Cartier reopens its Paris boutique on Rue de la Paix

When Cartier arrived in the Rue de la Paix, in 1899, following its move from Boulevard des Italiens, it truly became the Jeweller of Kings and the King of Jewellers. After a two year overhaul, this fall, Cartier finally reopens its rebooted flagship.

Story by Vivienne Becker, Photography by Ward Ivan Rafik,

Rue de la Paix was fast filling up with purveyors of Parisian luxury: shirtmakers, hatmakers, glovemakers, couturiers, most notably Worth at no.7, and perfumers, including Guerlain, all drawing an elite clientele from around the world. Alfred Cartier, joined in the business a year earlier by his son Louis (who incidentally married the grand- daughter of Charles Frederick Worth), secured no.13, then, three years later, no.11, establishing the epicentre of the maison’s fast-growing empire and the beating heart of its creativity and ceaseless march towards modernity.

Ramla Ali for Cartier
Ramla Ali wears Cartier jewellery and Dior dress

It was here – in the landmark building with an imposing classical gold-veined black marble façade, Corinthian columns and, inside, its various salons, including a dedicated pearl room – that Cartier welcomed aristocracy and crowned heads of Europe: Edward VII, who was a frequent visitor; the King and Queen of Norway; King Manuel of Portugal; the King and Queen of Spain; King George of Greece; and a glittering host of socialites and celebrities, including Lillie Langtry and Lady de Grey. Each visit, every one an early red-carpet moment, drew a crowd of onlookers, eager to catch a glimpse of the glamorous luminaries as they stepped out of their splendid carriages.

And so, this October, there was once again a crowd and a red carpet (but no carriages) at that exact location, as guests arrived to celebrate the re-opening of 13 rue de Paix after two years of complete renovation, a mega-transformation that Cyrille Vigneron, president and CEO, labelled as a “rebirth”.

It is indeed a staggering metamorphosis of Cartier’s storied spiritual and physical home, and as Vigneron so lyrically describes it, in his cerebral, poetic manner, “a place of origin and origins,” referring to the genesis of the maison’s iconic designs – Tank, Garland style, Panther, Tutti Frutti – that all happened at no.13. While the redesign is characterised by an overarching sumptuous, soft and sensual modernity, it is a sensitive re- imagining that – to my mind anyway – reinvigorates and celebrates the creative spirit of the main architects of Cartier style: Louis Cartier and Jeanne Toussaint (one of my all-time design heroines).

Their offices and studios were always at no.13, but they’ve been revived in dedicated salons that pay homage to their former occupants’ personalities and genius: the Jeanne Toussaint salon is gloriously golden, rich, bright and dynamic, evoking her championing of sun-yellow gold, while downstairs, the Louis Cartier salon is elegant, traditional, the bookshelves stocked with rare volumes that inspired his ideas, along with a bas relief of the famous 1923 George Barbier illustration of a model draped in floor-length pearls, and a black panther lying at her feet.

Ramla Ali for Cartier
Ramla Ali wears Cartier jewellery and Dior dress

The original plaster mouldings have been preserved, a reference to the Louis XVI style, the 18th century-inspired Garland Style, in which Cartier excelled around the time that Louis installed himself in this very office. Here, too, is a showcase of different iterations of Tank watches, arguably Louis’ most enduring creation, while the vitrines just outside the salon present the special limited-edition timepieces that celebrate the renovated boutique, with a number 13 in place of the 12 mark.

Similarly, the Jeanne Toussaint salon showcases a suite of vintage Grain de Café jewels, a charming 1938 Toussaint creation, in which little gold, ridged and diamond-tipped coffee bean motifs are thickly clustered, petal-like, on bracelet, brooch and earrings. In typical Cartier style, Grain de Café combined two signature themes, naturalism and the elevation of everyday objects (in this case the humble coffee bean), turning the mundane into the playfully magnificent, making the prosaic precious.

Toussaint’s inimitable touch was to introduce sensuality in the abundance and articulation of the little golden clusters, and the jangling sound they made when worn. Cleverly, these jewels have been plucked from the Cartier “museum” collection in Geneva for the grand re-opening, as they provide the inspiration for Cartier’s new fine-jewellery collection, Grain de Café, to be launched October 28th at no.13 and available from December 1st in London.

This is the creation of Marie-Laure Cérède, jewellery and watchmaking creative director, who talks of the “multi-sensory architecture” of the concept, adding, ‘“Grain de Café introduces a new preciousness by elevating a single material – gold – and playing with light, finishes and volume to create an acoustic collection brimming with soul.”

Cartier Panthère de Cartier watch

On the other side of the Toussaint salon, another showcase presents the special limited-edition 13 Paix Panther jewels and watches, celebrating Toussaint’s most famous creation: the bold, graphic, black onyx bangle, ring and earrings, flavoured with tribal sophistication – very Toussaint – ornamented with stylised gold panther markings. There are two new Panther watches, both in yellow gold and dotted with black lacquer markings, one in a more traditional form, the other a wide-cuff watch, with the familiar softened square dial set off-centre in a deep bracelet of the supple gold links that ripple like the creature’s lithe movements.

The various salons and spaces of the refurbished boutique – small, intimate, every one decorated in a distinctive style, with a distinctive atmosphere – hark back to the salons of the original boutique, and at the same time they tell the Cartier story, each representing a thread of influence, inspiration or material, that, woven together, present a panoramic vista of Cartier style.

There is a ruby and an emerald salon, a room channelling Art Deco, a space capturing Indes et Inspirations, and another involving Faune et Flore. On the ground floor, next to Louis Cartier, is the Cocteau salon, recalling Jean Cocteau, an avid Cartier client and wearer of the 1924 Trinity ring. It is small, intensely private, in deepest midnight-blue, with a Cocteau design on the ceiling, a half-hidden showcase containing his Academician’s sword, of his own design, and, on the wall, his famous quote: “Cartier qui fait tenir, magician subtil, de la lune en morceaux sur du soleil en fil.” (“A subtle magician, Cartier threads slivers of the moon on silken strands of the sun.”)

Ramla Ali wears Cartier jewellery and Dior dress

Of course, the salons, with their clever storytelling blend of memories and modernity, are ultimately intended as private spaces to enhance and enrich the experience of buying jewellery and watches, which is, after all (lest I forget!), the main purpose of this ravishing Cartier “temple”.

There are six floors in all that are connected – dramatically, dizzyingly – by an open atrium at the back of the boutique that serves as a lightwell and reaches from bottom to top (with a glass roof and a curved Parisian façade lined with faux mirrored windows) to deliver a sense of both grandeur and openness. It is overlooked by curved balconies on the sales floors, like a theatre, which, in a sense, it is.

Cartier Panthère de Cartier ring

Three different interior design teams worked on this ambitious project: Moinard Bétaille, responsible for the ground, first and second floors; Romain Jourdain and Laurene B Tardew, of Studioparisien, for the third, fourth and fifth floors; and Laura Gonzales for the top floor.

Added to this, a host of specialist artisans were involved in the décor, creating walls, panels, screens, ornamented with lacquer, woodwork, stone, leather and straw marquetry, mosaics, ceramics, metalwork, lighting and the plasterwork, most spectacularly the dreamy wisteria-type plants that tumble down the vast expanses of the creamy-white atrium façade, echoing the Cartier’s Belle Epoque Garland style. In contrast, the Panther, both feline and powerful, which first appeared in the Cartier design books as early as 1914, prowls his territory, on every floor and in every form, including jewels, sculptures, objects, and an original 1920s bronze, by the Baguès Frères, which keeps a lookout from the winter garden at the very top of the building.

Everywhere, these decorative details reference themes and inspirations, jewels and watches: from the glossy marquetry panel into which are folded the familiar numerals of the Tank, through a huge white-plaster bird, flown straight out of Toussaint’s menagerie, to a wall light in the form of an Egyptian-revival tasselled jewel.

Cartier Tank Asymetrique watch

The first floor is devoted to diamonds, bridal jewellery and diamond-set jewels across all collections, including Panther, Love and Clou. The second floor is reserved for high jewellery, with the vintage Cartier Traditions collection. The third floor offers services, repairs, engraving and cleaning in the jewellery spa, along with a fragrance bar – which was turned into a cocktail bar for the opening event, serving drinks concocted to evoke signature Cartier fragrances – that houses the maison’s perfumes.

The floor above houses state-of-the-art high jewellery workshops, with space for 18 artisans. Further up, the fifth floor is the home of the Cartier archives, the domain of Violette Petit, who looks after the invaluable documents charting the course of the business: Louis Cartier’s library; his personal notebooks, a constant source of inspiration, past and present; and meticulously preserved order and stock books, scrapbooks newspaper clippings, and photographic records.

Finally, on the top floor, the sixth, is the maison’s résidence, designed as a vibrant exotic garden by Laura Gonzales. It is a private entertaining space, complete with kitchen, dining room, living room and two outdoor patios that, in true Parisian style, overlook the rooftops of the City of Light.

And light is at the heart of this mesmerising metamorphosis, this fabulous fusion of past and present, tradition and modernity; the light flooding in through the glass-roofed atrium illuminates and enlivens history, highlights artistry and craftsmanship, and perhaps, too, lights the way forward into a new era, a new chapter in the ever- unfolding, endlessly fascinating story of the Maison Cartier.

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