How can you encapsulate a brand that has been synonymous with luxurious elegance for more than 170 years? We decided to pick 10 pieces of art amongst the wide array forming the history of Cartier, telling the story of the so called maison which was founded in Paris back in 1847 and is now part of the global Richemont family.
In 1847, the watchmaker Louis-Francois Cartier went from apprentice to master when he bought the small Parisian store belonging to his mentor Adolphe Picard. From those rather humble beginnings, Cartier has evolved into a multinational luxury goods business, spanning the globe with its more than 270 boutiques around the world.
Dwelling over small but succesfull niches like leather goods and perfumes, Cartier is best known for its jewelry and watches. Solidifing its reputation as "King of Jewelry, Jeweler of Kings", Cartier to this day still follows the moto of its original driving force as Louis Cartier stated: "Never imitate, always innovate".
In this special feature, we chart the long and succesful story of the maison through 10 hand-picked objects that each tell their own unique story.
1. The red box
The iconic red box is a signature creation that dates back to the early years of the brand. As a eyecatching collectable in its own right, the box has taken the spotlight on the Broadway stage as it was famously featured in the 1926 production of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and was even turned into a cinema screen for Cartier’s 2013 pop-up exhibition at London’s Selfridges department store as an homage to the golden age of cinema.
2. The Santos watch
In the early 20th century, the pocket watch was the standard wearable timepiece. Quit elegant for more leisurely pursuits, but rather unfit for men of action, like Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont, who was in urgent need of a “hands free” alternative to check the time during flight. He therefore turned to his friend Louis Cartier, the grandson of founder Louis-Francois and one of the key figures that shaped the brand image we know and love today. Named after the aviator, Louis’ came up with a wristwatch simple yet beautiful in design. Though not the very first wristwatch to appear, it can be argued that the Santos was crucial in popularizing this timekeeping innovation.
3. The Tank watch
As it name suggests the Tank wristwatch does indeed owe its origins to the military tank. The name and design were inspired by the Renault FT-17 tanks which Louis Cartier saw rolling past his window during World War I. Somehow managing to be both tectangular and square by borrowing lines from its namesake, this famous subline has remained part of the Cartier catalogue since its creation in 1917. The Tank has had a legion of A-list celebrity wearers, including Jacqueline Onassis, Andy Warhol and, more recently, Michelle Obama.
4. Tutti Frutti jewelry
Departuring briefly from wristwatches, the Tutti Frutti necklaces and bracelets, catching the viewers eye with their never before seen mix of emeralds, rubies and sapphires, were inspired by the colors of Indian royalty and created at the height of the Art Deco period. They were quite ground-breaking back then as Cartier became the first jeweler to experiment with mixing different colored stones. Today Tutti Frutti pieces are prized by collectors, as one was just recently sold for 1,3 Million Swiss Franks, and they are revered to as icons of the Art Deco era that offer a perfect combination of Eastern and Western cultural influences.
5. Trinity ring
By being simultaneously beautifully simple as well as invoking the enduring qualities of love with its three interlinked bands that have neither beginning nor end, the Trinity ring occupies a central place in the Cartier story. It first appeared in 1924 and was another daring innovation for its time. it is still a key element in the brands jewelry and watch line alike. Famous wearers include Jean Cocteau, Princess Diana and actress Nicole Kidman, the latter receiving her $73,000 piece of art from then husband-to-be Keith Urban.
6. Panther brooch
No history of Cartier can properly be told without referencing the creative driving force of a significant portion of the 20th century embodied in Jeanne Toussaint, the maison’s Director of Fine Jewelry. She was nicknamed ‘the panther’ by her colleagues due to their skins decorating her apartment. Her obsession with the arguably most elegant predator there is culminated in the creation of a signature jewelry piece as the Panther was immortalized in the form of a brooch. It became widely known to the public after being worn by Wallis Simpson, the American socialite who became internationally famous when she married King Edward VII of England, who abdicated his throne for her.
7. María Félix snake necklace
The Mexican movie star María Félix, considered the queen of Spanisch language cinema, stared in 47 films throughout her career. She identified herself with snakes for all the symbolism of creativity, wisdom and strength these creatures represent. Around 1966 she visited the Cartier flagship on the rue de la Paix and commissioned an enormous snake necklace that would reach the size of a real serpent. This piece of art, spanning over 56cm, took two full years to make and is set with 2,473 brilliant and baguette-cut diamonds. Even more impressively, the Cartier "snake" remains fully flexible, capturing the charm of the majestetic creature.
8. The Taylor-Burton Diamond Necklace
There are certaintly only few offsprings more impressive than this 69.42 carat diamond as it was acquired and embeded into a pendant necklace by the maison’s skilled artisans to act as a token of pure passion. It was gifted to the actress Elizabeth Taylor by her twice-husband Richard Burton, with the diamond alone reportedly costing the hellraising actor over a million dollars using 1969 prices, amounting up to over 8 million dollars today. After her second divorce from Burton, Taylor sold the diamond in June 1979, letting the capital flow into the construction of a hospital in Botswana.
9. Must de Cartier
More than 120 years after the maison's inception, Cartier ventured into the world of perfume for the first time with the launch of Must de Cartier in 1981. The fragrance was created by perfumer Jean-Jacques Diener, and was a sales success right from the get go. After countless new innovations and interpetations it is still a cornerstone of the Cartier perfume portfolio today, alongside newer creations such as Carat, L’Envoi de Cartier, Les Heures Voyageuses and La Panthère.
10. Clash de Cartier
Our story wraps up with the latest fine jewelry creation embodied by the Clash de Cartier, which was launched in 2019. Standing out amongst innovative ranges introduced by Cartier in the last couple of years, Clash pieces merge studs, beads and clous into a singular ribbed mesh, allowing metal to take on a seemingly mobile form. Harper’s Bazaar magazine statted that the new collection “Has attitude and elegance in spades. In other words: Everything a woman wants in her jewelry”.