Cartier: The Early Years

Perhaps one of the most famous names in jewelry, Cartier had rather humble beginnings during a very turbulent time in French history, which almost ruined the firm, yet eventually set it on the course to fame and fortune.

The story starts in Paris in 1847, when Louis-Francois Cartier bought the watchmakers store where he had apprenticed for a number of years. He had ambitions to make the store into something bigger and better and purchased the best jewelry he could afford to buy to showcase in his store. However, it was a turbulent time in France and trouble was on the streets. After a severe economic downturn in France triggered the French Revolution, King Louis Phillipe abdicated the throne in 1848. Napoleon III took over first setting himself up as President and then declaring himself Emperor and officially establishing the Second Empire in 1852. Needless to say it was a tough time for Cartier and anyone else in the jewelry or luxury business. The store managed to survive the crisis and was on an upward growth trajectory from there, even though it was slow growth. Louis-Francois’ son, Alfred, joined the firm during this challenging time.

Business was going along quite nicely for the company and by 1856 Cartier was selling to Princess Mathilde, second cousin of Napoleon III, and soon after Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, became a client. Those two clients drew all the right attention to Cartier. Other royals, wealthy bankers and industrialists began to frequent the store. At the time, as was customary, Cartier did not yet design and fabricate jewelry. They purchased from other makers, but only the very best jewels they could find for their store.

In 1870 there was another revolution in Paris (the Paris Commune) that caused the ruling class and other elites to flee for their lives. Unable to access their bank accounts, many of the blue bloods sold their jewels to raise cash to leave town. Alfred Cartier took full advantage of the situation buying spectacular jewelry from desperate aristocrats at rock bottom prices. When all was said and done he had an outstanding collection of jewelry for sale. The revolution didn’t last long and soon it was back to business.

Cartier and Fashion

By 1899 business was going so well that Alfred decided to move the store to Rue de la Paix a prominent area for fashion houses including the highly regarded House of Worth. Alfred had three sons, Louis, Pierre and Jacques. It was around this time that Louis joined the firm and around the same time that Cartier began to design and manufacture jewelry. It was the beginning of the Edwardian era and platinum was becoming a choice metal for high-end jewelry. Cartier took advantage of the new technology that made it possible to fabricate platinum into jewelry and began creating diamond pieces in platinum settings – especially in garland styles. It was a motif that was very airy and kept the jewelry light enough to wear easily while also capturing the white-on-white style that became increasingly popular in the first decade of the twentieth century.

The firm expanded in the first years of the 1900s with Alfred’s youngest son Jacques setting up a workshop in London. Cartier was a favorite of England’s King Edward VII who proclaimed that Cartier was “The jeweler of Kings and the King of jewelers.” In 1904 the company was honored with the first of fifteen royal warrants appointing the firm the official purveyor to the court of King Edward VII.

Cartier in New York

In 1909 the decision was made to establish a presence in New York. Pierre headed up the venture with Louis. One of the big challenges in New York was finding a space for the business to operate. But once again, luck coupled with a strong business acumen brought Cartier to exactly the right place.

One of Cartier’s clients was industrialist Morton Plant and his wife. The couple had a beaux-arts style mansion at 653 Fifth Avenue, a perfect location for Cartier to set up shop. Mrs. Plant was enamored with a double strand natural pearl necklace. So Pierre made a deal – the pearls, valued at the time at $1 million, plus $100 in cash in exchange for the mansion. To this day Cartier is still housed at that address in New York City.

Cartier and Art Deco

In addition to being innovative jewelers with exacting quality standards, the brothers traveled the world purchasing extraordinary gems, gaining new clients and finding design inspiration from far-away lands. It was the Art Deco movement that really put Cartier on the map as a premier design house.

There were many cultural touchstones at the time that provided inspiration to the firm: Asian and Islamic art, Cubism and Ballets Russes. One of the most important influences was the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. It sparked a huge interest in Egypt and Egyptology and there was a major Franco-Egyptian exhibition at the Louvre. Cartier was in tune with the trend creating pieces with scarab motifs and lotus blossoms.

Moving beyond Egyptian motifs, Cartier masterfully designed pieces with diamonds and onyx tapping into the black and white trend that was so popular in the 1920s. They also used bold colors in their designs, blending coral, jade and lapis lazuli with diamonds. It was ground breaking at the time.

It was the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationales des Arts Decoratifs et Industrials Modernes that really launched Cartier into the spotlight. Interestingly, the firm chose to exhibit with fashion houses rather than with other jewelers, establishing a connection between jewelry and fashion.

One of Cartier’s most iconic design innovations came about during the 1920s: Tutti Frutti, an exuberant mix of carved emeralds, rubies and sapphires accented with diamonds, first fabricated in 1923. Emeralds were of particular note in this style of jewelry. Many were brought to the design house by Mahrajahs from India. Their emeralds had been imported into India from Colombia since the end of the 1600s. The gems were carved in India by artisans who drew upon the flowers depicted in Islamic art for their carvings. Cartier added to the emeralds with carved ruby and sapphire leaves making up a “fruit salad”.

Cartier continued its expansion and design innovation in the following decades, with the family in control of the business until the early 1970s. Cartier is currently owned by Compagnie Financière Richemont and continues to produce iconic designs based on its archives as well as new innovations.

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

Jewelry in this article is available for sale on The Jewelers Circle.

Cartier Exhibition at Dallas Museum of Art

One of the most important and influential jewelry design houses of the 20th century, Cartier has fascinated and intrigued jewelry aficionados with its innovative designs and the superb quality of its fabrication.

Now the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) presents “Cartier and Islamic Art: In Search of Modernity”, through September 18, 2022. The exhibition explores how Cartier’s designers adapted forms and techniques from Islamic art, architecture, and jewelry, as well as materials from India, Iran, and Arab countries, synthesizing them into a recognizable, modern stylistic language unique to Cartier.

“Cartier and Islamic Art”, is co-organized by the DMA and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, in collaboration with the Musée du Louvre and with the support of Maison Cartier. The exhibition brings together over 400 objects from the holdings of Cartier, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Paris), the Musée du Louvre, the Keir Collection of Islamic Art on loan to the Dallas Museum of Art, and other major international collections.

“The design strategies in this exhibition—motif, pattern, color, and form—reveal the inspirations, innovations, and aesthetic wonder present in the creations of the Maison Cartier. Focused through the lens of Islamic art, the designs reveal how the Maison migrates and manifests these styles over time, as well as how they are shaped by individual creativity,” said Sarah Schleuning, The Margot B. Perot Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the DMA. Schleuning is co-curator of the show along with Dr. Heather Ecker, the former Marguerite S. Hoffman and Thomas W. Lentz Curator of Islamic and Medieval Art at the DMA; Évelyne Possémé, Chief Curator of Ancient and Modern Jewelry at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris; and Judith Hénon, Curator and Deputy Director of the Department of Islamic Art at the Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Paris and Islamic Art

“Cartier and Islamic Art” takes a look back at the cultural context of Paris in the late 1800s and early 1900s and explores the Islamic influence on Cartier design during that period. The exhibition also looks at the role of Louis Cartier, who was a collector of Islamic art and how it inspired him. Louis was a partner in the Cartier Paris branch and eventually became director.

Bazuband upper arm bracelet, Cartier Paris for Cartier London, special order, 1922. Platinum, old-cut diamonds. Cartier Collection. Nils Herrmann, Cartier Collection ©Cartier

During the early 1900s, Paris was a hub for Islamic art. Two major exhibitions of Islamic art were held in Paris, one in 1903 and the other in 1912 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.  Another exhibition of masterpieces of Islamic art was on display at the Munich Museum in 1910. All three exhibitions were major sources of  inspirations for Louis Cartier. During the early 1900s, Cartier was making jewelry in the garland style that was popular during the Edwardian era. However, Cartier wanted to expand the firm’s design vocabulary. The Cartier design team looked to new influences to inspire their designs, including Japanese textiles, Chinese Jade, Indian jewelry and the art and architecture of the Islamic world. Louis Cartier also examined his own personal collection of Persian and Indian paintings, manuscripts and other luxury objects for inspiration. All of these influences resulted in a new style of jewelry, known as ‘styles modern’, which later became known as Art Deco.

Source of Inspiration

Tiara, Cartier Paris, special order, 1914. Platinum, blackened steel, diamonds, rubies. Cartier Collection. Vincent Wulveryck, Cartier Collection ©Cartier

The exhibition not only showcases jewelry and other objets, but also takes a look at the source of inspiration for the pieces, allowing visitors to see the jewels in a whole new way. The jewelry is displayed with historic photographs, design drawings, archival materials and works of Islamic art that include items shown in the Paris and Munich exhibitions and from Louis Cartier’s personal collection.

The exhibition is brought to life through digital technologies that provide insight into the creative process at Cartier. It showcases the original source object to its adaptation as a jewelry design and to its fabrication in precious stones, metal and other organic materials.

Sumptuous Cartier jewels, drawings and archival photographs are compared and contrasted to examples of Islamic art that have similar forms and ornaments. The result highlights the inspiration and adaptation along with the recombination of motifs that came from Islamic sources in Cartier’s jewelry designs. Motifs include geometric and naturalistic forms and Chinese designs that were naturalized in the Islamic lands under the Mongol and Timurid rulers in the Middle East and India since the 13th century.

Travels with Jacques

Cigarette case, Cartier Paris, 1930. Gold, lapis lazuli, turquoise, diamond. Cartier Collection. Vincent Wulveryck, Cartier Collection ©Cartier

In addition to scholarly influences, real life also inspired Cartier jewelry design. Jacques Cartier, the younger brother of Louis, traveled to India and Bahrain where he discovered new materials to use in Cartier creations including carved emeralds and engraved colored gemstones, which were imported by the Maison. New ideas also came from Jacques’ travels including unusual color combinations and new techniques in jewelry construction, especially the innovative tutti frutti style.

The look back at the creation of Cartier’s visual vocabulary and the influences from Islamic art show how some of the firm’s most iconic styles evolved.

“For over a century, Cartier and its designers have recognized and celebrated the inherent beauty and symbolic values found in Islamic art and architecture, weaving similar elements into their own designs. This bridging of Eastern and Western art forms speaks exactly to the kinds of cross-cultural connections the DMA is committed to highlighting through our programming and scholarship,” concludes Dr. Agustín Arteaga, the DMA’s Eugene McDermott Director. “Not only does this exhibition present our audiences with the opportunity to explore Cartier’s dazzling designs, but it also spotlights the strength of our powerhouse Islamic Art and Decorative Arts and Design departments, as well as those of our colleagues at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the Louvre.”

Featured image (top of page): Bib necklace, Cartier Paris, special order, 1947. Twisted 18-karat and 20-karat gold, platinum, brilliant- and baguette-cut diamonds, one heart-shaped faceted amethyst, twenty-seven emerald-cut amethysts, one oval faceted amethyst, turquoise cabochons. Cartier Collection. Nils Herrmann, Cartier Collection ©Cartier

Authored by Amber Michelle

Swinging 1970s Jewelry

From Left to Right: Silver Elsa Peretti Bone Cuff, signed Tiffany & Co., courtesy Tiffany & Co.; Coral, diamond and gold earrings, 1970s, signed David Morris, courtesy Berganza; Lapis, turquoise, diamond and gold brooch, 1970s, signed Kutchinsky, courtesy D&E Singer; and Gold Taurus zodiac medallion, 1970s, signed Fred, courtesy Charlotte Fine Jewelry.

Bohemian, The Me Decade, Jet Set, Women’s Rights, Watergate, Eastern Influences, Ethnic, Oversized, Bellbottoms, Disco, Environmentalism, Earth Day all defined the 1970s.

WHEN: 1970-1979. The 1970s started out with the Vietnam war at the forefront of the news as protesters continued to fill the streets with antiwar demonstrations. The war ended in the mid 1970s and the Watergate scandal led to the resignation of President Nixon. Pop psychology directed people to explore feelings and relationships. Rock remained popular with the Rolling Stones, Elton John, David Bowie, Led Zepplin and Queen leading the pack. As the decade progressed disco hustled in to take over clubs and music radio spawning a whole new fashion story and cultural touchpoint. The movie “Saturday Night Fever” crystallized the disco scene along with music by the Bee Gees, Donna Summer and the Village People among others.

FAMOUS MAKERS: Bulgari, Cartier, Chaumet, David Morris, David Webb, Fred Paris, Kutchinsky, Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels

MOTIFS: Florals, Zodiacs, Fanciful Animals, Abstract Forms, Bold Color, Geometric, Medallions, Big Link Chains, Ancient Coins

THE LOOK:  Statement Pieces, Textured Gold, Sleek Silver, Chunky, Colorful, Layered, Multicultural

MATERIALS: Yellow Gold, Silver, Lapis and Other Hardstones, Wood/Shell Combined with Gems or Gold, Fancy Shaped Diamonds, Antique Coins  

The early 1970s were an extension of the 1960s with bellbottoms and frayed jeans, prairie dresses and floral prints a core style. Towards the middle of the decade, miniskirts headed south and the mid-calf length midi took hold. “What’s your sign?” was the question on everyone’s mind and the interest in astrology spawned a constellation of zodiac jewelry. During the 1970s large, intricately designed gold medallions — sometimes with gemstones — on long chunky link chains were popular. The large scale of the pieces held up well to the highly patterned fabrics that were everywhere in clothes. Layering was back in style and chain link and/or bead necklaces were piled gleefully around the neck, while multiple bangles jingled on the wrist and large hoop or drop earrings completed the look. Who could forget Rhoda Morgenstern and her huge hoop earrings on the Mary Tyler Moore Show?

In 1975 the Vietnam war ended; hippies and the peace movement began to fade into the background as the counter culture turned mainstream.  As the decade progressed, clothes and jewelry changed especially as disco took hold and the look became much more streamlined.

Daytime was easy dressing, the Diane Von Furstenburg wrap dress was ubiquitous. Nighttime brought out all the glitter and glam of the club scene — sequins and rhinestones sizzled unapologetically. The look was sleek and the stretchy fabrics were made for easy movement. Patterns were replaced with shiny fabrics and monochromatic pieces.  Studio 54 was famous for its dancing and decadence and many of the decade’s most influential artists and designers were regulars, including jewelry designer Elsa Peretti who joined Tiffany & Co. in 1974. Her sensual silver designs gave the white metal a new glamour and her Diamonds by the Yard made it simple to wear diamonds during the day with more casual clothes – even jeans. The Cartier Love Bracelet designed by Aldo Cipullo was a huge 1970s hit that continues to entice couples today.

The jetsetters — a term that had been around for a number of years, but saw a resurgence with the introduction of the Concorde Jet in 1976 — were jetting off to the world’s most glamourous playgrounds inspiring a more multicultural style that borrowed motifs from other countries, especially Morocco and India. Morocco made its way into fashion through Yves Saint Laurent. The fashion designer had homes there where he hosted his jetsetting friends and clients as his fame was rising during the 1970s. Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier were both leaders in jewelry that drew upon the East for inspiration, creating oversized pieces with colorful gemstones generally set in gold. Another very popular motif in the 1970s was coin jewelry. Bulgari introduced its Monte Collection of jewelry made with ancient coins in the mid 1960s and by the 1970s it was everywhere, gaining in popularity as the 1980s took hold and everything big – hair, shoulders, jewelry and life in general was on a grand scale.

Authored by Amber Michelle

New Jewelry Books on Bulgari & Cartier

From left to right: Cover for Bulgari Magnifica: The Power Women Hold published by © Rizzoli. Cover for Sixieme Sens Par Cartier: High Jewelry and Precious Objects by François Chaille, © Flammarion, 2022.

For those of us who love reading about jewelry and looking at the wonderful images showcased in the pages of luxurious coffee table books, it is truly a treat when a new tome on the subject is published. Rizzoli and Flammarion have both recently published beautiful new books on two jewelry houses, one focusing on Bulgari the other on Cartier.

Bulgari Magnifica: The Power Women Hold

Bulgari Magnifica: The Power Women Hold is an ode to women. The new Magnicifa high-jewelry collection “pays tribute to the pioneering vision of indomitable women who blazed their own paths, broke boundaries or shattered cultural norms.” When stylist Tina Leung was approached to curate this book about the Magnifica collection, she knew it would be about magnificent jewelry, but as she writes in the book’s introduction, it is “A magnificent book about women for women by women.” 

The women who are Bulgari’s muses have also been instrumental in shaping a new perception of women based on their courage, resilience and talent. Although they come from many different backgrounds, the commonality between these women is that they have an innate ability to think outside the box and reimagine the future. 

There are three chapters in the book: The Head, The Heart and The Hands. Inside the pages, Bulgari creative director, Lucia Silvestri takes readers behind the scenes for a look at the inspiration and design surrounding the Magnifica collection. There are also poems throughout the tome written by DJ Mia Moretti for each chapter. Other women have also written essays in the book about being a woman and what that means and how society views women. Ultimately, of course, throughout the 208-page book there are pages and pages of fabulous color renderings of the pieces in the collection along with full color photos of the jewels once they were made.

Edited by Tina Leung, a fashion stylist known for her eclectic sense of style and work with luxury brands, the text is by Amanda Nguyen, Lucia Silvestri, Mia Moretti and Noor Tagouri. Jewelry photography by  © Bulgari and additional images by © Laura Sciacovelli

Sixieme Sens Par Cartier: High Jewelry and Precious Objects

In Sixieme Sens Par Cartier: High Jewelry and Precious Objects, author François Chaille explores a new collection of high jewelry and precious objects from the design house and how these pieces touch our senses and our hearts. The author suggests that as we view the jewelry it will be appreciated with our five senses and then one step beyond with our “sixth sense”.  The 256-page book, published by Flammarion and packed with 200 color images, showcases a number of historic pieces. It is divided into six chapters: The Beauty of Mystery, Dizzying Senses, Luxuriance, Beyond Compare, Optical Games, Animal Instinct and Alter Egos.

The jewelry is considered for how it speaks to our senses. Textured jewelry appeals to our sense of touch, while perfectly cut gemstones attract our sense of sight, for example. The book takes an in-depth look at Cartier’s best-known collections including Tutti-Frutti and Panthère.

The chapter “Dizzying Senses” discusses Tutti-Frutti jewels, pieces created from rubies, emeralds and sapphires carved as florals and leaves, accented with diamonds,  as the embodiment of texture and color. It details how the cacophony of colors and textures appeals to the senses with some people even “hearing sound” from the artfully jumbled array of colored gemstones. The look was inspired by the Mughal Maharajahs and their brightly hued carved gems. When Tutti-Frutti debuted in Europe it was a modern look for modern women, freed from the rules of earlier decades. There are some wonderful images of vintage Cartier Tutti-Frutti jewels included in this chapter.

The chapter “Animal Instinct” takes a deep dive into the renowned Panthère collection. It investigates the way panthers, and other Cartier jeweled animals appeal to our sixth sense, the knowing of the unknown. The cats were created to be anatomically correct in the way their muscles move, their facial expressions and even the way they pose. The cat theme was also referenced by gemstones used to replicate fur. Panthers are perhaps one of the best-known motifs from Cartier and this book showcases a satisfying menagerie of jewels — beyond panthers — and the inspiration behind them.

Author François Chaille has written 15 books about the history of art, fashion, horology and jewelry including Cartier: Creative Writing and Coloratura: High Jewelry and Precious Objects by Cartier.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Are Signed Jewelry Pieces More Valuable?

Van Cleef & Arpels Diamond and Platinum Snowflake Bracelet, Photo Courtesy: J. & S.S. DeYoung

When it comes to rare and exquisite vintage jewelry, signed pieces can be among the most sought after and hard to come by jewels. Those highly coveted pieces of signed jewelry are very desirable to collectors as well as to people who want an assurance that they are getting top quality gems, impeccable fabrication and stellar design. The right signature on the right jewel can also add a premium to the price of the piece.

“Signatures can add tremendous value,” comments Miami-based Steven Neckman of the eponymous firm. “If it’s a recognized signature it shows the quality of a piece. When a jewel is signed Tiffany & Co., Cartier, or Van Cleef & Arpels, you know it is well made and that they use quality stones. Generally, with signed jewelry it’s a given that the quality is excellent with strong design.”

New York-based dealer, Richard Buonomo, principle of the firm bearing his name, agrees that a signed piece of jewelry carries a guarantee of quality, prestige and value, but he notes that there are some caveats to a signature’s worth. “A piece is more rare if it is signed, it is scarcity that drives prices up,” says Buonomo. “Still a signature does not always mean much. Some pieces are so generic or have so little design that it doesn’t change the price much.”

The Status of a Signature

Beyond the precious metals, fabulous gemstones and intrinsic design value, people also want signatures to elevate their own status. “People have a desire to be associated with something that lifts them up in society and enhances their status. It’s a basic human instinct,” observes Janet Levy of J. & S.S. DeYoung, in New York City. “A piece of jewelry with a signature denotes both quality and status.”

But what if two pieces are comparable, essentially the same in terms of quality and styling, yet one is unsigned. How do you decide which piece to purchase? According to Neckman, a signed piece of jewelry is more marketable, but that can also vary depending upon how hot a name is in the current market, something which changes over time.

Certain signatures are always top of the list for those seeking signed pieces – Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany & Co. and Harry Winston. But Levy has noticed that over the past ten or 15-years name recognition has increased for many other design firms and that has opened up the market significantly. “There is a much wider appreciation of special designers — Sterlé, Mellerio, Boivin. There were a lot of very refined French design houses and a circle of designers who were more art houses. That world has opened up a lot because people have found out about them online. Now people know names that they didn’t know 20-years ago.”

Vintage Versus Modern

According to Levy, the market for signed jewelry can be divided into two areas — modern and vintage. “If there is a quality signed vintage piece it will be more valuable because these pieces are no longer made and they are very collectable. There are more collectors now, so those pieces are harder to find and more valuable,” explains Levy. “With modern pieces the signature is tied to market demand or quality. The pieces are not as rare because they are in production. The value is influenced by how available and how much demand there is for a particular name.”

Neckman considers signed jewelry to be collectable art and notes that some artists are more valuable than others and cites Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulagri and Cartier as three current top sellers.  

“It’s not just a signature that adds value,” concludes Buonomo. “Some pieces of  jewelry are imbued with a certain character of design that is associated with that name. The jewelry will have all the characteristics of design, quality of materials and manufacturing. That’s when you have a perfect storm for everything to add value to the piece and that’s when you can charge more for the jewel.”

Authored by Amber Michelle