Cartier may be known as the “Jeweler of Kings,” but as the exhibit Le Style et L’Histoire at Paris’ Grand Palais proves, the brand has also been the jeweler to a fair number of poets, film stars, and other members of the international glitterati. In a collection of 600 artifacts in the museum’s Salon d’Honneur, the exhibit explores the rich history of Cartier’s generations of craftsmanship.
Although most famous today for their tank watches and Love Bracelets, it is evident from the exhibition’s onset that Cartier makes much more than jewelry. Clocks, sewing kits, cigarette cases, hairbrushes, flasks, picnic baskets, and other accouterment of the transatlantic elite pepper the tiaras, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and watches.
A rotating spire of tiaras is the first thing a visitor meets upon entering the Salon d’Honneaur, and the jewelry pieces display some of the most ornate pieces Cartier has ever constructed. These works include Queen Marie of Romania’s 478-carat cushion-cut sapphire, Grace Kelly’s engagement ring, and Wallis Simpson’s diamond-encrusted panther, which lounges atop a sizeable sapphire. Nearby is a Cartier-made sword the poet Jean Cocteau designed to commemorate his induction to the French Academy.
The American social doyenne Marjorie Merriweather Post peers down from an oil portrait, bedecked in Cartier, and hanging over her a sapphire and diamond necklace and emerald and diamond brooch on loan from her estate. Home video footage of Elizabeth Taylor’s third husband gifting her a Cartier necklace by the pool on the French Riviera hangs above the actual necklace, a glorious constellation of diamond and ruby. “Since there was no mirror around,” Taylor would later recall, “I had to look into the water. The jewelry was glorious, rippling red on blue like a painting. I shrieked with joy, put my arms around Mike’s neck, and pulled him into the pool after me.”
The curators’ immersion of the jewelry into a tableau of textiles, dresses, and photographs from corresponding time periods elevate the exhibit to the level of cultural history. The colonial era comes to life in designs influenced by the British-held Egypt and India, most notably in the Maharaja of Patiala’s 1928 commission of a necklace of diamonds, rubies, and a 234-carat yellow diamond centerpiece, which blends traditional Indian aesthetics with the then-dominant Western art deco motif.
Many of the exhibit’s pieces were drawn from Cartier’s archives, but private collections and collectors also loaned special pieces. Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond flower brooch, which features the Williamson pink diamond, is on display. Also on loan is the Queen’s Halo tiara, made in 1936, and made famous by the Duchess of Cambridge when it counted for both her “something borrowed” and “her something old” for her wedding to Prince William.
Old photographs of the Cartier store, its employees, and its patrons round out the exhibit, bringing to life the world in which these varied aficionados of the brand bought, wore, and treasured it. It is easy to see why the nickname that King Edward VII of Britain gave to Cartier has remained intact over the years.