Left, a Cartier emerald, onyx diamond ‘panthère’ crossover ring. Right, a pink sapphire, ruby and diamond brooch, mounted by Cartier. Sold for CHF 579,600 on 11 May 2022 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 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.
‘The Sunrise Ruby’, a sensational Cartier ruby and diamond ring. Sold for CHF13,055,000 on 10 May 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.
Important pieces and collections
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.
Wrought in exceptional and often rare materials, these objects are exemplars of the style moderne of the era.
A Cartier suite of multi-gem, seed pearl and diamond ‘Iguazu’ jewellery. Size/dimensions: necklace 75.5 cm; bracelet 17.0 cm; earrings 7.0 cm; US ring size 6¾. Sold for CHF302,400 on 12 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva
The famous Cartier ‘three-ring’ made its first appearance almost 100 years ago, in 1924, during the Art Deco craze. 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.
Cartier emerald, onyx, enamel and gold ‘Gengis Khan tigre’ bangle. Size/dimensions: 16.5 cm. Sold for CHF 81,900 on 18 May 2022 at Christie’s Online
Cartier emerald, onyx diamond ‘panthère’ crossover ring
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.
Cartier retro pair of diamond and multi-gem 'Tutti Frutti' clip-brooches. Sold for $425,000 on 8 December 2021 at Christie’s in New York
Cartier Art Deco multi-gem and diamond 'Tutti Frutti' brooch. Sold for $56,250 on 8 December 2021 at Christie’s in New York
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.
Love and Juste un Clou
Aldo Cipullo joined Cartier, New York, in 1969 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.
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 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.
A gold ‘Love’ bangle bracelet, by Aldo Cipullo, Cartier. Sold for $4,750 on 10 December 2013 at Christie’s in New York
Cartier Mystery clocks
Cartier’s ‘Mystery clocks’ combine incredible craftsmanship and timeless design with a touch of magic. Inspired by the ‘magic clocks’ of 19th-century illusionist Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin — timepieces whose hands appeared to operate without being attached to a visible mechanism — a young clockmaker at Cartier named Maurice Couët astonished the industry by exploiting the same illusion. Couët created Cartier’s first ever Mystery clock, named ‘Model A’, in 1913.
With their hands seeming to float, and no mechanism to be seen, these clocks fascinated Cartier clients and sales staff alike.
Art Deco desk clock, Cartier. Lapis lazuli dial with carved jade centre panel, kingfisher feather surround with enamel details, carved emerald trees details with enamel and turquoise details, rock crystal base, silver and gold (french marks), 1930s, mechanical movement. 9.9 x 7.9 x 2.4 cm. Sold for CHF 150,000 on 21 July 2020 at Christie’s Online
An exceptional Art Deco citrine, ebonite, diamond and enamel ‘Mystery’ clock, by Cartier. Sold for $710,500 on 7 December 2010 at Christie’s in New York
The Mystery clocks created by Cartier during the Art Deco period blend exquisite craftsmanship, elegant design and the most technologically advanced mechanisms, resulting in works that continue to entertain and mesmerise.
‘Jeweller of kings’: great Cartier collectors
King Edward VII used to refer to Cartier as ‘the jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers’. 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 England, Belgium to Russia, India to Siam, kings and queens around the world made Cartier the pre-eminent supplier of royal jewellery.
A rare Cartier sapphire and diamond ring. Sold for CHF1,436,500 on 10 May 2023 at Christie’s in Geneva
Socialites and movie stars followed suit, with Merle Oberon, Elizabeth Taylor, 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 the 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 an outstanding devant-de-corsage brooch, which was the height of fashion during the Belle Epoque.
Christie’s Online Magazine delivers our best features, videos, and auction news to your inbox every week
Pink sapphire, ruby and diamond brooch, mounted by Cartier. Sold for CHF 579,600 on 11 May 2022 at Christie’s in Geneva
Cartier aquamarine, diamond and multi-gem ‘Panthère de Cartier’ bracelet. Estimate: $200,000–$400,000. Offered in Magnificent Jewels on 6 December 2022 at Christie’s in New York
A Belle Époque diamond Devant-de-Corsage brooch, by Cartier. Sold for CHF 15,845,000 on 14 May 2014 at Christie’s in Geneva
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 a great 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.