It’s a peculiarity of dress watches—especially the smaller ones, and especially in gold—that in summer they stick out on a naked forearm like stilettos on a vicar. Which makes them an ideal go-to for the man who has the nous to wear them in untraditional ways. Cartier’s legendary watches, for example, have a surprising history of popping up on the most undressy wrists.
Muhammad Ali wore a Tank. So did Andy Warhol. For years, the indestructible Keith Richards wore a Panthère de Cartier with his faded denim and threadbare T-shirts with a nonchalance that could not have been imagined by Louis Cartier when he created its forebears, first the Santos in 1904 and then its tiny cousin, the Tank, in 1916.
Cartier first developed the Santos (in an edition of one) for Alberto Santos-Dumont, a dapper Brazilian socialite and daredevil who in 1901 was the first to fly around the Eiffel Tower in a dirigible he had built himself. The controls were primitive, and flying it was, he said, like “pushing a candle through a brick wall.” Santos-Dumont begged Louis Cartier to come up with something that would allow him not to have to take a hand off the joystick to look at his pocket watch.