The Last Word in Luxury Jewellery

The Last Word In Luxury Jewellery

When people talk about jewellery, even people who aren’t as madly obsessed as, there are always names that everyone just knows. Names such as Tiffany, Harry Winston, Chopard, Garrards, Van Cleef and Arpels maybe. But one name will always stand out above all the rest. And that is Cartier. Even the word sounds expensive, opulent and luxurious, like an exclusive club that us mere mortals are never likely to be asked to join.

Dubbed by the Prince of Wales (later to become King Edward the VII) “The jeweller of kings, the king of jewellers“, for over 100 years Cartier has represented the very epitome of extravagant, lavish jewellery.

Founded in Paris in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier, it was at the end of the 19th century when his grandsons, Louis, Pierre and Jacques took over, that Cartier really established itself, becoming an international brand with additional branches in London and New York. Initially, Cartier was seen as a menswear brand, selling skillfully made watches. In fact, Cartier created the first ever men’s wristwatch, the Santos, in 1904.

It was this same year that Cartier was awarded it’s first ever Royal Warrant to be the supplier to the Royal Court of England. In the following years they would be awarded many more including Royal Warrants for the Kings of Spain, Portugal, Russia, Siam (now Thailand), Serbia, Belgium, Egypt and Albania. They truly were the Jewellers of Kings.

It was during the beginning of the 20th century that Cartier starting designing and producing it’s own jewellery. In the first 50 years of the company’s life, the store in Paris was much like any other jewellery retailer, selling jewellery made by other firms. It was Cartier’s work in the development of platinum fabrication that was to be the company’s making. They started producing jewellery in the Edwardian, or Belle Epoche (as it was know in France) style that became hugely popular with wealthy, ostentatious customers.

The strength of platinum meant it could be fashioned into highly elaborate designs and could hold the weight of large numbers of gemstones, unlike relatively soft gold and silver. Edwardian jewellery was made to look as light and delicate as possible and Cartier mastered jewellery that made the jewels (predominately diamonds) look as if they were floating on the wearer’s skin. The jewellery itself was highly elaborate, not just rings, necklaces and earrings, but body jewellery as well.

Rich ladies would literally wear diamonds from head to foot and would openly compete in public places as to who has the biggest, most extravagant jewellery collection. Cartier was the jeweller of choice, fashioning wondrous, meticulously crafted commissions for the wealthiest people of the time, including members of  many of the world’s royal families.

The arrival of World War 1 in 1914 that put an end to all this light-heartedness. Such extravagances weren’t deemed acceptable during such harsh and terrible times. But when the war ended, the jewellery houses of the world had a new, different customer. Women had been largely emancipated by the war, having to step, almost literally into mens’ shoes. That gave them a new sense of freedom, both socially and physically. Gone were the constrictive corsets, replaced by more masculine shapes and drop-waisted flapper dresses. Women had more power as consumers and boy did they flex that muscle.

In response to this social movement, jewellery fashions changed. Art Deco styles became popular, characterised by sharp angles, geometric shapes and figurative representation. The lines were cleaner, much like the clothes, the patterns were abstract and had more diverse colour combinations. Archaeological advances had bought in Egyptian influences, scarabs, pyramid shapes and lapis lazuli were seen everywhere and Indian colour and design influences were also strong. Again, Cartier was at the forefront of innovation, creating world famous motifs such as the Panther that would become one of the enduring icons of this great jewellery house.

Art Deco was still highly extravagant and expensive. The preferred stone was always diamonds, but these were accented by a number of different gemstones including rubies, sapphires, black onyx, emeralds, coral, ivory, jade, mother of pearl and quartz. Platinum was the preferred metal base but white gold and silver were also used.

This era ended with the coming of the Great Depression but Cartier continued from strength to strength and is still regarded today as one of the greatest jewellery and watch brands in the world.

Here are some of my favourite Cartier pieces as well as some of their more renowned jewellery.

Luxury Jewellery

Breast Ornament by Cartier for La Belle Otero

Caroline Otero, known as La Belle Otero was a singer, dancer and actress and eventually made herself the star of Les Folies Bèrgere. She was also rather skilled in other areas, becoming the lover of, amongst others, Prince Albert I of Monaco, King Edward the VII of England, as well as Russian Czars Peter and Nicholas. Cartier created this extraordinary breast ornament for her, enhancing her not insignificant assets. She was once quoted as saying ‘no man who has an account at Cartier’s can be regarded as ugly‘. She amassed a huge fortune in jewels from her numerous lovers which she flaunted at every opportunity.

The Hope Diamond Necklace by Cartier

The Hope Diamond is a 45.52 carat deep blue diamond that has a long and infamous history, with many believing it is cursed. Pierre Cartier bought the diamond in 1910 and after re-setting it into a more modern setting, sold it to the American socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean and her husband after much legal wrangling.

It currently lives at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington in D.C. and is said to be the second most visited artwork in the world after the Mona Lisa.

Taking inspiration from India’s age-old tradition of carving gemstones into shapes like flowers and leaves, Cartier used rubies, emeralds, sapphires and diamonds to create what became known as the Tutti Frutti collection.

This unbelievable piece, named the Hindu Necklace was made for one of america’s richest women, Daisy Fellowes in 1936.

Grace Kelly's engagement ring by Cartier
Grace Kelly’s engagement ring by Cartier

I just adore this magnificent diamond ring. Could there be any more perfect engagement ring for one of the most beautiful women to have ever lived? I doubt it. This 10.47 carat emerald cut diamond flanked by two baguette cut diamonds is Grace Kelly’s stunning engagement ring. It isn’t actually the ring he proposed with, that was a diamond eternity band but that was swiftly replaced once Prince Rainier III saw the whoppers they were wearing in Hollywood. This more than suitable replacement was swiftly purchased and Ms. Kelly even wore the ring whilst playing the part of socialite Tracy Lord in the film High Society. A fitting prop if ever there was one.

The Taylor-Burton Diamond Necklace by Cartier
The Taylor-Burton Diamond Necklace by Cartier

Originally called The Cartier Diamond, Richard Burton purchased the 69.42 carat pear-shaped diamond from Cartier in 1969 for Elizabeth Taylor for a cool $1.1 million. She initially wore it as a ring but then had Cartier set it into this magnificent necklace . Shortly after their divorce, Ms. Taylor auctioned the diamond for $5 million which was used to build a hospital in Botswana.

Wallis Simpson's Bib Necklace by Cartier
Wallis Simpson’s Bib Necklace by Cartier

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were prolific jewellery collectors, commissioning jewellery from the very best houses in the world and designing a lot of the pieces themselves. Wallis Simpson was notoriously stylish and always immaculately dressed and her jewellery collection is one of the greatest the world has ever seen. Here are a couple of my favourite items from it, but there are so many that could be included. Perhaps I’ll do a post another day, just on that one collection. Some of the pieces are staggering, truly mind blowing.

Wallis Simpson's Panther Bracelet by Cartier
Wallis Simpson’s Panther Bracelet by Cartier

The Panther is an iconic motif for Cartier. The Duchess had also had a brooch made for her with a panther crouched over an incredible 152.35 carat cabochon cut sapphire. This articulated bracelet is pavé-set with white diamonds and onyx, with marquise cut emeralds for the eyes. Rumour abounds that Madonna might be the most recent owner of the bracelet after it was sold to a telephone bidder for astounding £4.5 million at auction last year, making it, at the time, the most expensive bracelet ever sold.

This bib necklace is another huge piece commissioned by the Duke and Duchess from Cartier. It is made up of diamonds, amethysts and turquoises, set on gold and platinum.

Kate Middleton wears the Halo Tiara by Cartier
Kate Middleton wears the Halo Tiara by Cartier

Our very own Princess, Kate Middleton wore Cartier when she married Prince William in 2011. The Halo Tiara was made in 1936 by Cartier and bought by the Duke of York (later King George VI) as a gift for his wife Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Queen Elizabeth II received it on her 18th Birthday and she loaned it to Kate for her wedding day. So, marrying a prince, dressed in McQueen AND Cartier? Not a bad day out at all.

There you have it, a brief dip into the truly wonderful world of Cartier. Most of us will never own a piece of Cartier jewellery in our lives, but we can all enjoy the legacy that this incredible jewellery house has given us over the last 100 years. Often copied but never beaten, their jewellery is breathtakingly beautiful as well as the pinnacle of skill and craftsmanship. Cartier, we thank you.