Cartier. It is the brand synonymous with French luxury and impeccable design that has created jewels sought after by Maharajas, socialites, kings, queens and all other members of the upper echelons of society. Never straying from their earliest dedication to curating and preserving the highest levels of craftsmanship, the Cartier family understood what was to be desired by those who could afford the best.
Founded in 1847 by Parisian jeweler Louis-Francois Cartier, the store originally sold fine jewels
and objet d’art
curated from other designers and manufacturers throughout Europe. They catered to the royal families and elite society of Europe, establishing their name as a source of the finest borrowings. In 1898, Louis-Francois’s grandson, Louis, convinced his father Alfred to open a small design studio next to their shop on Boulevard des Italiens. There is no doubt that the young Louis was influenced by an upbringing surrounded by pieces expertly crafted and curated, as well as advances in manufacturing and design brought on by the industrial development of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Louis was joined in the business by his two brothers, Pierre and Jacques, who were instrumental in the success that Cartier achieved. Each played a key role in the business. Whether it was through design and hunting for raw materials or client relations and managing the growing business, this trifecta took Cartier to the next level.
Each of the three brothers played an irreplaceable role in the success of the maison. Louis Cartier was no doubt the powerhouse behind the innovative designs and fusion of foreign influences with French classicism. Inspired by the cultures, colors and aesthetics of Africa, India and the Orient, the jeweled pieces that Cartier produced were as exotic as the countries that influenced them. His brother, Jacques, traveled to India and the Middle East in search of the raw materials to bring their designs to life — often bringing back with him more than just precious gemstones
. During his travels to India, a key source of pearl
and gemstones, Jacques encountered the princes of India who loved to drape themselves in layers of precious jewels. This relationship become extremely beneficial to both parties — the Indian elite who loved to commission pieces from the firm and the Cartier’s who imbued many of their designs with traditional Indian motifs.
Cartier also brought back the carved gemstones of the Indian jewels to set within their own pieces. This partnership resulted in one of Cartier’s most iconic designs - Tutti Fruitti
- a wonderful explosion of emeralds
all carved in the Indian tradition and set with diamonds in platinum.
The first decade of the 20th century launched Cartier onto the international luxury scene. First, by moving their showroom to the fashionable rue de la Paix in 1899, the firm cemented its status as the premier French jeweler. In 1902, the firm opened a boutique in London — its first outside of Paris — in honor of the coronation of Edward VII. Two years later, Cartier received its first royal warrant, making the jeweler the official purveyor to the new ruler of England, King Edward VII. Cartier expanded across the Atlantic to New York City in 1909, establishing itself as a global jeweler who was desired by European royalty and American celebrities and socialites alike. Less than a decade later, Cartier’s New York location moved to 653 Fifth Avenue. It remains Cartier’s current storefront and was once the mansion home of Morton F. Plant, which Pierre Cartier famously acquired in exchange for a double-strand necklace of natural pearls.
The emphasis put on meticulous craftsmanship, superior gemstones and traditional design were key to the success of Cartier’s creations. As the Art Nouveau style was adopted by many design houses in the early 20th century, Louis strayed away from the fluid natural curves and floral designs that influenced many jewelers and was instead drawn towards more traditional designs that incorporated straight clean lines and a balance of shapes and colors. Guided by the principles of French neoclassicism, his first pieces were delicate and used stylized versions of floral motifs and garlands, but the symmetry and technical precision of his jewels were to elevate the brand beyond what the brothers could have imagined.
The use of platinum in jewelry was also in its earliest stages at this time, and Cartier took notice of how this metal could be manipulated to achieve some of their more technically difficult creations. Prized for its strength and durability, it was perfect for the intricate metal work that was to form some of Cartier’s most iconic creations.
Perhaps one of the most popular and accessible creations of Louis Cartier’s early years was the wristwatch. Inspired by the complaints that his friend and early aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont had about the difficulty of flying while simultaneously trying to read his pocket watch, the young Cartier had an idea. By 1903, Cartier had produced his first wristwatch named the Santos with a flat, square face and bezel. Its sleek look and simple design was to be embraced by the modern man.
In 1918, Louis hired French designer Jeanne Toussaint as part of the design team. Doing so created what is arguably one of the most influential and enduring relationships between designer and company. Nicknamed the “panther” for her elegance and strong will, Jeanne was in the unique position to both understand and express the femininity and strength of the modern woman. Three-dimensional animals became a hallmark of her creations. Most famously, her La Pantheré brooch, which was made in 1948 for the the Duchess of Windsor, Wallace Simpson, remains one of Cartier’s most iconic designs. Toussaint made Director of Fine Jewelry in 1933 and continued to pioneer the company with her striking aesthetic and stylistic awareness until her retirement in 1970.
A true icon in the world of jewelry design and craftsmanship
, Cartier has continued its legacy of producing an amazing array of new pieces while simultaneously achieving record-breaking prices at auctions. The legacy of Louis Cartier and his brothers for their forward*thinking designs remains unmatched and is an enduring inspiration among jewelry lovers. For those looking to add a piece of Cartier to their collection, M.S. Rau has a lovely selection of antique Cartier jewelry
and objet d’art at that capture the timeless and chic appeal of the house.