“Jeweler to kings, king of jewelers,” pronounced England’s Edward VII of Cartier after he acceded to the throne in 1901. It isn’t just royalty that has salivated over the company’s dazzling designs during the last century. Style icons such as Harper’s Bazaar’s Paris correspondent Daisy Fellowes and movie stars including Gloria Swanson shelled out for the visionary bijoux in the 1930s. More recently, a Cartier platinum, diamond and onyx necklace adorned the neck of French actress Juliette Binoche while accepting her recent Best Actress award at this year’s Cannes film festival. Founded in 1847 after Louis-Francois Cartier inherited the workshop of his master Adolphe Picard, the company was instrumental in defining several of the prevailing trends of the time, including Art Deco and Orientalist jewelry. Cartier at Prague Castle: The Power of Style examines the house’s history and influence by trawling its extensive archive for key pieces, which are displayed alongside design sketches and photographs of famous clients. Many of these gems tell stories: three diamond and ruby clips that were part of Grace Kelly’s wedding trousseau, given to her in 1956 by Prince Rainier III of Monaco, are included in her official portrait of 1959, fixed onto a tiara mount. Some early pieces from Cartier’s signature “Panthère” range recall the outsize personality of The Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson, who was among the first to invest in one of these brooches, set with an enormous cabochon sapphire. And impressively lifelike reptile-inspired designs were commissioned by the flamboyant actress María Félix in the late 1960s. In fact, so impressed was the Mexican beauty by Cartier’s ability to craft an entirely flexible snake-inspired necklace for her, she returned to the jeweler carrying a small crocodile in a jar, and yet another iconic sparkling animal was born.
All images © Cartier and N. Welsh