The jewellery dynasty that became a household name
King Edward VII of England once referred to Cartier as "the jeweller of kings and the king of jewellers". Cartier’s client list certainly attests to the first of these descriptors; the maison is known for its many regal patrons, from Maharajahs to generations of European rulers. This high patronage was not undeserved: Cartier’s workshops have continuously delivered and championed the highest levels of craftsmanship. The cult of Cartier was such that at the coronation of King George V in June 1911, 19 of the tiaras worn at the ceremony were by the venerable jeweller.
The illustrious French maison was founded in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier but rose to stellar heights in the hands of his son and then particularly of his grandchildren Louis, Pierre and Jacques. The visionary brothers traded on Cartier’s already excellent reputation for fine jewellery and deftly worked independently and together to conquer the globe: Louis remained in Paris, Jacques took over the London branch in 1906 and Pierre succeeded in New York by exchanging a two-string necklace of pearls for a Renaissance-style mansion on Fifth Avenue – becoming their new showrooms – in 1916.
The brothers each had their specific skills, whether in business, design or stone buying, but they also had their eyes set firmly on the future. Before Art Deco was even a concept, the geometric lines of their brooches and bracelets led the way for architectural jewellery. Earlier still, the maison’s craftspeople mastered the newly workable platinum to create delicate diamond-set jewels as fine as lace, when many other jewellers were consumed with making jewellery of the Art Nouveau style. Moreover, the realism and exquisite execution of their floral jewellery led one Parisian client to be known to refer to Cartier as her "favourite florist".
But the brothers weren’t alone in their design work; Louis Cartier met the sharp-minded tour-de-force Jeanne Toussaint, who became one of Cartier’s top design consultants and collaborated with their illustrious clients to achieve jewels of suitably Cartier elegance and complexity. When Cartier’s iconic La Panthère evolved from simple onyx spots to a full animal, Louis gifted the first true Panthère to Jeanne on a vanity case. Toussaint truly became one of the most influential women of the Place Vendôme, Paris.