The Spirit of Maison Cartier
Mention the name Cartier, and it is doubtful anyone who knows jewelry would balk, especially if one has had the fortunate advantage of examining, in person, any of Cartier’s dazzling creations—for the name is recognized throughout the globe as one of excellence and superior quality.  Maison Cartier, or House Cartier in English, is appreciated the world over by those with a predilection for that which bespeaks luxury.   For over 150 years, Cartier has established itself as a creative force in the production of fine jewelry and watches, wedding and engagement rings, and other luxury goods, all of which reflect a concentrated opulence that mirrors the refinement of those in possession of it.  

For Cartier, garnering such a reputation was the end result of a succession of family members that can be traced down the lineage to three brothers, all of whom possessed a fierce determination and a remarkable innovativeness that seemed to dominate the era in which they emerged.  Meticulous to the core, Pierre, Louis, and Jacques Cartier knew what they wanted, and set about getting it, parlaying their skills into a phenomenal success achieved through inventiveness and ingenuity, which is why House Cartier still holds sway today.

Founded in Paris in 1847, Cartier’s modest beginnings were formed by Louis-François Cartier who assumed the jewelry workshop of the master, Adolphe Picard, under whom he apprenticed, thus founding the House of Cartier.  Some twenty-seven years later his son, Alfred, undertook the role of company head, but it was Alfred’s three sons who masterfully branded the famed establishment.

Jeweler of Kings
The moniker “Jeweler of kings and the king of jewelers,” was bestowed to Cartier by the Prince of Wales, England’s prospective King Edward VII, due to Cartier’s extensive history of providing jewels to imperial monarchs.  King Edward’s reign—which governed the first decade of the twentieth century—marked the resplendency of high society for many Western countries before the advent of World War I; many heads of state turned to Cartier, at that time and in the years that followed prior to the Second World War, in the effort to furnish their stately jewelry coffers.   The high level of expertise rendered by Cartier led to the awarding of fifteen royal warrants between 1904 and 1939, solidifying its place as a supplier of magnificent tiaras to some of the world’s most notable dynasties, including England, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Russia, Belgium, and more.   In 1926, the Indian Maharaja of Kapurthala assigned Cartier with the design of a head ornament that boasted 19 exceptional emeralds, including a center stone of 117.40 carats.  Needless to say, such a designation did not go unnoticed . . . not even by the Kind of England.

The Hope Diamond
Aside from outfitting crowned heads, Cartier also furnished jewelry the firm had acquired and subsequently resold to socialites and celebrities alike.  One of House Cartier’s more famous acquisitions was the purchase of the Hope Diamond, by Pierre Cartier in 1910.  Fêted as one of the most legendary diamonds in the world—having boasted an illustrious history and an extensive change of hands from India through Europe and the U.K.—Cartier calculatingly re-set the 45.52 carat gemstone, rendering it into a pendant accompanied by 16 white diamonds, both pear-shaped and cushion cut, which was then suspended from a necklace comprised of 45 white diamonds.  It was reported to have been offered for $150,000 in 1910; however, after much fanfare owing to tales of the ill fate bestowed to those who possessed it, and the significant media attention generated as a result, Cartier sold it to American mining heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean a year later for $300,000.  Though McLean possessed a predilection for playing hide and seek with it during parties, in addition to having put it up for hock several times, the Hope Diamond managed to endure until McLean’s death, only to be purchased two years later by Harry Winston.  Today the Hope Diamond, through Winston’s generosity, resides in Washington’s Smithsonian Institution for the benefit of the general public.


Cartier - Christmas 2013

La Panthère
While the splendor of Cartier jewelry speaks for itself, one enduring image figures in many Cartier designs:  the panther.  As Cartier’s signature animal, the panther is a metaphor for that which is “astonishing, intriguing, and inspiring,” and continues to this day as its “timeless, fearless emblem.”  Bestiary designs were first employed by Cartier in 1914, fashioned on a wristwatch such that the setting of the gems gracing the metal band mimicked the fur of a jungle cat.  While other predatory cats played a role in many Cartier designs, it was the panther which became the most predominant of the animal motifs, affixed to various accessories, such as powder, cigarette, and vanity cases, and later applied to bracelets, necklaces, and brooches.   

Though panther imagery adorned many Cartier items, it was the jewelry that demonstrated the more lifelike renderings, as designed by eminent Cartier jeweler Jeanne Toussaint beginning in the early 1930s.  Toussaint, who worked alongside Louis Cartier, found herself enamored of the formidable panther on a trip to Africa, perceiving the animal as one of elegance and femininity.  In 1948, Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, purchased one of Toussaint’s designs—a brooch featuring Cartier’s first three-dimensional golden panther perched atop a cabochon emerald; the following year she commissioned another Toussaint brooch featuring a platinum panther atop a cabochon sapphire weighing over 152 carats.  The final acquisition was made in 1952, in the form of a gift from Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor, to his wife.  Also crafted by Toussaint, this piece is in the form of a platinum panther bracelet, fully articulated, and comprised of pavé-set diamonds and onyx for the body, and marquise-shaped emeralds for eyes.   

In 2010, these pieces, amongst many others in the Duchess’ collection showered upon her by the Duke, were sold at auction.  Sotheby’s chairman, David Bennett, has said of the auction:  "The offering comprises not only incomparable examples of the genius of Cartier in collaboration with the Windsors, but also pieces whose inscriptions tell the story of perhaps the greatest love story of the 20th century, the romance that led Edward VIII to abdicate the throne of Great Britain."  He went on to say:  “They say no man ever gave up more for the love of a woman. The quality of the jewels and the way they tell the story of the relationship are just irresistible.”  Despite the fact that the panther bracelet was missing a number of small stones, it sold for a record-breaking $7 million.  It is rumored that Madonna, who directed the 2011 film “W.E.” about the infamous abdication of the King of England for the twice-divorced American, expressed interest in the panther bracelet, though the current owner has not been disclosed.


Cartier - Christmas 2013

A Marriage of Excellence

Perhaps one of the more lasting traditions ever initiated by Cartier was the utilization of platinum in jewelry settings and watches.  Louis Cartier pioneered the use of this precious metal in jewelry making after developing an interest in the research available at the time, circa 1860.  

Platinum, while extremely rare, possesses a remarkable utility, making it applicable in anything from the manufacture of exquisite jewelry to applications in medical and chemical industries, as well as numerous emerging technologies.  Due to its purity (alloyed with only five percent of other metals, compared to gold at twenty-five), and the fact that it is resistant to corrosion, tarnishing, and wear, platinum is the ideal substance as the foundation metal for gemstones.  It is dense yet malleable and ductile, making it strong yet surprisingly pliable, thus enabling it to be employed in the most delicate of designs.  

Even more, its silver-white color imparts a lustrousness that pairs exceptionally well with diamonds . . . hence the unification of the two, which Cartier employs with a deftness that can render one breathless.  Cartier ateliers work their magic on the world’s finest diamonds—rigorously selected from the rarest and the exceptional—and toy with convention, crafting pieces resplendent in elegance that exalt the substances from which they are comprised.  Take the gloriousness of the Cartier Destinée Solitaire, which features a brilliant center cut diamond that is surrounded by micropaved brilliant-cut diamonds that also aligns the platinum band.  It’s a monochromatic feast for the eyes which concentrates the light and gleams with a silvery patina.  A seamless kinship of metal and stone . . . with a nod to Cartier, the diamond and platinum engagement ring endures as a lasting declaration of love.

A Novel Watchmaker
Aside from jewelry, Cartier also manufactures timepieces with a watchmaking style that fuses “boldness, passion, and elegance.”  Cartier watchmaking was initiated in the 19th century, and has comprised a diversity of forms and styles wedded to precision mechanisms.  Back then, many of the commissions Cartier received existed in the form of jewelry watches for women, oftentimes worn as brooches or chatelaines (ornamental hooks worn at the waist for holding a watch).  These watches were exquisitely rendered and highly detailed, such as the 1874 chatelaine that was designed in gold and embellished in blue enamel, and featured pearls, sapphires, and diamonds embedded in a succession of ornamental chains that cascaded down towards three tiny human portraits.  Indeed, one highly ornate timepiece!

During this period and into the twentieth century, pocket watches were the preference of men, and were executed in a bevy of styles, including gold and enameled watches which were embellished with onyx or pearl, the intention being to echo the jewelry of the time.   Later, Cartier pocket watches gave way to wristwatches in gold and platinum, many of which were adorned with diamonds.  This evolution came about at the turn of the century (following the initial conception of the wristwatch by Swiss companies Patek Philippe and Girard-Perregaux), when Louis Cartier—sensing that this was the future of the personal timepiece(even though the wristwatch was still widely unpopular then)—designed the Santos Watch for Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont.   

The intention with the Santos Watch was to create an instrument of practical means, readily accessible for piloting, but also reflective of form and function in harmony.   Pocket watches may have been beautifully articulated, but they remained ensconced in the pocket or concealed under a layer of clothing.  But aesthetic consideration was not a principle that was manifested in wristwatch design at the time; rather it was performance (for, in some instances the practice for hands-free time-telling, especially during WWI, was to cup a pocket watch with leather straps).  Cartier’s idea, however, was to make it as equally enchanting, while keeping it functional.  Yet, initially, the more pressing focus lay in maintaining visual integrity while trying to make the watch hold fast to the wrist.  Cartier resolved both issues by designing a square case with rounded corners to incorporate the lugs, eliminating the structural break between the two and solving the challenge of how to fasten a watch face to a band while preserving conceptual tenability.   The performance factor was a given, for Cartier was equally adept at the mechanics—constructing with high-quality components and powerful mechanical ingenuity, and building for lasting performance.  It was the design feature that brought it home.  While other companies were focused primarily on performance, Cartier also took the attractiveness of the device into consideration; after all, Cartier was a jewelry design firm—designing a watch that could hold enough allure for exhibition on the wrist posed little challenge in that regard.  The case was constructed of solid gold, while the bezel was framed by a thin, gold square casing with screws set into it like rivets, conferring a kind of refined masculinity to the overall design while maintaining style and sophistication.  Graceful black Roman numerals bedecked the dial, imparting an unadorned orderliness for easy reading.  Even more, the watch possessed an early Art Deco grandeur with the convergence of metal architecture in an apparatus with a modern design—for the square metal watch face in conjunction with the rectangular metal case demonstrated a remarkable departure from the standard round pocket watch and the sometimes largely embellished dial.  It was simplicity in its highest form, so much so that the success of this design soon popularized the Cartier wristwatch.  

Next, Cartier revolutionized wristwatch fashion in the formation of the Tank Watch, the first wristwatch to display a rectangular dial.  Designed during the World War I, this style of watch evoked the lines of the military assault vehicle after which it is named, even down to the brancards mimicking the treads of a tank.  Gone are the slightly rounded curves that the Santos Watch possessed; instead, the Tank demonstrated progress in the Machine Age, marrying practicality with aesthetic appeal and claiming a purity in its intention by garnering clean lines and a very modern aesthetic.  The Tank was comprised of either gold or platinum, or a combination of the two, and in some cases the brancards were enameled or bejeweled.  

The Tank, like the Santos that preceded it, evolved into an array of styles over time, though always seamless, never demonstrating excess in design.  In some variations, the case may have been altered slightly, whether stretched or narrowed—but this was simply a play in style allowing for the evolution of different renderings.  Whatever the embellishment or reinterpretation, the basic design always remained the same—a steadfastness that proved valuable to Cartier even to this day, for Cartier wristwatches take their place amongst the prestigious upper-echelon of premier Swiss watchmakers, including Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and Audemars Piguet.

Cartier Today
At present, Cartier still remains a force of influence, marked by an odyssey of tremendous achievement.  Cartier’s inventive approach in jewelry making and watch design has cemented its place amongst the greatest of all the world’s finest jewelry design houses.  

Cartier operates over two hundred stores across the globe with its headquarters in Paris’ Saint-Honoré district.  With the earlier proprietors having long passed on, Cartier Paris was purchased in 1972 by a group of investors, which later purchased Cartier London and Cartier New York.  In 1993, the Vendome Luxury Group was formed, acting as an umbrella company to Cartier and various other notable agencies, including Karl Lagerfeld, Montblanc, and Piaget.   Still, time proved substantially busy to Cartier, and several exhibitions later, along with the opening of new salons in a number of cities, Cartier is under the operation of Richemont, a Swiss-based luxury goods holding company.  Elle Pagels, Pierre Cartier’s granddaughter, also holds a claim in the company.

Consummately elegant and still in the business of setting the standard, Cartier endures, and it is that innovativeness and excruciating attention to detail that is, and always will remain, Cartier.
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