“In fact, we do not only produce luxury jewellery. I would say, monsieur, that jewellery like ours is as capable of adorning a woman’s shoulders with a dazzling necklace as it is of filling her handbag with a powder compact, a mirror, a small comb and even business cards, all stamped with the same seal of originality and art,” says Louis Cartier in a press interview.
While the legendary house of Cartier needs no introduction, especially to savvy jewellery and watch collectors, its history in art de vivre by comparison is little-known but no less fascinating. From play to travel, tableware to the art of hospitality, the maison has, for over a century, been bringing style and savoir faire to enliven the everyday life.
After all, the art of fine jewellery is closely intertwined with the art of creating precious objects that accompany the upper crust during the turn of the century. From the very beginning, alongside its jewels, Cartier had crafted ornaments in silver, bronze, ivory, porcelain, as well as carved hard-stone objects for a clientele that included Empress Eugénie, the Prince of Wagram and the Count of Paris. “Since 1880, Cartier has been interested in everyday objects,” says Pierre Rainero, Director of Image, Style and Heritage at Cartier International.
The house’s passion for art de vivre deepened during the 1900 Universal Exhibition, when Louis and Pierre Cartier discovered the work of guilloché enamel by the Russian goldsmith Peter Carl Fabergé. Inspired by his engraving technique and moiré (silk) enamel style, Louis Cartier developed his own enamel colour palette with contrasting hues of blue and mauve or blue and green to decorate frames, bells and powder cases.
During his travels through Russia in 1904, Pierre Cartier discovered artisans who carved small hard-stone animals that were hugely popular in the tzar’s empire. They began to supply Cartier with precious ornaments in agate, quartz, rhodolite, purpurin and obsidian that the house further interpreted with realism and enhanced with precious gemstones. From a winged procession of ibises, owls, cranes and lovebirds to pigs, bulldogs and mice, the maison inventory had counted 200 such creations in 1907.
Dedicating itself to developing more accessible accessories and objects during the post-war boom, Cartier created the S for Silver department entrusted to Jeanne Toussaint in 1925. Ordinary, functional objects were made precious and desirable – a gold pocket corkscrew, a finely decorated picnic set or an ingenious silver cocktail shaker which, when rotated, revealed recipes in its small window apertures.
These items contributed to the new art of luxury travel where form, function and ergonomics converged. Making it happen was an array of artisans, including porcelain makers, goldsmiths, leather crafters and crystal workers. During that era, Cartier objects covered every aspect of the art de vivre, from the luxurious detailing of tableware to reimagining games with a sophisticated eye.
“These practical, playful, joyful and elegant items were perfectly in tune with the celebratory spirit and chic portability of the Café Society in the 1930s. The materials used to create these precious wood, porcelain or enamel objects met the criteria of elegance and durability, with today’s collections continuing the Cartier tradition,” adds Rainero.
The maison’s spirit endures today through an elegant and beautifully curated selection of daily items. Says Arnaud Carrez, International Marketing and Communications Director of Cartier International, “Linked by their emblematic codes, like the panther or the Cartier box, they echo the House’s most iconic signature features. These stylish objects have that extra something to bring beauty into your life.”
There are four key collections centred around the theme of bringing joy to oneself and others: decoration, writing, childhood and games. The home décor range spans porcelain trays and vases to lacquered wood music boxes and jewellery cases that are inscribed with the panther, double C or ribbon motifs. The writing range, showcasing notebooks, Santos de Cartier pens and other stationery, is an attractive proposition to revive the lost art of penmanship.
The Games range flaunts a solitaire set made of corian and glass, and a box of whimsically decorated wooden blocks. The Baby range boasts animal-motif gifts in sterling silver, such as rabbit ear-shaped spoons and a rattle, as well as a cashmere blanket. In addition, Cartier’s festive offerings of snowglobes and Christmas tree ornaments are simply too exquisite for the lavish gifter to ignore.
(All images: Cartier)