The Paris based ‘Maison de Cartier’ was founded in 1847 by Louis-Francois Cartier and passed on, in 1874, to his son Alfred Cartier, who organized the first and extremely successful international exhibition in London.
The worldwide reputation and the international brand name Cartier however, were established at a later point of time, as Alfred’s three sons, Louis, Pierre and Jacques, took over the management of the Company, inheriting a strong family enterprise built during the second half of the 19th century.
For nearly half a century, commencing 1900, the House of Cartier eclipsed all its past and future achievements. Its combination of superb stones, exotic designs, global merchandising in jewels, clocks, watches, boxes and ‘objets d’art’ by example, forged the path for jewelers throughout the world and, despite the devastating effects of war and depression during that period, Cartier consistently maintained a standard of excellence.
Very few 19th Century Cartier jewelry items survived, but designs and records from their archives reveal that the items produced were fashionable and suited contemporary taste.
In addition to drawing inspiration from ancient Egypt and Rome, Cartier created the overstated diamond jewelry demanded by the new middle class. This inevitable consequence followed the discovery of diamond mines in South Africa, combined with the establishment of De Beers in 1880 which assured European jewelers of a steady supply of the precious gems.
At the turn of the century, the grand tradition of Versailles and Louis XVI dominated the ‘Cartier-look’ and in creating ‘dog-collars’ and tiaras, Cartier designers drew upon the ornamental motifs of the 17th and 18th centuries. Those efforts marked the beginning of the ‘garland-style’, which prevailed throughout the First World War.
The advent of platinum allowed for openwork and embroidery background patterns mounted with diamonds and pearls, while the unique enameling work of the Faberge workshops in Russia, which had continued the Versailles stylistic tradition, challenged Cartier to produce new and exciting ‘objects’. In 1905, Pierre Cartier traveled to Russia to acquire and commission from Russian workshops pieces that the French could not produce. It was indeed ironic that a French jeweler had to travel that far to bring back a 200 year old style first created at Versailles!
The important contribution of Russian design and artisanship to 20th century jewelry, was not confined to Faberge and the renewal of the Versailles style, but also encompassed the important influence exerted by the Ballets Russes, which shook the traditions of Western European art and fashion.
During the 20th century Cartier developed a reciprocal tradition with India. Due to England’s Imperial status, London had become a cultural and political center for the maharajahs on their European visits. Jeweled turbans, armlets, ankle bracelets, nose rings, and necklaces were all in need of a contemporary look, and the Cartier store in New Bond Street provided the Maharajahs with the most impressive designs and workmanship.
Ironically, the task involved transforming the very pieces which had served as inspiration for Cartier’s Art Deco jewelry. Along with the artifacts of ancient Egypt and the carved stones of India, Cartier borrowed ideas from the art works of China and Japan in its Art Deco creations.
In 1994, the Cartier Foundation moved to the Rive Gauche and opened their new headquarters, an architectural work of art designed for them by the architect Jean Nouvel. The next year, a major exhibition of Cartier Antique Collections was held in Asia. In the following year, the Lausanne Hermitage Foundation in Switzerland hosted the exhibition ‘Splendours of the Jewellery’, presenting a hundred and fifty years of artistic creation by Maison Cartier.
Today, Cartier operates more than 200 stores in 125 countries, with four emblematic boutiques world-wide located in Paris, London, New York and Tokyo. The wide product range of Cartier encompasses timepieces, jewelry, leather goods and accessories, with each product made available from one of the famous collections, comprising amongst others the Trinity de Cartier, Pathere de Cartier; Santos de Cartier and Collection Les Must de Cartier.