Collecting guide: Cartier jewellery

A guide to the jewellery house of choice for royalty, Hollywood and tycoons — illustrated with beautiful and historic tiaras, necklaces, bracelets, rings and brooches offered at Christie’s

The model wears an Art Deco diamond bracelet by Cartier, 1920s and a mid-20th century natural pearl and diamond ‘Palm Tree’ clip-brooch mounted by Cartier, circa 1950, sold for CHF327,600 on 7 November 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

The history of Cartier

The House of Cartier was founded in 1847 when the 28-year-old Louis-François Cartier took over a shop at 29 rue Montorgueil in Paris. His son Alfred Cartier took control of the company in 1874, by which time it already had an excellent reputation. However, it was Alfred’s three sons — Louis, Pierre and Jacques — who would go on to establish Cartier as a world-famous jewellery brand.

While Louis retained the responsibility for Paris, in 1902 Jacques went to London and only two years later received the Royal Warrant, thereby supplying jewellery to King Edward VII and his court. Pierre travelled to New York where, in 1917, he famously acquired 653 Fifth Avenue for two strands of the very finest pearls. That piece of prime real estate remains a flagship store to this day.

Mid-20th century diamond tiara-necklace by Cartier, circa 1955. Tiara inner circumference 42.6 cm; height 5 cm; necklace 41.3 cm. Sold for CHF567,000 on 7 November 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

Since then the maison has expanded globally, becoming what many consider to be the finest jewellery house in the world. Its clientele has encompassed royalty, film stars and business tycoons. King Farouk of Egypt, the Duchess of Windsor, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and Clark Gable all went to Cartier to buy jewellery or have pieces made.

Art Deco Cartier

The 1920s and 1930s saw Cartier create objects in the Art Deco style, amplified by Europe’s fascination with the Far East. Fine jewellery and more quotidian objects such as minaudières, brooches, clocks, cigarette cases and picture frames were embellished with European and ‘Oriental’ forms that became signature motifs of the maison’s creations at the time.

Art Deco ruby, sapphire and diamond sautoir by Cartier, 1933. Sautoir approximately 62 cm; pendant 11.4 x 3.7 cm. Offered in Magnificent Jewels including The Bleu Royal on 7 November 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva

Wrought in exceptional and often rare materials, these objects are exemplars of the style moderne of the era.

Trinity Rings

The famous Cartier ‘three-ring’ made its first appearance almost 100 years ago, in 1924, during the craze for Art Deco jewellery. It was designed by Jean Cocteau, the French writer, painter, filmmaker and poet, who was a great friend of Louis Cartier.

The simplicity of the three interlocking rings, each of a different gold colour, quickly became a classic. It seemed appropriate that this ring, which supposedly symbolised friendship, fidelity and love, should be a favourite among jewellery collectors.

It is also to be noted that the technicality of the ‘Trinity’ models, as simple as it may look, is an incredible feat, allowing the three bands to slide smoothly over the skin.

The Great Cats

In 1914 the first ‘Great Cat’ motif entered the Cartier family by means of an onyx-spotted panther-pattern wristwatch created by the famous French designer Charles Jacqueau. Through the years, the initial pattern has evolved into fully sculptured animals, and the array of cats has widened to include the tiger as well as the panther.

Promoted to Director of High Jewellery at Cartier in 1933, Jeanne Toussaint, a feline-lover nicknamed ‘The Panther’ by Louis Cartier and her colleagues, immediately took responsibility for supervising the Great Cat designs. Together with Peter Lemarchand, a designer of outstanding creativity, she produced a variety of jewels that immortalised the feline motif in the annals of Cartier design.

After the first three-dimensional panther was created in 1948 for the Duchess of Windsor, other distinguished Cartier clients began to fall in love with the jewels. Daisy Fellowes and Nina Dyer, for example, both appropriated this new look. American heiress Barbara Hutton, a notable style rival of the Duchess of Windsor, also had a preference for Jeanne Toussaint’s tiger menagerie.

Over the course of more than a century, the iconic Cartier cats have gone through multiple variations, but they are still considered a must-have for jewellery collectors today. New designs from the 1980s and 1990s have only increased the demand for these spectacular jewels.

Tutti Frutti by Cartier

Cartier has always been at the forefront of innovation. Jacques Cartier first visited India in 1911 and, through his buying agents in Delhi, Calcutta and Bombay, managed to acquire Indian rubies, sapphires and emeralds, carved with floral motifs, at relatively modest prices.

The workshops in Paris assimilated Indian designs into a new style of multi-gem jewels, far removed from the typical severity of purely diamond-based Art Deco pieces. This became known as Cartier’s ‘Tutti Frutti’ style.

The genre reached its peak with a stunning piece, the ‘Hindu necklace’, commissioned in 1936 by the heiress to the Singer sewing-machine company, Daisy Fellowes.

Cartier Love and Juste un Clou

In 1969 Aldo Cipullo joined Cartier in New York after serving an apprenticeship in his native Italy, and later at David Webb. Within two years he had created two of the most iconic Cartier designs: the ‘Love’ and the ‘Juste un Clou’ — minimalist, whimsical and ingenious.

‘Love’ diamond bangle by Cartier. 16.8 cm. Sold for HK$252,000 on 28 November 2022 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

The ‘Love’ bracelet, a band in two sections, has to be screwed together with the aid of a screwdriver — provided by Cartier of course. (Once in a place, the bracelet is not intended to be removed.) In a brilliant marketing move, Cartier made the decision to gift his-and-her love bracelets to the most famous couples of the era, including Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw.

A symbol as strong as the eternity ring itself, the ‘Love’ bracelet has been, for more than 40 years, a token of love and attachment.

‘Jeweller of kings’: great Cartier collectors

King Edward VII referred to Cartier as ‘the jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers’, and the maison’s reputation was such that at the 1911 coronation of King George V, 19 of the tiaras worn at the ceremony were by Cartier. From Spain to Russia, India to Siam, the world’s royalty made Cartier the pre-eminent supplier of aristocratic jewellery.

Belle Epoque diamond devant-de-corsage brooch by Cartier, 1912. Sold for CHF 15,845,000 on 14 May 2014 at Christie’s in Geneva

La Peregrina: a natural pearl, diamond, ruby and cultured pearl necklace designed by Elizabeth Taylor with Al Durante of Cartier, 1972. Sold for $11,842,500 on 13 December 2011 at Christie’s in New York

Socialites and movie stars followed suit, with Merle Oberon, Grace Kelly and Gloria Swanson all becoming great collectors of Cartier jewellery.

The most discerning collectors of diamonds would go to Cartier to have them mounted. Such was the case with Solomon Barnato Joel, who had made his fortune in South African diamond mines, being the director of Barnato Brothers as well as De Beers Consolidated. In 1912, he asked Cartier to mount four of his best diamonds, resulting in the creation of this outstanding devant-de-corsage brooch (below left), which was the height of fashion during the Belle Epoque.

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Designed around a central pear-shaped diamond of more than 34 carats, two navette-shaped diamonds and a heart-shaped diamond, this devant-de-corsage is an example of the subtle and delicate ‘Lily-of-the-Valley’ setting used by Cartier around 1910 and mastered by its famous workshop, the Atelier Henri Picq in Paris.

To this day, Cartier remains a favourite among great jewellery collectors and royal families. For example, Catherine, Princess of Wales, chose to wear the Cartier Halo diamond tiara for her wedding to Prince William in 2011.

Explore Luxury at Christie’s in Hong Kong, Geneva, London and Paris, November and December 2023

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