The story of Cartier jewellery begins with Louis-Francois Cartier, who began as an apprentice watchmaker and later bought the business from his boss, Adolphe Picard, in 1847. At this stage, the business dealt primarily with watches, but under Louis-Francois’ new ownership, began to act as a jewellery dealer and retailer.
Soon after, however, Paris was subject to considerable political instability and conflict. Louis-Francois’ son, Alfred, had begun to work in the family business by the time that the Paris Commune, a socialist government, had taken over in 1870 and began waging war against the elites. Alfred was savvy, and helped many aristocrats who were desperate to use jewellery as a means of raising capital to flee, as they had restricted access to their banks. As a result, by the time that the Paris Commune had collapsed only a short time later in 1871 and the wealthy could start spending again, Cartier had amassed one of the finest collections of jewellery in France, for a fraction of its worth. In the final two decades of the nineteenth century, Alfred took on ownership of the business and Cartier had become an important jewellery destination for French elites. Still acting largely as a jewellery retailer, there was a noticeable increase in bespoke jewellery requests.
1899 - Cartier opened the doors at Rue de la Paix
By the end of the nineteenth century, Cartier had positioned itself as one of the premier jewellery houses in Paris, yet competition was fierce. Alfred had begun to extend Cartier’s reach beyond Paris to other French cities, but it was not until his three sons, Louis, Pierre and Jacques, started working for the business at the turn of the century that Cartier really began to make a name for itself. One of the key reasons behind Cartier’s rise to global pre-eminence is widely considered to be the three brothers’ seemingly global presence as Louis headed the Paris showroom on Rue de la Paix, Pierre ran the New York branch on Fifth Avenue and Pierre was in charge of the London branch on Bond Street. This gave Cartier access to different markets and different customers across the world, enabling them move stock and source pieces across the globe with relative ease. Between the three of them, they took on commissions from European royalty, Indian Maharajas, and the incredibly wealthy nouveau riche of North America, creating both bespoke pieces and dealing in some of the globe’s finest and most illustrious gemstones (for example: the Hope Diamond!).
Two of the three brothers instrumental in Cartier’s global success, Louis and Jacques, sadly passed away within months of each other in 1942, and whilst the company remained in family hands until Jacques’ death in 1964, the individual Cartier stores were sold separately until they were bought and reunified under the same umbrella in 1972. Despite maintaining its position as one of the leading global jewellery brands, Cartier has never quite achieved the same level of ingenuity and creativity as it had done so in its earlier heyday, and as such, antique and vintage Cartier jewellery remains highly collectible and sought after.
1909 - 175/6 New Bond Street
Icons of the Cartier Style
Known for their mantra "never copy, only create", Cartier have been responsible for an unquantifiable number of innovative, intricate and technically impressive designs over the course of their history. There are, however, some designs that have developed an iconic status synonymous with Cartier over the course of the twentieth century, and will likely look familiar to you. Let's take a brief look:
Firstly, they largely pioneered the use of platinum around the turn of the twentieth century – which enabled more delicate, refined designs to be possible around the Belle Epoque and Edwardian eras.
Secondly, inspired by the jewels that Jacques had seen in India when visiting his Maharaja clients, Cartier’s ‘Tutti Frutti’ designs were an entirely novel and unique style introduced by Cartier. Only latterly nicknamed ‘tutti frutti’ in the 1970’s, at the time, Jacques called them his ‘Hindou Jewels’, and they were characterised by the use of carved emeralds, rubies, and sapphires set in combination with diamonds, often in foliate or berry, naturalistic patterns.
Tutti Frutti Brooch
Cartier’s Panthere collection was designed by Jeanne Toussaint, one of the lead designers at Cartier Paris. It began with a few smaller items from the 1910’s but really propelled to fame after Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, began to wear larger Panthere pieces that she had commissioned by Cartier in the 1940’s.
Wallis Simpson's Platinum Panther Brooch, 152ct Kashmir Cabochon Sapphire
Cartier’s Tank watch has some serious cult status, and is even now one of the most easily recognised watch designs in the world. Designed in 1917 during the First World War, inspired by the new Renault Tanks which were being used by the USA forces, production began in 1919 with only 6 models being made. It has a characteristically rectangular shape, with Roman numeral dials, sword shape hands and a simple cabochon sapphire. It has been worn by countless global fashion icons, royalty and celebrities over the decades: from Princess Diana, to Andy Warhol, and has since had several editions released.
Designed by Cartier in 1924,the Trinity collection remains hugely popular today. Representing fidelity, friendship and love, the Trinity collection is designed with three interlocking circles and was originally made as a lower cost product alternative in a post-war world. Legend has it that the French poet Jean Cocteau had a dream about Saturn's rings, and tasked Louis Cartier with creating an item of jewellery with this as inspiration.
The Love bracelet is one of the most easily recognisable Cartier pieces. Designed by Aldo Cipullo in 1969, inspired by the theme of everlasting love, they are characteristically ornamented with a screw head motif. On a bracelet, two of the screws will be functioning, so that the bracelet cannot be removed without unscrewing – resulting in a piece of jewellery designed to be treasured and never taken off.
Collection of our Cartier items
Aldo Cipullo was also responsible for designing the Juste en Clou range in 1971, shortly after the Love design. A simple design, literally meaning ‘Just a Nail’, the bracelet is designed as a simple nail which gracefully wraps itself around the wrist. It can be worn with from day to night, in an effortlessly casual way.