Tick Tock Doc, Santos and Cartier

You can locate him on Google, but I saw him by chance. My watch needed a new battery, and like usual, I popped open the back and changed the battery myself, realizing only then that it was a snap open back that required much force to click it back in. It required what they call a watch press, I did not have one and I had no plans to buy one either.

So I walked over sheepishly to the jewelry shop where I had previously changed a couple of batteries. The lady there said, well, I am not sure I can do this, but my thumbs are usually strong enough. Now I had virtually ruined my thumbs trying to press it in the last evening and I could see the sweat coming off this old lady’s brows as she tried gamely. She gave up eventually & said, I can’t do it, I do not have the press, but go around and you can get it done at Tick Tock Doc.

He was not in that day, and so I ventured out to meet him, the next day.

The door was open that hot afternoon, to the basement cubicle of the building in Carlsbad and there was a fan outside the door blowing air inwards, it was a hot day well into the high 90’s. A doctor was talking to a wizened old man behind the counter of a room that had many many watches and clocks and timepieces…Most of them were antique pieces, not modern time machines. The man had a towel around his head and the doctor was talking of Chemotherapy and medicines. The man was listening to the doctor cheerfully, like I myself ended doing. As I looked around and took in the many clocks, the tick tock sounds & the general ambience, I idly thought about scenes from Alistair Maclean’s ‘Puppets on a chain’.

I waited patiently, the doctor ran out of words eventually and the old man Ivkovich addressed me, asking me what he could do. I asked him how he was and he explained cheerfully that he had just got back after his final Chemo, so the chances of his ‘croaking’ or becoming manure to in the park are not too big or too close anymore. I was astounded at the casualness with which he reeled off these words!

Then we talked about watches, a subject that is a favorite of mine and about the Cartier Santos. He showed me a solid gold Omega antique wristwatch and asked me if I was interested, the price was very attractive, but I did not want one…

People who know me know that three things that interest me quite a bit, they are flight, pens and watches. Other than Santos & Cartier, few aviators are connected to watches (Lindberg the aviator is connected to Longines)

So, my friends, let me tell you about Alberto Santos Dumont - an amazing personality after whom Cartier made the famous Santos line of watches.

Alberto Santos Dumont was born July 20, 1873, in the village of Cabangu, in Brazil. Jules Verne's fictional accounts of flying machines inspired young Alberto Santos-Dumont, son of a wealthy Brazilian coffee plantation owner, to fantasies about flight. At age 18, when his father's death made him a millionaire, Santos-Dumont sailed for France, where he became engrossed in internal-combustion engines and automobiles.

Santos-Dumont designed, built, and flew the first practical dirigible balloons. In doing so he became the first person to demonstrate that routine, controlled flight was possible. This "conquest of the air", in particular winning the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize on 19 October 1901 on a flight that rounded the Eiffel Tower, made him one of the most famous people in the world during the early 20th century. In addition to his pioneering work in airships, Santos-Dumont made the first public European flight of an airplane in Paris in October 1906. That aircraft, designated 14-bis or Oiseau de proie (French for "bird of prey"), is considered to be the first to take off, fly, and land without the use of catapults, high winds, launch rails, or other external assistance. For all his contributions to the area, in Brazil he is honored as the "Father of Aviation"

In Brazil, Santos-Dumont is considered to be the inventor of the airplane, because of the official and public character of the 14-bis flight as well as some technical points. The Wrights' early aircraft could sustain controlled flight, but always used some sort of assistance to become airborne, requiring a stiff headwind, or the use of launch rails. As such, none of the Wrights' early craft took off under their own power in calm wind from an ordinary ground surface as was achieved by the flights of the Santos 14-bis.

Brazilians are passionate about Santos and refuse to accept that the Wright brothers were the first to make powered flight; they insist that Santos used to do it all the time. It is a compulsive argument and the Wright brother’s site presents their case in explanation.

Now what has he got to do with the Cartier watch? Wikipedia explains - The wristwatch had already been invented by Patek Philippe, decades earlier, but Santos-Dumont played an important role in popularizing its use by men in the early 20th century. Before him they were generally worn only by women, as men favored pocket watches.

In 1904, while celebrating his winning of the Deutsch Prize at Maxim's Restaurant, Santos-Dumont complained to his friend Louis Cartier about the difficulty of checking his pocket watch to time his performance during flight. Santos-Dumont then asked Cartier to come up with an alternative that would allow him to keep both hands on the controls. Cartier went to work on the problem and the result was a watch with a leather band and a small buckle, to be worn on the wrist.

The Santos story had an unfortunate end –

Clearly Santos-Dumont had a different vision for the future of aviation (Santos-Dumont also believed they would serve as "chariots of peace, bringing estranged cultures in contact with one another so that they could get to know one another as people, thereby reducing the potential for hostilities) than did the Wright brothers, who were still intent on selling their airplanes to the militaries of the world. The Wrights met with little commercial success, however, since they were still reluctant to demonstrate their airplanes publicly. When World War I erupted in Europe in 1914, Santos-Dumont grew increasingly despondent over the carnage wrought by aircraft. In the space of just a few years, the utopian vision he had promoted in his first balloon and airplane flights now seemed hopelessly naive.

Santos-Dumont fell seriously ill a few months later. He experienced double vision and vertigo that made it impossible for him to drive, much less fly. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He abruptly dismissed his staff and closed his workshop. His illness soon led to a deepening depression. In 1911, Santos-Dumont moved from Paris to the French seaside village of BĂ©nerville where he took up astronomy as a hobby. Some of the local folk, who knew little of his great fame and exploits in Paris just a few years earlier, mistook his German-made telescope and unusual accent as signs that he was a German spy who was tracking French naval activity. These suspicions eventually led to Santos-Dumont having his rooms searched by the French military police. Upset by the charge, as well as depressed from his illness, he burned all of his papers, plans, and notes. In 1928 (some sources report 1916); he left France to go back to Brazil, his country of birth, never to return to Europe. He died in 1932.

Santos thought that flight could be a pathway to world peace, enabling people to reflect on the all-too-human world below and inspiring them to lead more just and moral lives. Read here his feelings after his first flight.

Most text on Santos’s biography & pics comes from Wikipedia – Acknowledged with thanks

I can vouch for the Cartier Santos line of watches – It is probably one of the best looking watches I have seen, some day I will own one!!!

Santos showed the world how to fly, before anytime, anyplace, anywhere….. The French government, in spite of its later patent award to the Wright brothers, officially recognized Santos’s 1906 event as the first witnessed powered flight. Unlike the case with the other claimants, no aeronautics experts dispute the fact that Santos-Dumont's flight met all the necessary definitions and criteria. That would make him the father of the airplane.

Watch this video, read this bio (the story of my life – Santos), Wings of Madness and read this msn article for those further interested in the topic.

A final twister that I will cover in an upcoming blog – Who is Shivkar Bapuji Talpade? Well, he flew an airplane in 1895, much before Santos and Wright. But why is it not talked about? I will explain another day.


narendra shenoy said…
Lovely post as usual. What a noble soul Santos seems to have been! To envision aircrafts as the messengers of peace! They are anything but, these days.
Happy Kitten said…
Beautiful narration! cant wait to read the Indian flight expert. .. do make it soon.

I guess every invention was made with good intention until it reached the power mongers..
Great post, Maddy; very informative. Waiting for the next installment on the Indian aviator.