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Cartier Santos Steel Automatic

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1 Review

Brand: Cartier / Watches For: Women / Clock Mechanism: Automatic

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      27.07.2010 11:17
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      If I had my time again I might have bought a slightly more expensive version

      Most people who know me would be surprised to realise that I wear a watch that cost more than they would suppose that a (normally) sensible, rational person like me would dream of paying. Even more surprising, is that I didn't 'waste' my money because the watch is probably worth more now than it was when I bought it about eleven years ago. That watch is a Cartier Santos Ladies Automatic in stainless steel, model number 2423.

      When my grandfather died about 14 years ago, I inherited some money. Most of this just went into savings or paid off part of my mortgage but I felt the need to buy something by which I could remember my granddad. He was undoubtedly one of the most frugal souls that ever walked the earth and was still saving for his old age when he was well into his 80s. He was also someone that I don't recall ever seeing wearing a watch or paying much attention to the time. There was thus just a touch of irony as well as sentiment in my decision to buy a watch.

      Like most people I'd had many watches over the years, some good, some bad, many entirely forgettable. I still have my first wind-up Timex in a drawer somewhere. When I passed my 11-plus, my mother bought me a watch (an ugly early digital thing). My first so-called serious boyfriend gave me a watch which ended up in the washing machine after we split up (not intentionally but it seemed kind of appropriate). This time I wanted a watch with staying power; something that wasn't 'fashionable' (and so wouldn't go out of fashion), but would ideally have a timelessness that comes with the best watches. In short, a watch I wouldn't want to replace in a hurry. The Santos was one of the first wrist-watches ever created way back in 1904 (made by Louis Cartier for his aviator friend Alberto Santos-Dumont) and it's still going strong over a century later. I think it's fair to say that even though I didn't realise it at the time, I really did pick a classic.

      Two entirely un-connected close friends of mine had Cartier Santos watches and I'd always admired those watches so my first thought was to go down that route. I wanted to avoid the more 'obvious' big name watches like Rolex because there are just so many fakes around. Who wants to spend a lot of money for a watch that people would assume is probably a £20 knock-off? I visited a number of jewellers and hung out a lot in the duty free shops at various airports checking prices, finding out if the weight was right for me and whether the watch was really what I wanted.

      The ladies' version of the Santos comes in many different varieties, of which the bi-metal version with the stainless steel case and strap with the gold screw highlights and gold bezel is probably the most popular. This was the version both my friends had - one in the ladies version, one in the gents. If you like the style you could spend a lot more money and a gold Santos could easily set you back around £10,000 (and for that you don't even get a metal strap!). There's something a bit obscene about wearing a watch that costs as much as a small car.

      Against all advice to the contrary, I'd decided not to go down the route of the most popular version with the gold highlights, considering it a bit too flashy. There are battery versions, quite possibly manual wind-up ones if you look for early models but I had already decided I wanted an automatic movement. Again, shops tried to talk me out of this decision, pointing out that the watch is lighter and more slender if you go down the battery route (and of course, if you do that you'll have to go back to the jewellers every couple of years for a new battery, a service and a nice big bill). I had previously owned allegedly waterproof watches that stopped being water-tight after battery changes so I was determined to go automatic. For the model I wanted the recommended selling price in 1999 was around £1800, easily enough to make me think twice. In Duty Free I could knock that down to around £1500 before I started negotiating. I dithered a little longer and then, out of the blue I got a lucky break.

      I was in Barcelona on a business trip when a local colleague looked at his watch to see if we had time for coffee before our meeting. Spotting his particularly gorgeous Cartier, I commented that I was on the look out for a similar watch. He told me that his wife had a shop in the city and he asked if I would like them to give me a price. Next day found me sitting in her shop on the Ramblas, looking at Cartier watches.

      Like all the other jewellers, his wife advised against the automatic version because it's too thick. She pushed me towards the one with the gold highlights and I did exactly what I intended to do and stuck to my guns. I wanted automatic and I wanted the plain stainless steel so what could she do on the price? I fibbed slightly about the best price I'd seen it for in duty free, knocking off a couple of hundred pounds, and within ten minutes, I'd agreed to pay her an amount that was just about £1150. She didn't have one in stock and needed to order it in so I arranged a bank transfer for the money and she posted the watch over a few days later. I became the proud owner of a watch that cost almost three times what I paid for my first car.

      So what did I get? The watch is not aggressively flashy or loud - take a look at the photo and you'll see what I mean. It has a stainless steel strap with decorative stainless steel 'screws' on each link. The case is stainless steel and inside is a white engine-turned engraved face. The hours are marked by silver Roman numerals. The hands and quarter hours are fluorescent so you can read them in the dark (if they've been exposed to light not too long beforehand). There's a sweeping second hand, a date window and the characteristic Cartier winder/time adjuster with its blue glass insert. On the more expensive models, this blue glass is replaced with a real sapphire. The glass is ultra-hard scratch-resist sapphire glass and sure enough after more than a decade of wear, there's absolutely no visible scratch marking on the glass. I can't say quite the same for the square stainless steel bezel which has quite a few scratches.

      The watch was much too big for me when I first got it so I had to take it to a jeweller and get two links removed, and then return a few years later after losing some weight to get a further link taken out. I have very small wrists and would say that the watch is now right at the bottom limit of size. If one more link were taken out, the closing mechanism would sit in the wrong place and would pinch horribly. As it is, I'm so close to that limit that if I lean on the strap or catch it badly, it has a tendency to pop open. Fortunately if it pops on just one side, it's not loose enough to fall off because even fully open, it's still a continuous strap which is a good security feature.

      Am I thrilled with my watch after all this time? Perhaps not quite so excited as I was a decade ago but I do still love it. I struggle sometimes to get a clear first glance read because the silver coloured figures and hands don't stand out as clearly as I'd like against a light engine-turned face. Many other models now have black numerals so I guess the manufacturer realised that silver numerals weren't ideal. The popping of the strap is a minor annoyance but the thing that drives me most crazy is the way that the strap tends in hot weather to leave me with a filthy black mark on my wrist that makes it look like I've got a nasty cheap watch. The articulated strap does seem to gather a lot of dirt and it takes only a bit of sweat to get it smeared all over my wrist. I don't wear my watch in water - yes, it's waterproof but I choose not to - so I occasionally give the strap a good clean with an old toothbrush to get the yucky bits out.

      In case you're thinking 'Aha, I'm going to catch her out - she's forgotten to tell us about whether it keeps good time' then fear not, I'm just getting to that bit. I've never had my watch serviced because it will probably cost a couple of hundred pounds to do so, which means I'm waiting for something to go really wrong with it before I send it off. After 11 years I will admit that it sometimes picks up or drops a minute every couple of days. However, since I travel a lot and am forever moving my watch back or forward an hour when I change time zones, the inaccuracies caused by doing that are bigger than any caused by slight fast or slow running. Very little that I do requires quite such precision that a minute here or there will matter so I can live with minor inaccuracy.

      I believe that this particular model is not in production any more. When I had my watch valued for insurance last year, the jeweller who did the job couldn't find this model and gave a replacement value based on the next closest available model at around £2500. If you want to buy this exact model you can find 'pre-owned' models on the internet through reputable dealers (or on eBay if you want to take your chances) for around £1200-£1500 with a full service and 12 month guarantee. In effect my watch has kept most of the price I paid for it all that time ago. In a funny way, I think my frugal grandfather might well have approved of that!

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