Cartier. The very name denotes quality and opulence. Founded in 1847 in Paris by Louis-François Cartier, the firm became one of the world’s greatest designers and manufacturers of jewelry and objets d’art, and a supplier to royalty, nobility, and millionaires.
Until the end of the nineteenth century, Cartier was primarily a retailer of jewelry and objects produced by outside manufacturers. When Cartier’s son Alfred took over in 1874, the firm gradually began repairing and improving jewelry, and then designing and manufacturing their own original pieces in the late 1800s. In 1899, the move to 13 Rue de la Paix situated the business in the heart of the important jewelry and couturier quarter of Paris.
Encouraged by King Edward VII, Cartier opened a branch in London in 1902 managed by Alfred’s son Jacques. A royal commission was granted in 1904, followed quickly by commissions from Spain, Portugal, Russia, Siam, and Greece. These royal commissions helped to solidify Cartier’s reputation among the wealthy and famous the world over.
To better deal with American millionaires, who from the beginning formed a large part of Cartier’s clientele, a New York branch was opened in 1909 by Alfred’s other son, Pierre. Until World War I, Cartier maintained close relations with clients in Russia, and the princes and maharajas of India sought Cartier to design and mount their jewels. Jewelry and accessories were also made as stock items for the stores or were commissioned by individuals.
Until the 1960s, the Paris, London, and New York branches were part of a single firm but operated independently, collaborating whenever necessary. In 1962, the New York branch was sold, followed by the Paris branch in 1965, thus ending the unity. The firm was reunited and reorganized in 1979 as Cartier Monde, and today shops and boutiques can be found in cities around the world.
With each of the branches headed by a Cartier brother, the first four decades of the twentieth century were a time of originality in design and technique in which a distinctive Cartier aesthetic emerged. Most of the pieces in this exhibition date to this period and reflect in part the range of materials and decorative techniques employed by Cartier.
The McClung Museum exhibit features sixty Cartier pieces from the collection of Alan and Simone Hartman. Included are a number of clocks and watches, an area in which Cartier excelled in diversity and design.
Accessories such as cigarette cases and vanity cases present a dazzling array of surface treatments. Cartier was famous for creating bold color combinations in diverse materials, such as coral and black lacquer; blues and greens in enamel, lapis lazuli, and jade; and blacks and whites in enamel, onyx, and diamonds. These combinations and others can be seen incorporated into many of the exhibited objects.
Another Cartier innovation was the use of platinum, introduced in 1896. This metal, in contrast to gold and silver, is very strong but also lightweight, and is capable of being worked in very thin gauge while retaining its strength, thus making possible settings of very fine gauge and delicacy of design. “The thick settings of gold, silver and heavy woven strands that had been known since time immemorial were like the armour of jewelry. The use of platinum, which became its embroidery, an innovation introduced by us, produced the reformation…” (Louis Cartier, 1927).
CARTIER: The Jeweler’s Art, from the Hartman Collection, complements the McClung Museum’s permanent exhibition, The Decorative Experience, which explores the universality of decoration in different mediums over time and space.