Cartier’s Jewel

In the 1920s, France was experiencing its Années Folles period, when culture thrived and arts and literature took centre stage. The Lost Generation of writers, including Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, were gallivanting and meeting in salons with Gertrude Stein. Cole Porter was composing music that defined his generation, and jeweller Louis Cartier was creating groundbreaking pieces in his family’s studio that would become one of the most prestigious in the world, and would still be flourishing a century later. Cartier’s pieces dazzled 1920s Paris with their exoticism; he was on the forefront of the trend that infused Western art with elements of travel, particularly of journeys to the Far East.

Cartier was a master at translating Chinese art into wearable pieces. He created a brooch with two dragons facing each other surrounding a central pearl, a popular design in Chinese architecture and furniture, and another that featured a platinum and white-gold diamond-encrusted phoenix, the symbol of life and immortality.

Since the 1920s, Chinese-inspired designs have often appeared in Cartier’s collections.A recent exhibit at the Palace Museum in Beijing curated six timepieces, restored by horologists and Cartier’s watchmakers in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. Also on display were Cartier’s exquisite jewellery pieces made of diamonds, jade and emeralds alongside collections from the Palace Museum, selected in reverence to the Orient.

1932 Cartier Emerald Necklace

Lady Beatrice Forbes, a wealthy American heiress from Newport, became countess when she married Bernard, Earl of Granard, who was the horse master for King George V. Lady Granard was known not only for her racing of thoroughbred horses, but also her jewels. She loved diamond tiaras and this showstopper necklace, a special order from Cartier in 1932. It features a 143.23ct cushion-cut emerald, surrounded by diamonds set in platinum. 

These pieces capture the opulence and exoticism in Cartier’s collection from almost a century ago, when they were all the rage in high society. Louis Cartier created a legacy of ingenuity and exotic design using rare metals, the finest jewels, and the traditions he brought back from the Far East. Today his name connotes elegance and a timelessness no doubt owed, in part, to his homage to Chinese history. 

Hutton-Mdivani Jadeite Necklace

Barbara Woolworth Hutton was an American heiress, debutante and socialite known, at the time, for her world-famous jewellery collection. Her jadeite necklace (pictured) features 27 deep emerald-coloured beads, cut from the same boulder with near perfect shape and graduation. The origin of these beads remain unknown, though the necklace itself enchants all its beholders—so much that Sotheby’s Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels deemed it the “greatest jadeite bead necklace of historical importance”.

The necklace was, in 1933, given to Woolworth Hutton on the occasion of her wedding to Prince Alexis Mdivani. Originally, the clasp featured a marquis diamond, but Woolworth Hutton went to Cartier the next year to have it reset with calibré-cut rubies, adding to its contemporary allure. After only 18 minutes of bidding at the Sotheby’s Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite Auction in 2014, Cartier purchased the necklace for $27.4 million, setting a new world record for the highest price paid for a jadeite jewel.

1926 Table Clock in Nephrite

This screen clock from 1926 combines the aesthetics and beauty of ancient Chinese screens with the ingenuity of Cartier’s mystery clock mechanics, where the hands appear to work without machinery, as if by magic. This piece features a dial of ancient white jade carved with a scene on the front and the surprise of an enamelled dragon on the reverse. The jade is enclosed by onyx, coral, and mother of pearl, accented with diamonds atop a black enamel and gold base.

1925 Carp Clock

According to Chinese legend, carp symbolize courage and tenacity as they swim against the fast current of the Yellow River and possibly succeed in becoming dragons, the most auspicious divine creature in Chinese mythology. This clock from 1925 depicts two grey jade carp swimming through waves atop a mother-of-pearl and lacquer platform accented with gold, platinum, and red coral. The clock features rock crystal, obsidian, diamonds, emeralds, and pearls with a retrograde hand.

These pieces capture the opulence and exoticism in Cartier’s collection from almost a century ago, when they were all the rage in high society. Louis Cartier created a legacy of ingenuity and exotic design using rare metals, the finest jewels, and the traditions he brought back from the Far East. Today his name connotes elegance and a timelessness no doubt owed, in part, to his homage to Chinese history.

Photo Courtesy of Cartier
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