French luxury goods maker Cartier, best known for its jewelry and watches, is synonymous with beautiful pieces of unique character and elegance.
Cartier was founded in 1847 when Louis-François Cartier took over the jewelry workshop of his master, Adolphe Picard, in Paris, France. Now a globally recognized luxury brand, it’s hard to imagine this small Parisian workshop struggling through the revolution that birthed the French Second Republic.
It was the third generation of Cartiers - the brothers Louis, Pierre and Jacques – who established the brand name internationally at the turn of the last century, with branches in New York, London, and Paris. In 1904 Jacques Cartier, based in London, received a Royal Warrant to supply jewelry to King Edward VII and his court. In 1917, Pierre acquired 653 Fifth Avenue, which remains Tiffany’s flagship store to this day, for two strands of fine pearls.
Cartier jewelry from the 19th century was largely inspired by the Louis XVI style, also known as the Garland style, which realized its greatness when Louis Cartier pioneered the use of platinum, whose malleability and strength allowed Cartier to sculpt silvery settings for diamond lace. The Garland style would remain in fashion until the First World War, overlapping with geometric design that would gain increasing favor.
The firm dominated international jewelry design in the years from 1900-1940 period with a simply astonishing output that articulated a wide range of stylistic influences into highly original and elegant jewels. In 1904, Louis Cartier created a distinctively flat, square-faced wristwatch with a leather strap - the first wristwatch made for men - for the Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, who wanted a timepiece more accessible and reliable than a pocket watch. Cartier named it the “Santos” in tribute to the aviator. It remains in production to this day. 1914 was the year the “Big Cat” motif entered the Cartier vernacular with the creation of an onyx-spotted panther pattern wristwatch. In later years, such legendary collectors as Barbara Hutton and the Duchess of Windsor were known for their opulent “big cat” jewels and the panther became the house’s mascot. By the 1920s, the Cartier workshops in Paris were making the East/West pieces that would come to be known by the name “Tutti-Frutti”: floral carved Indian rubies, sapphires and emeralds acquired by Jacques in India, fashioned into riotously vibrant necklaces and bracelets. The Cartier rolling ring also made its first appearance in the 1920s, designed by the artist Jean Cocteau. As the company moved forward, the monochrome style of the ’20s, the geometric influence of the ’40s, and the organic shapes of the ’60 reflected the ever-changing flow of aesthetic tastes in accessories.
Cartier creations were cutting edge when they first appeared and so beautifully made, with such attention to detail, that they’ve never lost their appeal. Royalty from England to Russia and Asia, socialites, movie stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and Gloria Swanson, and icons such as Andy Warhol and Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis were all great collectors of Cartier.
While the company continues to produce jewelry and watches of the highest caliber, Cartier’s vintage creations remain as desirable today as when first introduced and maintain a powerful presence on the secondary market. In December of 2015, Rago sold a Cartier Pinecone Diamond Platinum Shoulder Brooch from 1922 for $514,000.