Cartier’s Iconic Tutti Frutti Jewels

Carved emerald, sapphire and ruby tutti frutti brooch accented with diamonds, signed Cartier, courtesy Palais Royal Collection (@palaisroyaljewels).

It all started in 1901 when Queen Alexandra was gifted three traditional Indian-style gowns by Mary Curzon, wife of the Viceroy of India. Of course the Queen needed a special necklace to go with these exotic gowns. And who did Queen Alexandra call to create this exceptional jewel? Cartier of course. It was this unusual commission that started the innovative colorful, Eastern inspired look, that we’ve come to know as “tutti frutti”.

Carved Gemstones

Fast forward to 1911 when Jacques Cartier, brother of Louis and Pierre, went to India for the Delhi Dunbar, a two week celebration of the Coronation of King George V, who was also Emperor of India. Of course the event was a who’s who of Indian Maharajahs and other royalty and Jacques met many of them, a number of whom soon became clients of Cartier.

Lady Mountbatten Cartier tutti frutti bandeau, V&A Museum, London.

While he was in India, Jacques learned about the gemstones that were carved in traditional Indian styles, rather than faceted, by expert artisans and observed the bold and colorful designs of time-honored Indian jewelry. When Jacques left India a few weeks after the Dunbar, he took a bag of gems with him that he had acquired from stone dealers in Bombay (now known as Mumbai), Delhi and Calcutta. These were not the usual gems that Cartier was known for, instead they were stones carved in traditional Indian style. Rubies, sapphires and emeralds were carved into flowers, leaves and berries, fluted beads and smooth cabochon beads.

These gems were a different quality than what Cartier generally used in their creations. The carving and the color were the two most important traits of these gems, rather than the clarity and transparency of the stones that were generally used to make a Cartier jewel.

East Meets West

The Maharajahs were Muslim and the style of their jewelry was heavily influenced by Islamic art and motifs. It happened that Louis Cartier was deeply interested in Islamic art and was a collector of objets and books on the topic as well. On Cartier’s side there was already a natural synergy to create jewelry that nodded to that style. The Maharajahs were coming to visit Cartier and the exchange of ideas between the royals and the jeweler resulted in a unique jewelry style that merged Eastern and Western aesthetics together. Traditionally, the Maharajahs liked their jewelry in yellow gold with an abundance of gemstones creating a symphony of color. Once these royals began frequenting Cartier, they were entranced by the use of platinum, which at the time was a relatively new metal for jewelry settings. Platinum was used to set the stones because the white metal made the color of the gemstones really pop, that combined with impressive fabrication made tutti frutti jewelry exceptional.

The first pieces that Cartier made using the carved gems were very simple items, using one or two carved stones often in the same color. These early carved gem jewels were called “foliage” or “pierres de couleur”. The pieces that have all three gems, sapphire, emerald and ruby, are the rarest and most sought after by collectors. Tutti frutti was a term made up in the 1970s to celebrate the vivacious color of the jewelry, which was also sometimes called fruit salad.

A New Look

While Cartier began experimenting with using carved gems in jewelry during the very early 1900s, it wasn’t until the Art Deco era of the 1920s and 1930s that the style really took off. In the early 1920s jewelry was sleek, angular, geometric and diamond intensive, with subtle pops of color, or black, accenting the design. The new tutti frutti style was the opposite: Bursting with color, it was big, exotic and to say the least eye-catching. While the gems were traditionally Indian, the platinum setting was distinctly French and modern showcasing the color of the gems. The jewelry often used tree of life motifs as a stylistic reference. The blending of the gems and metal created a whole new look that was a sensation with Cartier’s sophisticated clientele and was copied by other jewelers of the era, but none had the same success with the style as Cartier.

Lady Edwina Mountbatten with her baby daughter Pamela wearing the Cartier tutti frutti bandeau as two bracelets, 1929.

During this era, Europeans were fascinated by anything from the East, or Asia. Fashion designer Paul Poiret was hitting all the right notes with his clothes that drew inspiration from exotic lands. And the Ballet Russes with its colorful costumes, lush sets and fascination with Asia, was one of the most famed and popular dance companies of the time. The new tutti frutti style made the case for jewelry to be less conservative, more colorful and more joyous. The biggest jewelry collectors of the day were wild for tutti frutti and it made its way into the jewelry collections of Daisy Fellows (heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune), Marjorie Merriweather Post (heiress to the Post Cereal fortune) and Linda Lee Porter (wife of Cole Porter). Considered a national treasure, the Cartier London made tutti frutti bandeau, which converts to two bracelets, that belonged to Lady Edwina Mountbatten, is on permanent exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Tutti frutti is inextricably linked to the design vocabulary of Cartier and is a style that is emblematic to the design house that today, still makes this joyous style for its high jewelry collection.

Featured image (top of page): Carved emerald, sapphire and ruby tutti frutti brooch accented with diamonds, signed Cartier, courtesy Palais Royal Collection (@palaisroyaljewels).

Authored by Amber Michelle