Jewellery production in the first quarter of this century, particularly in the years just after the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb, was marked by a prevailing Egyptomania. Pieces inspired by the pectoral, an ornamental breastplate placed on the chest of the mummies, were executed by both Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. Though Cartier's initial designs are of an earlier date - circa 1910 - preceding the 1922 find and probably more influenced by the 1911 Franco-Egyptian exhibition at the Louvre, they were never quite as ambitious as the present necklace.
The surmount depicts a winged scarab, representative of Khepri, the morning sun. Such objects were placed on the chests of the dead as a symbol of resurrection. The cartouche shaped-panel surrounding the scarab is reminiscent of those used to write the names of the Kings in hieroglyphs. The falcon, an image repeated in the neckchain, was the protector of royalty in ancient Egypt. It also sometimes represented the God Ra or the supreme embodiment of power.
Typical of the Egyptian-inspired creations of the time, the motifs and hieroglyphs incorporated into this sautoir were chosen strictly for their decorative value. As an ensemble, they have no meaning. The central image figures the Goddess Maat, representing the concepts of truth, balance, harmony and justice.
Accompanying Maat to the right is a hieroglyph representing the ostrich feather. In ancient Egypt, an efficient postal service existed. To identify themselves, the postmen wore ostrich feathers. Thus, the symbol came to mean ‘bearing good intentions’. She is sitting below a circle representing the sun and above the zig-zag hieroglyph for water, which has been inverted. To her left is the symbol for a sceptre. To either side of the pendant are lotuses, symbolising lower Egypt.