The Magic of 100+ years Cartier

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    My father, a jeweler, had started as a watchmaker. He was fascinated by all those cogs that meshed precisely and could keep a watch running smoothly down to the minute second. We still have his graduation project he had to build a timepiece, including the cogs and springs and everything that makes a watch run.

    It would be best if you had eyes like a magnifying glass to see it all. He claimed that the best watches were made in Switzerland and the most beautiful brand – according to my father – was Cartier. No discussion was possible. A bit expensive, yes, but the best.

    When I started getting involved in designing and making jewelry, I also came across the name Cartier frequently. Cartier and I (yes, we can be mentioned together for once) both love elegant, simple, and timeless jewelry. The difference between us is that Cartier uses expensive, high-quality materials to make its jewelry. And FlorenceJewelshop’s jewelry is of great quality and is a lot more price-friendly.

    Cartier was a purveyor to many European royal families and the strange thing – I think – is that even his designs, which were made in production, were expensive and were bought and worn by many wealthy citizens and royal families. Certain rings and bracelets are common in high society and the film world. And I know the price tag on it.

    Swan choker, made of Pearls, Diamonds, Emerald, and Platinum, 1920, by Cartier.
    Swan choker, made of Pearls, Diamonds, Emerald, and Platinum, 1920, by Cartier.
    Bracelet made by Cartier from Amethyst, pearls and diamonds.
    Bracelet made by Cartier from Amethyst, pearls and diamonds.

    The start of Cartier

    How did Cartier grow into a leading watch and jewelry brand (as well as bags and other luxury gadgets)?
    Cartier was founded in 1847 and was originally a French jeweler. Nothing special, but that changed when Louis François Cartier designed and made a working wristwatch for the first time in history in 1904.

    And that is a great story.

    The first wristwatch in the world!

    The Santos watch

    Until the beginning of the 20th century, wealthy gentlemen had a pocket watch, often with a gold chain attached, and the timepiece was kept in a breast pocket. However, such a pocket watch was impractible if you were a pilot.

    A good friend, Alberto Santos-Dumont, an aviation pioneer, asked Cartier if he could make a clock that would allow him to tell the time while working as a pilot. If that worked, it would be a revolutionary invention.

    Cartier made a rectangular case 350 mm long and 250 mm wide and built a timepiece in the rectangular case. The time was indicated by Roman numerals for the minutes and Arabic numerals for the seconds. The case had a leather strap around the wrist.

    He had succeeded! The watch was called ‘Santos’ and today they are still sold in several variations. It is also the only watch named after its first owner. This invention put Cartier on the map and the company moved to Switzerland after WWI and became the largest and first jewelry ‘factory’.

    Santos watch
    Santos watch
    Tank watch
    Tank watch

    The tank watch

    The fame of the Santos watch led to an order from the French army in 1917. The soldiers needed to know the time, but the Santos watch was too large and fragile to wear during battle.

    The new watch had the same shape but was much smaller. The case was made from a block of steel and therefore much stronger. Cartier donated the first copy to American General Pershing, commander-in-chief of the American army in France.

    The watch was called ‘the tank’. A name that suited this timepiece even better a little later when a steel wristband was made, which resembled the tracks of a tank, because of the small plates screwed together.

    This watch was not put into (mass) production until 1918. Many copies were needed, because many soldiers died and the veterans were allowed to keep the watch. Production was significantly increased and the French army paid for the mechanization of the factory in Switzerland.

    The watch ‘The Tank’ is still for sale. It is mainly intended for men who want to impress feminine beauty!
    Ultimately, Cartier has 5 different models of watches in the collection, including one specially designed for women. However, different variations of each model are offered.

    Sapphire and diamond necklace by Cartier.
    Sapphire and diamond necklace by Cartier.
    Necklace by Cartier, made of emeralds, opal diamonds and yellow solitaire diamond.
    Necklace by Cartier, made of emeralds, opal diamonds and yellow solitaire diamond.

    Cartier became a big business

    The Cartier business grew. After Louis-François, his son Alfred took over the business, but Alfred’s sons Louis, Pierre, and Jacques turned the Cartier name into a global brand. Louis ran the business in Paris, Pierre managed the business from New York and they even had a business in St. Petersburg.

    And they not only sold watches but also expensive jewelry. In 1964 the company was sold to a group of investors, who eventually brought all businesses (Paris, London, New York) back together.

    In 2012, the entire company came into the hands of Richemont SA, owned by the Rupert family from South Africa, and Elle Pagels, a great-granddaughter of Pierre Cartier. That company also owns Piaget (watches) and Van Cleef & Arpels (jewelry).

    Fringe necklace
    Fringe necklace, made by Cartier and owned by Doris Duke, a socialite. The necklace is made of diamonds and platinum.
    Draperie necklace by Cartier, 1947, made of diamonds, amethysts, turquoise, gold, and platinum. Bought by the Duke of Windsor as a present for mrs Wallis Simpson, his wife.
    Draperie necklace by Cartier, 1947, made of diamonds, amethysts, turquoise, gold, and platinum. Bought by the Duke of Windsor as a present for mrs Wallis Simpson, his wife.

    Royalty on the customer’s list

    In England

    Cartier jewelry (and of course watches, which are arm jewelry) became very popular with the mainly European royalty. The English King Edward VII called Cartier ‘the jeweler of kings and the king of jewelers’. He valued the company so much that he ordered 27 tiaras for his coronation in 1902. And he gave Cartier a ‘royal warrant’ in 1904.

    This means that you are a royal supplier and can use the signs of the Royal Arms in your logo. You get a royal warrant for 5 years, but that can be extended. Cartier also received such recognition as a court supplier from the royal families of Portugal, Spain (Alphonse Elisabeth), Monaco (Prince Rainier III), and the House of Orleans.

    The Duke of Windsor (the former King Edward VII who abdicated to marry Mrs Wallis Simpson) bought his wife the so-called ‘flamingo brooch’ and a ‘drapery’ necklace.

    On the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding day in 1936, she wore a Cartier tiara, which King George VI had purchased as a gift for his wife, which was passed on to Elisabeth for her 18th birthday. In 1997, the Prince of Wales became patron of the company (that is, the current King Charles).

    Heart-shaped diamond, ruby, emerald and diamond brooch by Cartier 1957. Anniversary for Wallis, Duchess of Windsor.
    Ruby and diamond necklace, made by Cartier.

    In France

    There was also royal interest in Cartier jewelry in France. A good customer was Empress Eugenie, husband of Napoleon III. Princess Marie Bonaparte, the grandniece of Napoleon I, wore jewelry from Cartier when she married Prince George I of Greece, such as the diamond and olive sprig decorated tiara.

    And then we have Grace Kelly, the wife of Prince Rainier of Monaco, who had several Cartier pieces of jewelry in her jewelry box. Like a 12-carat diamond ring, a tiara made of rubies, diamonds, and platinum, and a 58-carat diamond necklace.

    Nawanagar necklace, made of ruby, diamonds and platinum, by Cartier in 1937.
    Nawanagar necklace, made of ruby, diamonds and platinum, by Cartier in 1937.
    Indian tiara, made by Cartier in the early 20th century. Made of diamond, sapphire, pearls for Princess Marie Louise.
    Indian tiara, made by Cartier in the early 20th century. Made of diamond, sapphire, pearls for Princess Marie Louise.

    And the rest of the world

    Apart from the European royal families, sales were made by the Indian royalty. In 1925, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala ordered the so-called ‘Patiala necklace’ (necklace made with 2930 diamonds of approximately 1000 carats and red accents) and some other jewelry, which had a combined value of $2.6 trillion (converted to the value in 2023 ).

    And King Chulalongkorn of Siam (Thailand) and Egypt were also on Cartier’s customer list.

    … and not only royals wore Cartier jewelry

    If queens and princesses start wearing jewelry of a certain brand or style, plenty of rich ladies also want to wear Cartier jewelry. After all, wearing these beautiful jewelry is not just reserved for royalty.

    In short, Cartier jewelry became a status symbol. Cartier sold the expensive blue ‘Hope’ diamond to a wealthy American customer. Liz Taylor received many Cartier jewelry from her husbands Richard Burton and Mike Todd. One of the 69-carat pear-shaped diamond necklaces she received from Burton was called ‘Taylor-Burton’.

    But Marlène Dietrich, Gloria Swanson, Brigitte Bardot were also fans. Because you were only someone if you were recognized with a Cartier piece of jewelry.

    Meghan Markle, wearing a tank watch, worth around €300.000.
    Meghan Markle, wearing a tank watch, worth around €300.000.
    Grace Kelly with a Cartier diamond parure.
    Grace Kelly with a Cartier diamond parure.

    There was a difference between the jewelry of royalty and the jewelry of movie stars, etc., which were all purchased from Cartier. The royals usually bought one-off pieces or jewelry made especially for them.

    However, most of Cartier’s collections were jewels made in mass-produced jewelry (well, mass, it remained expensive for the masses), which was popular with the royals and other customers.

    Cartier has a few iconic designs that have been in the collection for decades and are sold in several variations.

    LOVE collection

    One of those famous pieces of jewelry is the LOVE bracelet. A simple 18-carat solid gold bangle, which was decorated with imprints of screws. Initially, this bracelet was intended for women and men. And you could only buy such a bracelet for someone else, as a sign of LOVE.

    The variations on this theme mean that you can buy them in all kinds of colors of gold, with or without diamonds. If you are looking for a piece of jewelry that retains its value, it is this bracelet. Even second-hand the price is still high.

    You can see this LOVE bracelet in the 1972 film Ash Wednesday, in which Elizabeth Taylor wears a LOVE bracelet. Sharon Stone wore the bracelet in the 1998 film Sphere. And even Tina Turner wore it as the only piece of jewelry during her comeback tour in 1983.

    A LOVE bracelet naturally includes a LOVE ring, which occurs in the same variations as the bracelet in the collection. A wedding ring has even been added as a variation on the well-known theme.

    The tradition that you could only buy a LOVE bracelet for someone else has been completely abandoned with this ring. You might buy this ring for yourself, as a reminder of a special event.

    LOVE bracelet in yellow gold
    LOVE bracelet in yellow gold
    Just un Clou bracelet in yellow gold
    Just un Clou bracelet in yellow gold

    ‘Just a Clou’ collection

    The next iconic piece of jewelry is the ‘Juste un Clou’ bracelet or ‘just a nail’. That is it … a solid gold nail shaped like a bracelet. It shows that the designer, just as you can see with the LOVE bracelet and ring, prefers the old craft of carpentry. Beauty can be found everywhere, even in the nuts and bolts.

    The Juste un Clou bracelet also has several variations in gold (yellow, white, pink, platinum), and possibly with diamonds or other gemstones. But there are also rings, brooches, and earrings for sale that match this bracelet.

    The Trinity collection

    The third ‘signature’ piece of jewelry I would like to introduce is the ‘Trinity’ ring, which has been in the Cartier collection since 1924.

    It is 3 bands of yellow gold, white gold, and rose gold, braided together. They symbolize everlasting friendship or relationship. The yellow gold band should express loyalty in a marriage, the yellow gold band friendship, and the rose gold band symbolizes true love.

    This Trinity ring has new brothers and sisters in the collection in the form of link bracelets, necklaces with pendants, earrings, and bangles.

    Now that this Trinity ring has been around for exactly 100 years (in 2024), the Cartier designer has added some extra variations, such as a cushion-shaped ring, a modular ring, and an extra large bracelet.

    Trinity ring
    Trinity ring
    Diamond and opal bracelet by Cartier
    Diamond and opal bracelet by Cartier

    Although my father only praised the quality and shape of the watches, I am still impressed by the design of the Cartier jewelry. It is special that a design, so simple in form, stands out because of the quality of the materials (which perhaps not everyone recognizes) and creativity, and manages to keep the attention of many people for so long.

    Some still spend €300,000 for a Cartier watch or a bracelet, which has been produced in reasonable numbers for so many years. These jewelry are rightly timeless and iconic.

    And let’s face it, how many jewelry designers can say that their piece of jewelry is sung about in a film (‘Gentleman Prefer Blondes’) by Marilyn Monroe in the song ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’?

    If your wallet is not big enough to purchase a real Cartier piece of jewelry, you can always have a look at the FlorenceJewelshop collection. Perhaps slightly less iconic, but unique and exclusive, of good quality, and very affordable!

    If you still have doubts about which jewelry suits you best, request the free PDF ‘accentuate your best features with jewelry’. Complete the form and you will immediately go to the download.

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    Florence from FlorenceJewelshop

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