Reviews Gems & Gemology, Winter 2016, Vol. 52, No. 4

Book Review: Cartier Dazzling: High Jewelry and Precious Objects

Cartier Dazzling Book Cover
By François Chaille, hardcover, 272 pp., publ. by Flammarion, Paris, 2016, $125.00.

Another in a near-annual series of beautiful hardbound volumes featuring new collections in the Cartier oeuvre, Cartier Dazzling: High Jewelry and Precious Objects highlights the famed jewelry atelier and its glamorous clients. Cartier has been the architect of renowned jewelry, many incorporating world-famous gemstones. The blue Hope, the Star of South Africa, the Pasha, the Star of the East, and various De Beers diamonds have all been featured in pieces by Cartier’s master jewelers, and figure into the jewelry house’s rich history.

Cartier’s relocation from the Boulevard des Italiens to the Rue de la Paix in Paris in 1899 proved a strategic move for the young jewelry store. This luxury shopping area was home to established jewelry houses such as Mellerio and Aucoc, as well as nearby sales opportunities with Worth and Paquin couturiers, Guerlain perfumes, Viault-Este shoes, and Charvet shirts at the Place Vendôme. These shops were conveniently near many of Paris’s great hotels catering to wealthy travelers: the Hotel Bristol (dubbed the “Hotel of Kings”), the Ritz, the Hotel des Iles Britanniques, and the Westminster. Sharing important clients due to the close proximity of their stores, Louis Cartier and Jean-Philippe Worth, who were acquainted before the former’s move to Rue de la Paix, eventually became the best of friends.  This link further strengthened by Louis’s marriage to Jean-Philippe’s daughter, Andrée-Caroline at the turn of the century. In 1910, Louis’s younger sister, Suzanne, married Jacques Worth, another member of the powerful family.

Cartier began to fashion jewelry employing platinum, a metal rarely used, at the end of the 19th century. Platinum helped to create light and airy pieces that would enhance the dresses designed by Worth. This new style of jewelry, known as the “garland” style, epitomized the Belle Époque era of jewelry design.

An introduction to the maharajah of Kapurthala in 1911 provided Louis Cartier’s brother Jacques access to the high society of the Indian subcontinent. Indian princes brought personal gems to Cartier to be reworked into modern designs using platinum. As a result the renowned Indian penchant for opulence was reflected in the form of carved rubies, sapphires, and emeralds set into Cartier’s signature “Tutti Frutti” (or “fruit salad”) jewelry during the first third of the 20th century.

Cartier jewelry featured heavily at the “Ball of the Century,” held on September 3, 1951 in Venice. Many of the 1,500 attendees and preeminent members of café society were devoted Cartier followers, such as Singer sewing machine heiress and socialite Daisy Fellowes. She attended wearing her famous 1936 “Hindu” necklace by Cartier, an intricate creation of faceted and carved sapphires, rubies, and emeralds. This iconic necklace eventually found its way into the Cartier Collection, a group of 1,500 exceptional pieces of jewelry from 1860 to the present, including a necklace once owned by Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton: a strand of 27 jadeite beads of exceptional quality and size, with a clasp of baguette diamonds and calibrated rubies.

The Étourdissant collection, introduced at the end of 2015, makes use of carved morganite, chalcedony, and jasper to define and accentuate form and color in the guise of flowers and panthers. A discussion of chasing and repoussé highlights the amount of workmanship and masterful technical skill involved in creating a swallow-themed diamond pendant necklace. The collection also features the “threading” of diamonds—the stringing of drilled diamond briolettes on a strong wire, presumably platinum—for use in various designs. A number of exceptional gems grace this collection, including the Bleu Azur diamond, the pink Aube diamond, the Burmese Andaman sapphire, and the Colombian Amazonie emerald. But the apex of this year’s collection is the Romanov sapphire, of Sri Lankan origin and weighing a whopping 197.80 ct.

Cartier first purchased the Romanov sapphire between 1925 and 1928, during the sale of the Russian imperial jewels by Russia’s newly formed Communist government. The imperial jewels had been seized from the Russian royal family when they were dethroned. The sapphire’s Imperial provenance was confirmed by an illustration plate and description of the stone in the French version of the extremely rare inventory catalog, Les Joyaux du Tresor de Russie (Russia’s Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones). The stone was pictured in the French version but omitted from the English version that accompanied the jewels at their original sale. When the catalog, consulted again during the 2014 sale of the sapphire back to Cartier, suggested the gem had belonged to Maria Feodorovna (mother of Nicholas II, the last Romanov emperor of Russia). A brief but thorough description of her life follows to enlighten the audience about the stone’s background. After the stone was acquired by Cartier in the 1920s, it was purchased by Polish opera singer Ganna Walska, who had the sapphire mounted in a necklace several different ways during her ownership. It was eventually auctioned off with most of her vast jewel collection in 1970 to help improve the gardens at her Montecito, California estate. Upon reacquiring the Romanov sapphire in 2014, Cartier set it into a bracelet enhanced with diamonds.

Readers who are under the impression that Cartier made Mystery clocks only in the 1920s, will be pleased to know that the Étourdissant collection features two: the Pharos Mystery clock and the Target Mystery clock, as well a “Celian” magnetic clock driven by an ingenious arrangement of magnets. A very fine hinged bangle watch bracelet of pink tourmaline, diamonds, and pink gold is also depicted.

True to form, color is employed masterfully in Cartier’s Étourdissant jewels, the intense red fire of ruby or the green vortex of an emerald playing off the neutrality of white diamonds or black onyx. The current collection features newly interpreted designs of Cartier’s ever popular and appealing “Tutti Frutti” jewels, first created in the 1920s and now updated for a modern take. Perhaps the most stunning jewels from the collection are those depicting wild animals, especially the Cartier panther. Symbolic of Cartier as early as 1914, the panther is today incorporated as an animal of intrigue.  

Cartier Dazzling will be useful for jewelry historians, designers, and those with a love of iconic brands and superb workmanship of great ingenuity.

Jo Ellen Cole has worked in the gem industry for more than three decades. Since 2002, she has offered appraisals, identification, and museum display consultation under Cole Appraisal Services.