more than a century-long history, the Santos has been many things to many people — but perhaps most of us will remember it as the chunky (almost too chunky) Santos XL that was a star of the late 2000s and early 2010s, followed by the still rather bulky Santos 100 (reviewed here).

Great watches in their own right, they all lacked some of the delicacy of the earliest Cartier Santos watches. The Santos-Dumont collection, with that notable “-Dumont” extension to its name, marks a distinctly different take that roves in the direction of those smaller watches with so much refinement to their proportions.

That trend continues in the Cartier Santos-Dumont XL Hand-Wind watches for 2020, which are available in three variations: 18k pink gold, two-tone with 18k pink gold and steel, and an all-steel variant. All termed “extra-large” by Cartier, they measure 46.6mm by 33.9mm and are an impressive 7.5mm-thick. That thin profile is attained through the use of an exceptionally thin, Piaget-derived Cartier 430MC caliber that measures only 2.15mm-thick.

Given that only the very latest ultra-thin movements are capable of stretching power reserve, this older (but proven) 430P/430MC caliber offers a shorter 38-hour power reserve matched to a slower 21,600bph operating frequency. In practice, that means you’ll want to be winding this beauty every single day — a gratifying chore, to be sure.

If you want to save at least a few thousand dollars — if neither winding your watches nor hiring a Watch Butler is a possibility for you — then you’ll be happy to learn that Cartier offers the Santos-Dumont in the “large” size with a quartz movement and  six years of autonomy. Introduced last year, these “large” Santos-Dumont pieces have case dimensions of 43.5mm by 31.4mm and a thickness of 7.3mm.

Getting back to the The Cartier Santos-Dumont XL Hand-Wind collection, my only small gripe with these, as a watch-lover, is the fact that the crown is your only interaction and your only indicator of the presence of a hand-wound movement… To be fair, there’s also “mécanique” written in small fonts on the caseback. A running seconds would be as much a sacrilege as a date window on this design, but an open caseback, even with just a small aperture somewhere, revealing the bridges covered with the Cartier “C” all over, would have been a nice little touch. A running seconds window or power reserve on the back really would have been next level — but also likely would’ve entailed an increase in price. Cartier doesn’t appear to provide caseback images, so you’ll have to use your imagination to picture a solid caseback with some text on it.

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