Which came first, the diamond or the cog? Peculiar question, but perhaps less so when posed to a certain purveyor of some of the finest timepieces and glittering jewellery ever conceived. When it comes to luxury goods, Cartier stands peerless among the pantheon of luxury giants as a rare marque of haute joaillerie famed as much for its watchmaking pedigree as its exquisite gems. Taking over a modest jewellery workshop at 29 rue Montorgueil, Paris, Louis-Francois Cartier founded Maison Cartier in 1847 as a family run jeweller. In 1874, son Alfred expanded the product line to include watches. (Diamonds it is!) Under the careful management of subsequent generations, notably Cartier’s grandsons Louis, Pierre and Jacques the marque flourished. The trio travelled the world over, from ancient Persia and India to North America, beguiled by far-flung destinations and ancient civilisations they experienced, translating these influences into iconic designs. Such was Edward VII’s penchant for the marque that he ordered 27 tiaras celebrating his coronation in 1902 and issued Cartier a royal warrant in 1904. Indeed, Cartier’s enormous popularity among sovereigns meant it would be the first of similar warrants to come including from Spain, Portugal, Russia, Siam, Greece, Belgium and many others, earning it the auspicious nickname ‘Jeweller of Kings and King of Jewellers’.
Its legendary status was born of this era, with Cartier seducing crème de la crème of the aristocracy and Hollywood alike including the Duchess of Windsor, Princess Margaret, Clark Gable, Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor, to name a few. The love affair continues today with the Duchess of Sussex choosing Cartier earrings and bracelet for her wedding to Prince Harry. Alongside countless tiaras and pieces adorning royalty are the extraordinary 98-carat sapphire and diamond Bismarck necklace and mind boggling, posture-challenging 168-carat Mackay emerald and diamond necklace, both set in platinum. Indeed, Cartier was one of the first jewellers to recognize what we now accept are the obvious benefits of this alluring, durable metal.
Wanderlust and quest for the exotic underpin many classic Cartier collections, most notably with the Panthère line of jewellery and watches. Under the directorship of Jeanne Toussaint, the panther became synonymous with Cartier-- its sinuous lines, gleaming pelt and intoxicating glare inspire many of its jewels and watches of both yesteryear and today. Xupes pre-loved yellow gold Panthère ring and 18k gold Panthère brooch are two splendid examples of feline glory. The ladies’ Panthère watch with its delicate linked bracelet designed to mimic the Big Cat’s glistening coat is both elegant and comfortable and as popular today as its inception. Sticking with the exotic and bold is also the captivating pre-owned 18k yellow gold Nigeria ring, drenched in eye-catching diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies. Wallflowers need not apply.
More contemporary collections like the innovative Love line also continue to delight fans with its timeless style and enduring symbolism. The industrially inspired hallmark screw detail and playful locking mechanism of its bracelets is quintessential Cartier.
Of course, in addition to jewels, Cartier also boasts being the second biggest selling (or third, depending on the source) luxury Swiss watch brand in the world, behind Rolex. Its journey begins with the classic Santos. Weary of the fussy and inconvenient pocket watch whilst flying, in 1904 Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont gave Cartier the remit of designing a timepiece for pilots, thus was born one of the world’s first wristwatches. With its rounded square dial, delicate screwed-in bezel and classic Roman numeral adorned face, the Santos has gone on to become one of Cartier’s most famous wristwatch. (Speaking of firsts, the folding metal clasps on straps? Another Cartier innovation.)
Swiftly following conception of the Santos were the Tonneau and Tortue, the latter inspired by the distinctive silhouette of a tortoiseshell. Following World War I, Louis Cartier harnessed the brutal but curiously inspiring shape of frontline war tanks into the now iconic Tank watch, cannily re-imagining a machine designed for destruction into an object of desire. Over thirty varieties of the Tank have been issued since with iterations including the classic Tank Francaise, to the elongated Tank Americaine. A recent addition to the Cartier fleet is the Ballon Bleu, introduced in 2007 as Cartier’s first timepiece with a movement designed and manufactured entirely in-house at its facilities in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, and has swiftly achieved cult status. Covetable caché comes thanks to the Ballon’s pleasing curves and trademark integrated crown guard cocooning a cabochon sapphire, with high profile fans including one Duchess of Cambridge.
Hand in hand with distinguished design comes precision engineering, with most watches available in either quartz or automatic movements. Not a house to rest on lush laurels alone, in a bid to silence gripes among certain critics that it lacked the mechanical heritage and pioneering in-house movement of other horologists, in 2008 Cartier achieved its first Poinçon de Genève, or Geneva Stamp, a seal of quality recognising superior watch movements especially produced in the canton of Geneva, with the Ballon Bleu Flying Tourbillon, a worthy investment for those with the means. It was an unmitigated coup for the French brand, making watch purists stand up and take note that Cartier was more than just a pretty face, but serious about making strides in advanced mechanics.
Be it jewellery or watches, Cartier continues to stand for quality, craftsmanship and lust-worthy luxury. Inside that red leather and gold-trimmed box, a timeless treasure awaits.