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.

Suna Bros: Masters of the Classics

The story of Suna Bros started with Kenneth Suna in 1925 in Poland. After apprenticing in a jewelry factory in Warsaw, Kenneth came to the United States. Several years after arriving in the U.S., Kenneth launched Suna, specializing in channel set wedding bands. He stopped the business when World War II started and relaunched it with his brother Joel, after the war ended. In 1974 Aron Suna, president Suna Bros Inc. in New York City and Kenneth’s son joined the business. Aron never planned to come into the jewelry business instead he attended law school and was a Navy JAG (Judge Advocate General Corps) for four years. Just before Aron left the navy, Kenneth was diagnosed with cancer. Aron went to visit his dad in the hospital and that’s when his father asked him to join the family business. After two days of soul searching, Aron agreed to come into the business. He then spent 3 months in Antwerp, Belgium where he learned to polish and sort diamonds. Today, Aron, with his brother Jonathan,  continues taking the business, which makes all of its jewelry in its in-house New York City workshop,  in new directions adapting to changing times and shifting customer desires, which in recent years has meant a foray into colored gemstones.

What inspires your designs?

We are very, very classic. We like new and different concepts, we do an updated classic with a slightly different twist. We go through cycles. In the early 1990s I went to Vicenza, Italy. That was when gold was inexpensive and before Italian gold had really entered the U.S. market. We bought Italian gold and made 18-karat gold necklaces and bracelets with no stones. That was very different for us. We were always creating diamond pieces with rubies, sapphires and the occasional aquamarine. In the past ten years we started to work with more exotic color — spinel, moonstone, Paraiba tourmaline. We have a new gemologist who opened our eyes to the breadth of color.

What criteria do you use to select your gemstones?

We’re fussy about our color. We want the finest colored gemstones that we can find. It has to be high quality. We’re not a price point house, but we do want something that is well priced, has depth of color and brilliance, that is well cut and has no windows.

What is the most unusual gemstone that you have ever used in a design?

The nicest was a padparadscha sapphire layout that I found in Geneva. It was really special. The stones were all 2 to 3-carat ovals and there were about 30 of them. Each stone had  a GIA (Gemological Institute of America) report. I didn’t know what to do with them, but when I got the stones back to New York, we came up with the idea for a floral bib necklace. It has different size flowers with padparadscha sapphires at the center of each one. We used Argyle pink diamonds and yellow diamonds, platinum and 18-karat yellow gold. It took hundreds of hours to make, it’s truly a work of art.

What are the characteristics of a well-made piece of jewelry?

When I’m showing a piece of jewelry, I always like it when someone turns it over and looks at the back first. It shows that a person knows that a piece of jewelry has to be constructed properly. When we use rose gold, we use 20-karat because it has less porosity than lower karat gold and we want no porosity. You should hear a clasp click when it closes and there should be nothing that catches on clothes. You should be able to run a piece of jewelry over a silk blouse without snagging anything. It has to look right and flow well. Depending upon the design, an item can be delicate or chunky, but it needs to be proportional. When we make a necklace we use a neck form, this way we know it flows correctly, it has to flow with the body. Each piece has a unique serial number stamped inside of it. We keep meticulous records so that we know where the stones are from and who the jeweler was that made the piece in our shop. That way if a piece comes back to us to be refurbished we can give it back to the same setter. Each setter has a slightly different hand. A lot of little details go into making a fine piece of jewelry.

What should a person look for when buying a piece of jewelry?

I always say buy quality – 18-karat gold or platinum. How is the piece made? Does the ring fit right? Make sure that a necklace sits right on the collarbone and doesn’t flip.  The quality of the stones is important, cut affects the appearance of diamonds and colored gemstones.  The most important thing is that the jewel has to appeal to you.

All of the jewelry showcased in this blog can be found on the Jewelers Circle.

Featured image (top of page): Padparadascha sapphires, yellow diamonds, Argyle pink diamonds, platinum and 18-karat yellow gold, necklace, all images courtesy Suna Bros.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Platinum: The Mysterious Metal

Through much of its history platinum has intrigued, baffled, flummoxed and fascinated scientists and alchemists until this noble metal was finally tamed at the turn of the 20th century. Since that time it has become a favored precious metal used in some of the finest jewelry.

The first platinum discoveries were found 3,000 years ago in ancient Egypt. Traces of platinum were found in gold that was used in caskets in Thebes, which archeologists believe was a natural element in the gold that came from Nubia at that time. Meanwhile, half way around the world, the South Americans were creating ceremonial jewelry and objects for ritual use out of platinum (probably mixed with an alloy) that can be dated back to 100 B.C.

Platinum and the Conquistadors

Platinum didn’t really get much play until the 1500’s when the Spanish conquistadors landed in South America searching for gold. Instead they found platinum, but they thought it was silver and tossed it aside. The conquistadors named this new metal “platina del Pinto” — little silver of Pinto river, which is the name of the river in Colombia where the platinum was found.

In 1557, Julius Caesar Scaliger, an Italian-French scientist analyzed a bit of the mystery metal from South America and found that it was not silver and that it wouldn’t melt.  According to some scientists, Scaliger was the first to make any written mention of platinum.  Not too much happened with platinum until the 1700s  because no one really knew what to do with it. The high melting point of 3,214 degrees Fahrenheit (for comparison, gold has a melting point of 1,947 degrees Fahrenheit) made it difficult if not impossible to work with the metal.

A Platinum Expedition

In the 1740s, Antonio de Ulloa, a Spanish scientist went on an expedition to South America. When he returned to Spain, de Ulloa described platinum and the challenges that the metal presents. During the same decade, Charles Wood, a Jamaican metallurgist studied platinum even smuggling some of the metal into England. He continued his experiments with platinum and came to the conclusion that it was a new metal. In 1750, Wood presented his evidence to the Royal Society of England.  

Wood’s findings were supported by a Swedish scientist Henrik Teofilus Scheffer, who in 1751 presented a paper to the Swedish Academy of Sciences, once more describing the difficulty of working with platinum, but more Importantly identifying it as a precious metal.

Platinum was making news and getting all kinds of attention including from France’s King Louis XV, who announced that it was the only metal fit for a king. This of course, sparked more interest in this intriguing metal. Scientists, alchemists and metallurgists were all focused on one thing: How to make platinum melt. Finally, in the latter half of the 1700’s some scientists figured out how to make very small amounts of the metal liquify. While not a definitive answer at the time, it was a step in the right direction.

The Platinum Age of Spain

Meanwhile, King Charles III of Spain, created a lab for French chemist Pierre-Françoise Chabaneau, who is widely credited as being the first person to figure out how to make platinum malleable enough to use. Chabaneau managed to remove trace elements from platinum and by 1786 he had figured out how to make platinum malleable. King Charles III, however, made sure that the information stayed in Spain, by issuing a royal order that the process was to remain secret. This event debuted the Platinum Age of Spain, during which time malleable platinum was produced in some quantity and sold. This went on until the Napoleonic Wars in 1808, which shut down the industry in Spain.

However, some big steps forward had occurred for platinum. King Charles III commissioned a platinum chalice for Pope Pius VI, which was presented to him in 1789. At the same time the jeweler for King Louis XVI, Marc-Ettienne Janety acquired some malleable platinum from Chabaneau and used it to make buttons, watch chains and other small items.

In 1804, two British chemists, Smithson Tennant and William Hyde Wollaston, figured out how to make larger quantities of platinum malleable. This allowed jewelers to create small, simple pieces of jewelry such as cufflinks. By the end of the 1890’s, Tiffany & Co. and Cartier Paris were both creating jewelry using platinum as was Fabergé.

High heat blow torches became available in the early 20th century that gave jewelers the ability to create lacy, lightweight intricate jewelry from this most precious metal. The white metal was the perfect complement to the white on white look of diamonds and pearls that was the height of fashion in the Edwardian era. Platinum retained its popularity throughout the Art Deco era, but its use in jewelry came to a halt when it was declared a strategic metal and reserved for military use during World War II.

Platinum had a resurgence of popularity in the 1950s when formal jewelry was the style. It fell out of favor during the next three decades and then in the 1990s platinum made a comeback, mainly in bridal and continues to be on trend today, especially in high jewelry.

All jewelry featured in this blog can be found on The Jewelers Circle.

Featured image (top of page): Aquamarine, diamond and platinum brooch, circa 1935, courtesy L’Epoque D’Or.

Authored by Amber Michelle

It’s a Very Peri Year

From Left to Right: Pink sapphire, diamond and platinum ring from David Gross; Antique carved emerald, diamond, black onyx and 18-karat white gold pendant from Rawat Gems LLC; Mediterranean coral, diamond and 18-karat gold flower brooch/pendant, signed Van Cleef & Arpels, from Spectra Fine Jewelry, all on a Very Peri background.

Color surrounds us. It’s everywhere we turn and everywhere we look. Color has the ability to influence our feelings – it excites us or calms us. Color is very personal, everybody sees color slightly differently, but its impact is profound. Color speaks a language of its own and we use it to communicate a variety of messages, often unconsciously.

Each year the Pantone Color Institute™ chooses a Color of the Year. The color experts analyze trends from across all industries that influence culture and society including but not limited to films in production, travelling art collections, travel destinations and socioeconomic conditions. They also consider new technologies, social media platforms and even sports events that are global in nature. It’s a way to gauge the mood of the world and the color that best reflects that vibe.

Brand New Color

This year, for the first time, Pantone created a color specifically for 2022. That color, Very Peri, is defined by Pantone as “a dynamic periwinkle blue hue with a vivifying violet-red undertone that blends the faithfulness and constancy of blue with the energy and excitement of red.”

“Encompassing the qualities of the blues, yet at the same time possessing a violet-red undertone, PANTONE 17-3938 Very Peri displays a spritely, joyous attitude and dynamic presence that encourages courageous creativity and imaginative expression,” explains Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute.

According to the Institute, Very Peri is a reflection of the transformative times in which we are living, it combines the digital world with our physical lives. So how does Very Peri translate to jewelry?

For the most part, we won’t find gems in nature the color of Very Peri, probably the closest we’ll get is with iolite or a pale tanzanite. That being said, it’s a color that is in some ways surprisingly neutral allowing it to gracefully harmonize and contrast with a number of other hues.

Think pink — tourmalines, pink sapphires and pink diamonds that is. Those three stones are quite lovely with Very Peri as is amethyst, which pulls out the violet tones of the hue.

Contrasting Colors

Very Peri is described by the Institute as “displaying a carefree confidence and daring curiosity that animates our creative spirit…” For those of us who are adventurous in how we wear color, pair Very Peri with green hues. It’s periwinkle tones complement these verdant shades. Emeralds will look especially good with Very Peri, but if you like neon tones and you want to amp up your look, vibrant peridot will also be a lovely choice with this lively color as is the lush green of tsavorite garnet. For an unexpected twist, wear Very Peri with coral or citrine. It will be a more muted approach to color pairing, but one that is solidly on trend.

A Neutral Palette

Looking to add a little pop to your outfit? Very Peri adds that burst of color that takes black, grays, browns and taupe tones to a whole new level of cool when paired with this new shade. Gold chain link necklaces or bracelets will be a great match for this more neutral color palette. You can also style Very Peri with platinum. The noble metal’s cool tones, are complemented by the blue hues of Very Peri, worn together, the two are a modern and sophisticated combination.

“The Pantone Color of the Year reflects what is taking place in our global culture, expressing what people are looking for that color can hope to answer.” Laurie Pressman, Vice President of the Pantone Color Institute said in a press release. “Creating a new color for the first time in the history of our Pantone Color of the Year educational color program reflects the global innovation and transformation taking place.”

Authored by Amber Michelle