CARTIER (1847 - present)
Prestigious French jewellery firm. Of Cartier, King Edward VII of England once said, “If they have become jeweller of kings, it is because they are the king of jewellers.” Cartier’s beginning dates to 1847. In that year, one year before the infamous deposition of King Louis-Phillipe, Louis-François Cartier opened a small jewellery salon. After initially weathering difficult financial times, Cartier’s business flourished during France’s Second Empire, where the endless extravagance of Napoloeon III’s court, Parisian aristocrats, and wealthy foreigners created a huge demand for fine jewels. The store moved locations several times before ending up at its main location at 13 Rue de la Paix in 1899. The year before, in 1898, Louis-François’s grandson, Louis, began working for Cartier. He would be responsible for Cartier Paris for the rest of his life; his brothers Jacques and Pierre managed the London and New York branches, which both opened in 1909.
The firm's design accomplishments, and its particular style, date to around this time, the turn of the twentieth century. For its first fifty years (1847-1900), the firm retailed jewellery and objects made by other firms, including Fossin, Boucheron and Falize. In the early 1900’s, however, Cartier began to produce its own jewellery in the Edwardian, or Belle Epoque, style. The firm created elegant pieces for its clientele: shoulder sashes, sautoirs with tassels of pearls, platinum tiaras and brooches with intricate open-metal work. Bow, garland, and floral motifs predominated. At the time, platinum was a relatively new metal, and the firm was proud of its jewellers’ facility with the medium. As Louis Cartier bragged: “…it was no easy task to transform the thin, light metal into support of precious stones.” Despite the popularity of Art Nouveau jewellery at the turn of the century, the firm mostly ignored the movement, opting instead for white metal, diamond designs. Beginning in 1910, it began introducing what would later become known as “Art Deco” jewellery. Cartier also fabricated Egyptian-motif jewels that incorporated faience and ancient scarabs, as well as other pieces influenced by Middle-Eastern and Asian design. Tutti frutti gems featuring carved rubies, emeralds, and sapphires date to this era. Art Deco designs gained popularity as the decade progressed; indeed during the 1920’s, the Art Deco aesthetic became the norm.
In 1933, Jeanne Toussaint, who had joined the firm twenty years before, assumed control of Cartier Paris’s design department. She is credited with creating Cartier’s famous panther motifs jewels, including the sapphire and diamond brooch purchased by the Duchess of Windsor in 1948. Under her direction, “Liberation” jewels were also created during the German occupation of France as a subtle tribute to the French Resistance. Tri-color birds in cages represented France locked in the Nazis’ grip. When the Allies liberated the country, a new series was produced showing the birds freed from their cages.
Though Cartier is most famous for its designs in the first half of the twentieth century, the firm continues to be known for its fine jewellery, much of which continues to retain the geometric lines of the Art Deco period. It also has a highly successful collection of watches. Its important gem acquisitions during the twentieth century are numerous. The most notorious of these are the allegedly-cursed Hope diamond, which Pierre Cartier sold to Evelyn Walsh MacLean in 1912 with “a clause that allowed her to exchange it ‘in case of fatality’” (the stone was later donated to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. by Harry Winston) and the Taylor-Burton diamond purchased by Richard Burton for Elizabeth Taylor in 1969.
Cartier is now owned by Compagnie Financière Richemont SA.