An expert overview of the illustrious maison, the jeweller of choice for kings and queens, celebrities and tycoons. Illustrated with historic and beautiful Cartier necklaces, bracelets, rings, brooches and clocks sold at Christie’s.
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. This piece of prime real estate remains a flagship store to this day.
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 made their way to Cartier to buy or have their jewellery made.
Important pieces and collections
- Cartier Trinity rings
- Cartier Panther
- Tutti-Frutti by Cartier
- Love and Juste un Clou
- Cartier Mystery clocks
Masterpieces and great Cartier collectors
King Edward VII of England used to refer to Cartier as ‘the jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers’. This reputation was such that at the coronation of King George V in June 1911, 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 their official supplier of royal jewellery.
Socialites and movie stars followed suit and Merle Oberon, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and Gloria Swanson were all great collectors of Cartier jewellery.
Even the most discerning of diamond collectors would go to Cartier to have them mounted. Such was the case of Salomon 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. Cartier created an outstanding stomacher or devant-de-corsage brooch, so fashionable during the Belle Epoque.
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 their famous workshop ‘Atelier Henri Picq’ in Paris.
Up to this day, Cartier remains a favourite amongst great jewellery collectors and royal families. As an example Catherine Middleton, now Duchess of Cambridge, chose to wear the Cartier Halo diamond tiara for her wedding to Prince William in 2011.