Fabulous Jewelry from the House of Cartier

USA TODAY, May 1997 | Go to article overview

Fabulous Jewelry from the House of Cartier


Louis Cartier's innovative designs were "rendered spectacularly in platinum, gold, enamel, and precious stones."

A major exhibition of the art of jeweler Louis Cartier--tracing a progression of design styles from the opulence of the turn of the century through the innovative geometrics and exoticisms of the 1920s and 1930s--is taking place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. The more than 200 luxurious and superbly crafted objects on view range from jewelry to clocks, watches, vanity cases, cigarette boxes, and other accessories, and include design drawings and recently discovered original plaster casts, used as three-dimensional records by the firm. Featured are the greatest achievements of the House of Cartier during the decades of Louis Cartier's brilliant leadership through the advent of World War II, a period when it became a principal exponent of the Art Deco style.

For its exquisite and highly original creations, Cartier drew on nature, history, and exotic foreign lands for themes and motifs rendered spectacularly in platinum, gold, enamel, and precious stones. Turn-of-the-century jewelry was ornate and classical in design. The garland style--named for recurring depictions of bouquets, wreaths, garlands, and vases--drew from 18t-century themes reminiscent of the Louis XVI era. Louis Cartier created ornate pieces distinguished by graceful symmetries and harmonious proportions. His first bold innovation was the replacement of gold and silver with a newly developed, purer form of platinum, making it possible to produce a dazzling assortment of necklaces brooches, tiaras, and other adornments.

The first quarter of the 20th century saw the first rise of Modernism. Paris exhibitions highlighted paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and Paul Cezanne; Henri Matisse and other young artists created works with boldly explosive colors; and Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque were experimenting with a new style called Cubism. Cartier and his designers were forging innovations in jewelry and accessories, drawing from traditions of the previous century with the intention of creating something entirely new and ahead of its time. Compositions were becoming more geometric in design, incorporating straight lines and smooth circles and mirroring the new feminine silhouette in fashion.

At the same time, Cartier was breaking ground with designs that combined precious stones and metals with varieties of onyx, ivory, agate, rock crystals, coral and jade. The result was a new looked based on contrasts as individual pieces paired opaque and translucent materials, such as onyx and diamonds, or used unusual combinations of materials to create surprising color combinations. The critical and public excitement generated by these innovations was such that jewelry became more about design than opulence.

By 1909, the Cartier business has expanded to London and New York, where Jacques and Piere Cartier, respectively, opened Cartier businesses and joined their brother in the trade. In London, Jacques Cartier;s frequent trips to India and the maharajahs who made up a large part of the London business resulted in a singular Cartier style. In New York the Cartier business re-interpreted original Paris designs to suit its American clientele, including prominent society figures and theater and Hollywood personalities.

The House of Cartier employed talented Paris designers who, although rarely acknowledged, were responsible for the creation of many of the firm's most remarkable pieces. Chief among them was Charles Jacqueau, hired in 1909, whose mastery of style, color, and design was astonishing. He and the arts of Egypt, India, China, Japan, and Islam. Both men viewed jewelry not only as an adornment, but a highly specialized art form requiring imagination and superior technique. …

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