In 1913, Cartier produced their first cigarette cases based on 19th-century Chinese mother-of-pearl mosaics and soon Louis Cartier started collecting mother-of-pearl laquer systematically from the leading antique dealers of the time, which he used in his objets d'art. According to Hans Nadelhoffer, mother-of-pearl was, from ancient times 'valued for the rose, lavender-blue and shimmering greens of the thin, innermost layers of sea and freshwater mussels. Early mother-of-pearl inlays from the Tang dynasty were too thick to permit the iridescence of the full colour range, but the craftsmen of the later Ming and Ching periods used tissue-thin slivers to produce delicately scintillating effects (...). Mother-of-pearl had a magical authority within the Taoist scheme. Moonbeams and the dust of powdered mother-of-pearl were the food of the immortal He Xiangu, and its insubstantial shimmering colours were, for the Taoists, a token of eternity. Mother-of-pearl was a favourite material in depictions of the Taoist Paradise of the West, which showed the caves of the Eight Immortals, the goddess Djivangmu riding on her phoenix and the Peaches of Immortality which ripened every three thousand years.
The laquers used by Cartier's in the 1920s were mostly taken from Chinese bowls, trays or tables; the relation to the original decorative context was necessarily sacrificed as a result. Because of their small format the motifs that came to hand were not concerned with the great themes of Taoist mythology. Even so, they conjure up the poetic and allegorical feeling for nature at the heart of Taoism. On one of these Cartier laquers two of the Immortals are strolling beneath the summer moon, deep in conversation; on another a maid light her mistress's way with a lantern; on another we observe a sage with his disciple in a pine grove. These little panels, which sit well with the art deco ensemble of coral, lapis lazuli and onyx, are often further embellished with cabochon gemstones: rubies may serve to pick out cherry blossoms or trace the line of a bridge, a sapphire lights up a distant boat, the moon shimmers through the facets of a rose-cut diamond.' (Hans Nadelhoffer, Cartier: Jewelers Extraordinary, p. 201)
For a very similar case made in 1926 see Hans Nadelhoffer, Cartier: Jewelers Extraordinary (London 1984), p. 166