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Jewels of the House of Cartier

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

Founded in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier, the House of Cartier is today a world-renowned luxury brand, famous for its high quality jewelry, watches and accessories. But how did this fine jewelry empire come to be? What are the most remarkable pieces in its collection? And how did the House of Cartier become one of the world's most prestigious luxury brands?

The beginnings of the House of Cartier

Louis-François Cartier, born in 1819, was the son of a modest watchmaker and jeweler. He began his career as an apprentice at a Parisian jeweler, then worked for several other jewelry houses before opening his own shop in 1847. His shop was located on Montorgueil Street, close to the major Parisian department stores, and focused on the sale and repair of jewelry and watches.

Louis-François Cartier's shop was small and unassuming, but it quickly gained a reputation for the quality of its jewelry and craftsmanship. Princess Mathilde, Napoleon I's niece and cousin to Emperor Napoleon III, was a customer.

In 1874, his son, Alfred Cartier, took over the Cartier House and began expanding the business. He opened a new boutique on Rue de la Paix in Paris, which quickly became a gathering place for aristocrats and wealthy jewelry collectors. In 1899, the Cartier House moved to a larger and more prestigious building on the same street, where it still stands today.

The 1900 World's Fair was a turning point for Cartier. The exhibition allowed the house to gain public recognition and increased its reputation through the numerous awards it received. It also enabled Cartier to broaden its audience by attracting clients from around the world.

In 1902, a boutique was established in London on the occasion of King Edward VII's coronation. The boutique experienced remarkable success, and in 1904, the house received its first official supplier patent awarded by King Edward VII of England. Throughout its history, Cartier would receive this title seven more times:

  • 1905: Official supplier patent granted by King Carlos I of Portugal

  • 1906: Imperial supplier patent granted by Tsar Nicholas II of Russia

  • 1908: Official supplier patent granted by King Paramindr Maha Chulalongkorn of Siam

  • 1919: Official supplier patent granted by King Albert I of Belgium

  • 1921: Official supplier patent granted by the Prince of Wales

  • 1929: Official supplier patent granted by King Fouad I of Egypt

  • 1939: Official supplier patent granted by King Zog I of Albania

Antique and vintage jewelry from the Cartier House

Since its foundation, the Cartier House has created jewelry of unparalleled beauty and elegance. It is known for its bold and innovative creations, which often set the trends in high jewelry. Cartier's jewelry is also renowned for its exceptional quality, timeless design, and unparalleled craftsmanship.

The antique and vintage jewelry from the Cartier House is especially appreciated by collectors and jewelry enthusiasts worldwide.

The Santos watch is considered the first wristwatch designed for men. Created in 1904, it was designed to meet the specific needs of Louis Cartier's friend, Alberto Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian aviator. Santos-Dumont needed to be able to read the time while flying without having to take his watch out of his pocket. The Santos watch featured a leather strap and a case made of gold or stainless steel, making it an elegant and masculine timepiece. The "Santos" became one of Cartier's most iconic watches and continues to be produced today.

The 1920s also witnessed the rise of the Art Deco style, which greatly influenced Cartier's jewelry. Bold geometry, clean lines, and vibrant colored gemstones were key features of this movement, and Cartier captured it perfectly in their creations. Iconic pieces like the "Tutti Frutti" bracelet in white gold and platinum, adorned with cabochon-cut sapphires, rubies, and emeralds, or the platinum "Collier de Chien" necklace set with diamonds and pearls, perfectly reflect the essence of Art Deco.

Over the decades, Cartier continued to innovate and inspire new jewelry trends. In the 1950s, the "Panthère" collection was launched, featuring panther-shaped jewelry in yellow, white, or rose gold set with diamonds and colored gemstones. Panthers quickly became one of Cartier's most iconic symbols and were worn by personalities such as Elizabeth Taylor and the Duchess of Windsor. In fact, in 1949, the Duchess acquired a panther brooch adorned with a 152.35-carat cabochon sapphire, later repurchased by Cartier in 1987 for their own collection.

In the years that followed, Cartier continued to create dazzling jewelry for the world's most prominent figures, from movie stars to royalty. Princess Grace of Monaco was a regular Cartier customer, often seen wearing a bird-of-paradise brooch set with diamonds, which was a wedding gift from Prince Rainier. Mexican actress María Félix was also a loyal customer of the house and had commissioned a gemstone-studded reproduction of her pet crocodile. Cartier then created a sumptuous necklace for her, becoming an iconic creation of the house.

Today, Cartier continues to stand as one of the most prestigious and recognized jewelry houses in the world. Cartier jewelry is worn by personalities from around the globe, and the current collections continue to build upon the heritage and craftsmanship of the house. Whether it's a watch, a necklace, or a ring, a Cartier piece is more than just an accessory - it's a symbol of luxury, elegance, and refinement.

The Cartier House has also created pieces for the most influential personalities of its time, including Princess Grace of Monaco, the Duchess of Windsor, Elizabeth Taylor, and many others. This close relationship with royalty and celebrities has further solidified Cartier's reputation as the quintessential luxury jeweler.

Over the years, Cartier expanded its product range to include watches, perfumes, and luxury accessories, all while continuing to create exceptional jewelry. The house has also remained at the forefront of design, introducing new patterns and styles, such as the iconic panther motif.

Today, the Cartier House is still regarded as one of the most prestigious jewelers in the world. It currently boasts over 200 boutiques in major cities worldwide, including Paris, New York, London, and Hong Kong, and continues to craft high-quality jewelry that embodies elegance and luxury.

In conclusion, Cartier stands as one of the greatest names in haute joaillerie and horology. The house has achieved incredible success since its modest beginnings in 1847 and has been a pioneer in design and creativity within the industry. Cartier's antique and vintage jewelry remains highly sought after today, regarded as rare and precious collector's pieces. The Cartier House will undoubtedly continue to astonish and inspire jewelry enthusiasts in the years to come.

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