Cartier the whole story

Aside from notable clients, Cartier has some very notable creations among its famous history

Louis-François Cartier was 28 when he founded Cartier. The year was 1847 and he had taken over a shop at 29 Rue Montorgueil in Paris. In 1874, his son Alfred would take control of the company and a strong reputation built, though it was Alfred’s three sons, named Louis, Pierre and Jacques, who would go on to establish the Cartier name to the extent that it does today, synonymous with world-famous jewellery.

Louis would stay in Paris while Jacques, in 1902, headed to London, shortly thereafter receiving the Royal Warrant and supplying jewellery to King Edward VII and his court. Pierre, meanwhile, headed to New York and in 1917 acquired 653 Fifth Avenue supposedly for two strands of the finest pearls. This address remains Cartier’s to this day, a flagship store and a prime piece of real estate.

Such forward thinking on all their parts meant the brand would quickly become a favourite with royalty and film stars, as well as business tycoons. Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Clark Gable and The Duchess of Windsor are a handful of the notable names who have had jewellery made or went to Cartier to make a special purchase.

Aside from notable clients, Cartier has some notable creations: important pieces include the famous Trinity rings. The “three-ring” debuted almost a century ago in 1924 during the heyday of Art Deco. Designed by Jean Cocteau, the simplicity of the three interlocking rings, each of a different gold colour, quickly became a classic. Supposedly, it symbolised friendship, fidelity and love.

The Cartier Panther, of course, is one of its greatest hits. The “Great Cat” motif appeared in 1914, it was an onyx-spotted panther pattern wristwatch created by the famous French designer Charles Jacqueau. The initial pattern has evolved to fully sculptured animals, and the array of cats has broadened: to include the striped tiger as well as the panther. It was Jeanne Toussaint, who was known to be a fan of felines, who was nicknamed “The Panther” by Louis Cartier, who became responsible for supervising the cat designs. Along with Peter Lemarchand, she created a variety of jewels which would forever immortalise the feline motif and make it synonymous with Cartier.

Through a century of design, the Cartier cats have gone through various iterations but are still much in demand by jewellery collectors, with designs from the 1980s and 1990s increasing demand.

Another noted style is Tutti-Frutti by Cartier. Cartier acquired Indian rubies, sapphires and emeralds, carved with floral motifs in the early 20th century and its workshops in Paris worked these into a new style of multi-gem jewels which were in quite the contrast to the Art Deco style of the time.

And, of course, the Love and Juste un Clou are the legacy of Aldo Cipullo, an italian who joined Cartier in New York in 1969 who, within two years, had created two icons. The ‘Love’ bracelet, a band in two sections, has to be screwed together with a screwdriver — provided by Cartier. And once in a place, the bracelet cannot be removed. Cartier made the decision to gift his-and-her love bracelets to the most famous couples of the era, which included Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as well as Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw.

Meanwhile, another name to note was Maurice Couët, a young clockmaker at Cartier who had been inspired by the magic clocks of illusionist Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. Couët managed his very own take on these but via a more traditional clock-making route. In 1913, the “Mystery clock” made its debut. What it actually meant was that the hands seemed as though they were floating and no mechanism could be seen, all of which made the clock seem like magic – a trick that stunned staff and clients all at once.

Today, there are arguably a handful of designs that are instantly recognisable as Cartier: Tank, Trinity, Juste un Clou, Santos de Cartier, Love, Panthère or Ballon Bleu, all of which are based on four main principles of the maison’s creation. These are the purity of the line, the accuracy of the shape, the precision of proportions, precious details.

The maison has also received various royal seals of approval. King Edward VII of England used to refer to Cartier as “the jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers”. It should come as no surprise then that at the coronation of King George V in June 1911, reportedly 19 of the tiaras worn at the ceremony were by Cartier (recall, that Royal warrant). In fact, it would be from Spain to England and beyond – Belgium, Russia, India – that Kings and Queens around the world would also make Cartier their official supplier of royal jewellery. As did movie stars and society names of the time, such as Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor.

The Duke of Windsor, at the time Prince of Wales, would also become a client, proposing to Wallis Simpson with a 19.77-carat emerald ring made by Cartier in 1936. He further bought a flamingo brooch in 1940 and a Panthere brooch in 1949 – it featured a 152.35-carat cabochon sapphire.

King George VI also bought various pieces for his wife, the Queen Mother. And she also inherited some significant pieces from Dame Margaret Greville, notably the Greville Chandelier earrings, platinum and fancy-cut, which were later given to Queen Elizabeth II as a wedding present in 1947. One of the most famous Cartier pieces owned by Her Majesty is the Halo tiara. It was a gift to her on her 18th birthday, having previously belonged to the Queen Mother. It was loaned to the Duchess of Cambridge for her wedding to Prince William in 2011.

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