Nearly every SIHH, Cartier proves to be the 900 pound gorilla in the room — by far the largest Richemont brand in terms of volume and scale at the Salon. This year was no different, as the Parisian jewellery titan presented over 40 novelties across a variety of existing collections. (That’s not even counting the Privé releases, which function as a kind of parallel homage to important archival pieces.) From cuff-like additions to the Panthère line to chic à la francaise Baignoire watches, Cartier’s strategy at SIHH 2019 was to give the people what they wanted — by doubling down on the already staggering number of sport, dress and jewellery lines that they offer.

Unsurprisingly, that means we saw a lot more of the revamped Santos collection. Launched in 2018, it was well-received thanks to a combination of price point, functionality (i.e. the QuickSwitch & SmartLink systems) and a surprisingly nifty in-house movement. At SIHH 2019, Cartier once again embraced these strengths, whilst developing more purpose-specific Santoses in the form of the Santos-Dumont, Chronograph and Skeleton. The latter is easily the most interesting of the bunch: offering well-made, creatively designed movements which also transform the overall look and feel of the Santos. Moreover, in the case of the Santos Skeleton Noctambule, you could very well say that the experience of wearing it in an illuminated versus pitch-black environment is “night and day”.


Form follows function

SIHH 2019
Although the skeletonised Santos movement featured prominently at SIHH 2018, this year’s versions are the first (within the collection) to be manufactured with Super-LumiNova coated bridges.

It’s virtually impossible to say anything about the Santos Skeleton’s dial without first broaching the subject of movements. The watch is powered by an in-house calibre that is characterised by a lattice-like network of bridges visible upon the dial. The Noctambule models feature a particularly interesting movement, which was notable for having been previously equipped in the Clé de Cartier timepiece released in 2016. The current generation of 9612MCs boast a significant advantage in terms of energy efficiency, thanks to two series-linked barrels. Despite being well-made and nicely finished, the primary attribute of these movements (and their manual winding cousins) seems to be added visual flair: Cartier’s designers have worked the bridges into the shape of Roman numerals, so when the Santos Skeleton is viewed in profile, individual struts of metal coalesce together to form the dial’s “indexes” (3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock). It’s a clever way to “synchronise” the overall aesthetic with the rest of the Santos family, and many have (rightfully) observed that this dial gives off a turn-of-the-century vibe, evoking the sort of wrought ironwork which would have been popular during namesake Carlos Santos-Dumont’s lifetime.

SIHH 2019
Pictured (left to right): Santos de Cartier Skeleton in steel (HK$198,000); Santos de Cartier Skeleton in two-tone 18K yellow gold on steel (HK$230,000).

When worn under normal lighting conditions, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Santos Skeleton is quite a conventionally dressy Cartier. Clocking in at 39.8mm in diameter and 9.08mm in height, it’s viable on all but the most extreme of wrists, proposing an aesthetic that is dressy and inoffensive. If that all sounds a bit predictable, the Noctambule Santos Skeleton offers an execution that cries out for nighttime use. Kill the lights while wearing this model and and the skeletonised movement assumes a slightly cyberpunk mantle. The motion works resemble an array of mechanical organs which are illuminated by dozens of neon laser beams — a visual effect that’s achieved by coating the movement bridges in Super-LumiNova. Although Cartier designers had previously used the technique in respect of the Tank Louis Cartier, it proved too dissonant with that watch’s overarching design language — a problem that is non-existent in the Santos’s case, given its jack-of-all-trades proportion and aesthetic.


Availability & pricing

SIHH 2019
Pictured (from left to right): the Santos de Cartier Skeleton Noctambule (HK$198,000); the Santos de Cartier Skeleton in 18K pink gold (HK$468,000).

In total, Cartier debuted four versions of the Santos Skeleton at SIHH 2019. These included tried-and-true executions such as a model in full 18k pink gold and the classic “two tone” treatment which combines stainless steel with yellow gold. While there’s nothing wrong with any of these models per se chances are, if you’re even cursorily familiar with the Santos range, that these won’t register as anything new.

The Noctambule models are far and away the most original, combining a stainless steel construction with ADLC (amorphous diamond-like) finishing. The latter surface treatment imbues the Noctambule with an interesting hybrid aesthetic; and combines the look of matte ceramic with the touch and feel of brushed steel. It should be noted that unlike the Santos-Dumont, these Noctambule Santoses feature Cartier’s much touted QuickSwitch system, although none of them will be available at retail with SmartLink-enabled bracelets.

The Santos de Cartier Skeleton range is priced between HK$198,000-$468,000. To learn more, visit Cartier online.


Randy Lai
Having worked in the Australian digital media landscape for over 5 years, Randy has extensive experience in men's specialist categories such as classic clothing, watches and spirits. He is partial to mid-century chronographs and a nice chianti.