Jewels have traditionally served not only as symbols of dignity, rank, authority or wealth, but they have also been created as amulets and talismans to provide protection and ward off evil in many cultures, taking the form of symbols such as animals, body parts and plants, to name but a few. Whether a priceless creation or a precious piece, such symbols have special meaning for the historian the anthropologist and the geologist.
Animals, domestic and wild, have for centuries occupied an important place amongst motifs used in jewelry. In the Middle Ages, the Celts specialized in stylized animal figures which were adopted by craftsmen throughout the Post-Roman Europe and passed on to their Eastern successor, the Byzantine Empire.
The 18th century Europe witnessed a revival of what had for long been regarded as part of the remote past. A renewed fascination with the Medieval and Renaissance was born with the discovery of treasures in the East due to the birth of modern archeology, introducing new sources of inspiration to the world of jewelry.
Decades later, European taste was being transformed by a spate of archeological discoveries in Assyria, Egypt and Greece, covering a wide spectrum of artifacts amongst which pins, bracelets and necklaces with animal motifs were unearthed. The scientific expeditions to Africa, India and South America brought back to Europe unfamiliar shapes and colors that inspired jewelers to mimic nature and produce lizards, birds and a variety of animals in innumerable forms.
The mid-Victorian era witnessed the first major alliance between East and West. Collaboration in Pforzheim between German and Japanese artists lead to Shakudo plaques set into filigree frames and the world was fascinated by Japanese customs and culture as a result of the trade agreement between the US and Japan in 1854. In Paris, Alfred Cartier joined his father in 1870 and embarked upon transforming Oriental pieces to serve as inspiration for Cartier’s new creations.
Hyderabad, Kapurthala and Mysore in India were amongst the first potentates who entrusted their Mogul jewels to Cartier for remounting and their success in India allowed the House of Cartier to set a pace in the design of Art Deco jewelry a few decades later. The Etruscan and Indian Mogul Revival styles were cherished by Victorians who produced exquisite ensembles and parures inspired by those styles. The development of enameling techniques by René Lalique and others widened the scope for producing more natural and elaborately detailed versions of insects and animals during the Art Nouveau era.
In early 20th century Cartier was able to develop a reciprocal tradition with India. Because of England’s imperial status, London had taken on the role of cultural and political center for the Maharajhas on their European visits during which unique Mogul jewelry items were purchased to serve as innovative Eastern motifs in jewelry pieces.
In 1927, Peter Lemarchard , the new young designer at the House of Cartier whose fascination had predominantly been ‘nature’, traveled to India and brought back sufficient knowledge to work on an earlier Cartier motif & the panther- giving it appropriate body and style to create an entire line of jewels: ‘The Pride of Panther’. By the late 1940′s, Lemarchard was designing a new generation of panthers, more natural, more physical than their predecessors.