For the first time, the House of Cartier has unveiled to the public its most precious treasure: a selection of the best jewels created since the birth of the Maison until today, pieces that because of their age and significance, comprise an incomparable artistic and cultural heritage.
Up to 420 pieces attest to the presence of the Maison in the most relevant events in the life and history of European and Asian nobility, as well as in the private collections of artists, tycoons and movie stars, who have worn part of this archive for more than 160 years: Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and María Felix among them.
Elizabeth Taylor en Las Vegas, June 1958.
The Art of Cartier is the title of the exhibition on view at the Thyssen Bornemiza Museum in Madrid that brought together hundreds of pieces that narrate the evolution and the creativity of this brand. Louis, Pierre and Jacques Cartier inherited the passion for jewels from their grandfather, François Cartier, who opened his first jewelry store on the emblematic Rue de la Paix, Paris in 1847.
Alfred Cartier y sus 3 hijos. De izquierda a derecha Pierre, Louis y Jacques (1922).
This exhibit recognizes the achievements of the Maison and the adventurous, entrepreneurial spirit of its heirs, who withstood the test of time and turned Cartier into one of the most prestigious jewelry makers in history. The use of dim lights in the exhibition space allows the jewels to shine and illuminate the display.
François Cartier was called “the king of jewelers and the jeweler of kings”, and this becomes apparent from the onset of our visit: the first hall exhibits a selection of tiaras from the 19th century that recalls the intimate relationship between Cartier and the most powerful European monarchies (Spain, Portugal, Russia, Belgium and Greece). The monarchs commissioned impressive crowns with diamonds, rubies and sapphires set in a material that had never been used in haute jewelry: platinum, introduced by Cartier in 1860 to perfectly showcase exquisite diamonds.
The first to bet on this innovation were Princess Matilda, cousin of Emperor Napoleon III; Queen Alexandra of the United Kingdom, Russian Princess Olga Paley and Elisabeth, Queen of Belgium, as well as King George VI who, in 1937, commissioned several diadems for special guests at his coronation.
Elizabeth, Reina de los Belgas.
The style of the house would gradually change over the years, turning from the more classic Luis XVI style (lace and diamonds garlands created with the mille grain technique) to the modernist and Art Déco pieces introduced after WWI.
During the first half of the 20th century, Cartier demonstrated a keen interest in geometry, abstraction and straight lines. It is precisely during this period that he consolidates one of the eponymous symbols of the brand: the diamond and onyx panther skin design.
A pop of colorful stones (turquoise, lapis lazuli, jades, sapphires, emeralds, coral and onyx) appears in his creations of the time, informed by his fascination with Diaghilev‘s Ballets Russes. The Cartier brothers had traveled to Russia, India, China, Egypt and Japan and brought with them the exotic magic of the fauna of the Far East, which was transferred to the House’s designs of the mid-19th century: charismatic brooches with Egyptian scarabs, the Tutti-frutti collection, and the Oriental motifs of Buddhas, dragons and crocodiles are representative of the jewels and other decorative objects (lighters, ashtrays, vases and handbags) created by the brand.
In the 20th century, the elite showed a deep admiration for the world’s most recognized jeweler. The ruby and diamond necklace Mike Todd chose for his wife, Elizabeth Taylor, is included in the Thyssen exhibit. King Alfonso XIII gave Queen Victoria Eugenia a garland diadem of pearls and diamonds from the Royal Collection, also made by Cartier. And, on the occasion of his royal wedding in 1956, Prince Rainier III gave his bride, Grace Kelly, jewels that are today a central part of the artistic legacy of the Royal Palace of Monaco.
Alfonso XIII en la joyería Cartier.
The House’s long lasting fascination with flora and fauna, far from the geometry of Art Déco, can only be explained by the presence of Jeanne Touissant who, in 1933, took the helm of the High Jewelry department. The magic and the enigma that emerges from the palm trees, turtles, ladybugs and dragonflies created during this decade are the result of the admiration and inspiration Toussaint felt for the work of Schiaparelli, Dior, Chanel and Balenciaga.
The Duchess of Windsor´s sapphire, ruby and emerald brooches in the shape of flamingos and panthers; Barbara Hinton’s tiger brooch and María Felix´s striking necklace – two crocodiles set with diamonds and emeralds – are clear examples of the boldness, brilliance and mastery of the House of Cartier. ■
Elizabeth Taylor en Las Vegas, June 1958. With permission of the Trustees of Elizabeth Taylor.