Can one trip change jewelry history? It might have for the Cartier brothers. In 1911 Jacques, the youngest, set off to India to witness the coronation of King George V and was introduced to the subcontinent’s rich culture of stone carving, as well as the vibrant palette of its stones.
About a decade later, the firm his family founded opened the eyes of the world to the phenomenon known as Tutti Frutti: pieces marked by a combination of rubies, emeralds, and sapphires and by motifs inspired by leaves, blossoms, and berries. Another trip that might change it all: the one many will likely take to Texas after reading this, to see the exhibition “Cartier and Islamic Art” at the Dallas Museum of Art, up May 14 through September 18, and witness the treasures inspired by India, Iran, and Islamic art and architecture.
Please don’t say the word semiprecious when you see this Cartier headpiece (above) at the Dallas Museum of Art. Yes, the 62-carat citrine at its center is outside the diamond, ruby, emerald, and sapphire Big Four, but focus on the way this stone tells the tale of how travel expanded the jeweler’s eye about what was precious to begin with. And note, please, that the tiara was deemed important enough to be worn to the coronation of George VI, in 1937.
The 1920s were a decade of indulgence for many, one perfectly reflected in the emergence of what is known as necessaires: jeweled vanity cases, cigarette holders, mirrored compacts. The absolute necessity above displays that era’s roar, as well as the influence of Indian voyages (see: rose-cut diamonds and carved emeralds) and the landscape of the Middle East (note: cypress trees).
The impact of Islam is clearly noted in this piece (above), which has Allah in Arabic inscribed on the gold drop bead of the pendant. The influence of the art and architecture of the culture is also clear in the motifs rendered in gold. The model first appeared in the Cartier Collection in 1947 and continued to be made into the 1970s.
“Everywhere the glint of gold” were the words archaeologist Howard Carter uttered when he first witnessed the tomb of Tutankhamun, in 1922. But there were also likely lapis and turquoise and carnelian. These stones, dominant in ancient Egyptian jewelry, soon became central to the Egyptian Revival movement of the Art Deco period. Cartier pieces from that time remain holy grails for jewelry collectors, clear examples of the ways history imprints itself on design. And how travel, whether it’s by a team of archaeologists or a band of Cartier brothers, can determine the course of a jeweler’s imagination (and the stones in your bracelet).
“By special order” are some of the most exciting words in the jewelry language. And this amethyst and turquoise bib was created for a client that spoke it fluently. The Duchess of Windsor famously wore Cartier panthers and flamingos and was photographed multiple times in this one-of-a kind necklace (above). The shape itself is clearly Indian inspired and the use of hard stone against brilliant cuts is a signature of the house as is the combination of these colors in particular. This bib, on or off its famed owner, is an icon of modern jewelry.
The next time you look at a piece of jewelry ask these questions: What books were published when it was made? What exhibits mounted in museums? And was there a trip everyone was taking? Answers: a book on Indian jewelry; an Islamic architecture show in Paris; trips to India. Louis Cartier took it all in and designs slowly shifted away from classical motifs and began to include patterns like these palmette finials. The pendants, by the way, can be removed and worn as brooches. Versatility!
This story appears in the May 2022 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW
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