Offered for sale this month, these jeweled tigers by Cartier were part of the greatest collection of the 20th century. Stefano Papi reports
The relationship between Mrs Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII remains one of the most romantic, controversial and talked about love stories in history. Her jewellery collection, which showed a strong preference for creations by Cartier, was unique; not only were her pieces chosen and commissioned by a king for the woman he loved, but they represented some of the finest and most avant-garde designs of that period, not to mention dominating contemporary taste in jewellery from the 1930s.
The most fascinating aspect of the collection is that Wallis and Edward were active in the process of designing their pieces, presenting Jeanne Toussaint (from 1934 responsible for the haute-joaillerie of Cartier) with ideas that she would then develop with the firm’s designers — most notably Peter Lemarchand.
Cartier was accustomed to accommodating the at times idiosyncratic desires of its customers, and under Toussaint’s leadership, the firm created a fully-fledged jewellery menagerie for the Duchess of Windsor. Highly regarded for her impeccable taste, well-balanced sense of proportion and delicate brand of craftsmanship, Toussaint was adept at creating jewels in the shapes of all sorts of creatures. The most iconic jewels she created, however, were the 'Great Cats'.
Toussaint adored panthers: her partner, Louis Cartier, nicknamed her 'The Panther' and her Parisian apartment was strewn with their skins. She confessed that many of her creations were inspired by the animal's elegance and posture. The first example, from the late 1920s, depicted the panther in two-dimensional form, but later pieces were three-dimensional. The first of these, a brooch created in 1948, had an animal made of yellow gold with black enamel spots and emerald eyes, crouching on a cabochon emerald of nearly 100 carats.
The Duchess of Windsor, as she was known after marrying Edward, loved the brooch so much that one year later she bought another one — this time a panther in platinum studded with diamond and sapphire spots, crouching on a 152 carat cabochon sapphire. Today this piece can be admired in Cartier exhibitions.
Cartier calibre onyx and circular-cut diamond bracelet with pear-shaped emerald eyes
A full family of great cats followed: in December 1952, a panther bracelet in diamonds and the spots in black onyx. The matching clip followed in 1966. But the real innovation in these jewels came in 1954 when a lorgnette, designed as a tiger in yellow gold with stripes in black enamel, became the inspiration for a tiger bracelet, made in 1956. This gorgeous jewel was created as the animal in repose, with the full body completely articulated, the stripes formed by calibre onyx. The colours imitate those of the real animal; with colourless circular-cut diamonds from the forehead, shoulder and paws that shade to a rich yellow. The eyes were depicted with pear-shaped emeralds. When worn around the wrist, the paws hung freely. In 1959, a tiger clip brooch was created to go with the bracelet. The design again showed the animal in repose with the forepaws and tail extended, the tail and the head articulated.
The Duchess's passion for her 'Great Cat' collection was such that at home she was often seen playing with the jewels like toys. She did a great deal to popularise this type of jewellery, and other outstanding examples formed part of the collections of her contemporary icons of style. But this bracelet and brooch born out of the work of Jeanne Toussaint and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor will remain forever part of the history of jewellery.
Sarah Brightman wearing the Cartier tigers at the opening night of The Phantom of the Opera in New York, January 1988
In the legendary sale of the Duchess of Windsor’s collection in 1987, in Geneva (the most valuable collection of jewels ever auctioned at the time), a total of seven ‘Great Cats’ pieces by Cartier were offered, including the onyx and diamond clip tiger brooch and bracelet. It was at this auction that Andrew Lloyd Webber bought them for his then wife, Sarah Brightman. They were a present to her to celebrate the London and Broadway success of The Phantom of the Opera, which he wrote and in which she starred.
These two tiger pieces are now to be sold by Christie's as one lot in the ‘Magnificent Jewels’ auction, with a combined estimate of $1,800,000 – 2,500,000. By virtue of their unique history, Sarah Brightman intends to offer a portion of the proceeds from the sale to The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, which significantly supports the arts, music in schools, The Architectural Heritage Fund and awards 30 performing arts scholarships annually. This donation will ensure the causes they both support benefit from the sale.