How Jeanne Toussaint — friend of Coco Chanel and lover of Louis Cartier — steered the maison away from abstract designs to establish an icon of 20th-century jewellery
The panther is one of Cartier’s most enduring symbols, first appearing in 1914 as a wristwatch dial set with onyx and diamonds. The woman responsible for transforming the ‘big cat’ from a dial motif into a 20th-century icon, however, was Jeanne Toussaint, who in 1933 became Cartier’s Creative Director of Jewellery.
Born in Belgium, Toussaint moved to Paris at the height of the Belle Epoque and her style, creativity and fierce determination made her a fixture in society circles. A close friend of Coco Chanel, she began her career by making handbags for fashionable women.
Louis Cartier recognized her talent and invited Toussaint to join the company in around 1918, promoting her to head of the new silver department before handing her the creative reins of the house in 1933. By that time, the two had become lovers.
Toussaint set about moving the famous house away from abstract Art Deco designs towards realism. Highly regarded for her sense of proportion and delicate brand of craftsmanship, she was adept at creating jewels in the shapes of all manner of creatures, although the most iconic by far were her panthers.
Toussaint adored the animals, confessing that many of her creations were inspired by the creature’s elegance and posture. The first example, from the late 1920s, depicted the panther in two-dimensional form, but later pieces were three-dimensional.
A brooch created in 1948 for the Duchess of Windsor featured an animal made of yellow gold covered with black enamel spots and emeralds for eyes, crouching upon a cabochon emerald of nearly 100 carats. The Duchess 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, perched on a 152-carat cabochon sapphire. Under Toussaint’s leadership, Cartier went on to create the Duchess a veritable jewellery menagerie.
This great feline has endured, and from its origins in exceptional creations for some of the 20th century’s most celebrated jewellery collectors, it is now evident in modern interpretations that cater for those with less extravagant budgets. Here, we take a prowl through some of the pieces offered in our Online Jewels Sale.
This highly polished crouching panther bangle with toggle clasp will make an extraordinary adornment to any wrist.
These earrings depict exquisitely lifelike, diamond-set profiles of a panther, complete with diamond collars. The pear-shaped emerald eyes and carved onyx noses complete an eye-catching set guaranteed to draw purrs of appreciation.
This statement ring is modelled after a roaring panther, with a coat of yellow gold accented with lacquer spots, an onyx nose and piercing peridot eyes.
One of the more abstract designs of the Panthère collection, this pair of earrings takes the spotted coat of big cats for inspiration.
Modelled on a reclining panther and fashioned from sculpted gold with 170 round-diamond accents, this relaxed feline has been reiterated in many mediums throughout Cartier’s long history.