Cartier Santos Gradient Blue, the ultimate alternative to the Nautilus and Royal Oak?

With the skyrocketing price of the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711/1A-010 and Royal Oak 15500 with blue dial, the search for a classic dressy sports watch is long, daunting and expensive. Is it even worth paying premium for these watches or enduring an arbitrary wait list? The Cartier Santos Gradient Blue might just be the answer.

The History

Iconic is an underrated word when it comes to describing the Cartier Santos. Cartier brand’s association with luxury jewellery has understated its prowess as a true watchmaker. Many of us actually forget Cartier as the company that made men’s wristwatches a reality today.

In 1904, an inventor and aviation pioneer by the name of Alberto Santos-Dumont was facing difficulty checking the time on his pocket watch during flight. Santos-Dumont complained about it to his friend, a French watchmaker named Louis Cartier and the first men’s wristwatch was created in his name. In short, that became the history of the Cartier Santos.

If you’d like to learn more, the folks at Monochrome Watches offer a deep dive into the history of the Cartier Santos 1904

The design of the Cartier Santos still feels modern even though it was introduced more than 100 years ago. It has gone through a few iterations but the iconic square case shape, railway minute track, roman dial and cabuchon crown are still the main staple of the Santos.

The Modern Santos, still an Icon

In 2018, Cartier announced a new face lift for the Santos. I admit, I wasn’t super impressed by it at the point of release but it grew on me over a period of time. It was in 2019 that it caught my attention again with the Gradient Blue model.

2018 Cartier Santos Collection

The Cartier Santos Gradient Blue retains everything in the main line-up but with an unusual blue dial. It is a midnight blue colour that looks darker in person. Everything is shinier on this model from its polished hands to the roman numeral on the dial. At first look, I immediate thought, “wow, isn’t this a great alternative to the Nautilus and Royal Oak.”

Buying the Cartier Santos

Let me begin with my buying journey. The Cartier Santos Gradient Blue isn’t a limited edition model and I’m still not certain whether it will be discontinued in the near future. A blue dial steel sports watch is usually harder to get from an authorised dealer (AD) compared to a white or black dial. Nonetheless, you can pick it up from the Cartier online store or from their physical outlet, but without any discount.

I got mine from The Hour Glass and didn’t really hesitate about ordering it despite being told that I will have to wait up to two months – as expected. Thankfully, it reached the store a month ahead of the estimated arrival date. I’ve heard that there are some pieces available in certain THG outlets in Singapore now, I guess they shipped a few along. Lucky me!

Nothing out of the ordinary when receiving the watch. It came in the classic red Cartier box, an additional blue calf leather strap and a special tool to assist with the sizing of bracelet.

What’s new to me is a whole new level of customer service introduced by Cartier. You’re expected to login to the Cartier Care webpage to register your watch, similar to buying a piece of consumer tech gadget. Plus, Cartier now offers 8 years of warranty against any manufacturing defects. Talk about consumer confidence, eh?

Review and personal thoughts

The watch is exactly what I thought it would be. It is extremely well-finished, over-engineered and has probably one of the nicest blue dial.

Bracelet and Strap

I have to start talking about the Cartier Santos from its bracelet. The design is clearly focused on convenience, simplicity and perfection. The special tool provided isn’t even necessarily for sizing or removing the bracelet. I could do it with some finger nails.

Press down at the back of the end link to remove bracelet and there is a little tab on each link which can be pressed down to pop up the pins. These pins seemed to be spring-loaded and don’t fall out so there’s really no worry about losing them. The calf leather strap has the same mechanism at the end of the strap plus a newly-designed deployant clasp that is very easy to adjust the length.

Case and Dial

The construct of the bezel was slightly polarising when the new Cartier Santos first launched in 2018. Many collectors and enthusiasts are more familiar with the block-ish or squarish bezel instead of it flowing towards the lugs.

I personally love this design because it looks especially good with the bracelet, akin to the feeling of an integrated bracelet. The bezel is polished to a mirror-like finish (scratch magnet alert) which makes the watch appears bigger on the wrist.

Screws on the bezel are all in different directions, unlike the Royal Oak, and they flow in parallel along with the bracelet. People with OCD may find this alarming but that appeals to me in a strange way and made it look a little more utilitarian.

This model only comes in the Large size, wearing almost like a 40mm watch. The execution on the case is very precise around the edges, all the way towards the crown guard. Its 7-sided cabuchon crown is well-sized and very easy to operate even with the seemingly intrusive crown guard.

The watch is rather slim coming in at only 9mm thick. It sits low on the wrist and doesn’t feel heavy on the bracelet. Even on a hot day, it’s still wears very comfortably. There’s lume on the hands but they aren’t exactly bright considering it is more of a sporty dress watch rather than a dressy sports watch.

Coming with a solid case back, there’s nothing much to look at. I’d have wished it came with a sapphire crystal display case back. On second thought, that would have driven the price up since the movement will have to be properly finished.

Movement: 1847 MC

First and foremost, this movement is very underrated. It is a huge step up from the ETA movement used in the previous generation. On paper, the Cartier 1847 MC calibre may seem pretty basic having a power reserve of 42 hours, bi-directional rotor and beating at 4Hz (28,800bhp).

The entire escapement is made with non-ferrous metal. Making it more resistant to corrosion and being anti-magnetic. For starter, the escapement is a very important part of the movement as it manages the power released from the mainspring. Without it the watch will unwind uncontrollably and wouldn’t be able to keep proper time.

The movement itself is covered by a ring alloy made of anti-magnetic material, giving the watch a resistance of up to 1,200 Gauss. That’s an impressive figure considering the Rolex Milgauss is resistant up to 1,000 Gauss. It’s important to ensure that a watch isn’t magnetised, especially when we are being exposed to magnetic field produced by electronic devices on a daily basis. A magnetised watch will run erratically and has to be de-magnetised by a watchmaker.

Winding the movement is extremely smooth, you can’t really feel the gears grinding. Setting the date is also very pleasant as the date changes more progressively rather than jumpy. I’m not obsessively tracking the accuracy of the movement and so far, I’ve observed +1 second a day.

Forget about the Nautilus and Royal Oak

I hate to compare the Cartier Santos with the Nautilus and Royal Oak because it is such a horology icon on its own. At this point of ownership, I don’t see it as an alternative but rather as a choice of its own.

People who buys Cartier watches respect the history of the brand. Seeing how this one costs S$9,450 at retail price, some people may have “better” brands in mind. Well, if you’re not brand conscious or buying a watch to flip for a quick buck in the pre-owned market, having a Cartier Santos on the wrist will get you a lot of compliments.

3 thoughts on “Cartier Santos Gradient Blue, the ultimate alternative to the Nautilus and Royal Oak?

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