The French Riviera. Its very name evokes a sense of exuberance and anticipation, conjuring images of sun-baked sand set against glistening azure blue waters. But to call it a playground for the jet-setting glitterati is too sweeping a statement. It wielded an inexplicable and hypnotic power over the cultural elite. Italian Renaissance poets Dante Alighieri and Francesco Petrarca (otherwise known as Petrarch) were known for their frequent jaunts to the Riviera while novelists W Somerset Maugham and Jean Cocteau, and artists Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse made homes for themselves along the coast.
Picasso was particularly captivated by the way in which light and colours had a life of their own on the Riviera. At his villas in Antibes Juan-les-Pins, Villauris, Cannes and Mougins (where he produced his final works), the Spaniard was surrounded by the blue of the ocean, the green from the cypress groves, the ochre hues from a setting sun and the shades of darkness during twilight.
Like these illustrious icons, Cartier, entranced by the Côte d’Azur, has channelled the vibrancy and vivacity of the area into its creative works. A union of reality and imagination, its new high jewellery collection Étourdissant, is a 120-strong collection conceptualised around light and colour. Just like Picasso, Cartier has replicated all the colours of the Riviera onto its palette; except that in the place of daubs of paint, gemstones in a myriad of colours were used instead. Half of the collection was introduced in July at a private villa overlooking the Bay of Cannes, while the remaining half will be revealed in Singapore this October.
“The French Riviera is an illustration of our inspiration,” says Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s director of Image and Heritage. “We wanted to use colours that would represent joy and enjoyment, and the Riviera corresponds very well to that because it appeals to all the senses.” The warmth of the sun on bare shoulders, the feel of coarse sand between the toes and the briny smell of the sea — these sensorial experiences have been captured and eternalised within the jewellery. Colour was also used to represent movement, such as the undercurrents in the sea, the rustling of leaves and the way in which a snake wraps itself around its prey. “Colour, pattern and design are all linked to movement. We use the coloured gemstones in the same way an impressionist painter works on a painting. In such paintings, the concept of movement is communicated via a touch of colour. We used the same approach — one touch at a time,” says Jacqueline Karachi-Langane, Cartier’s creative director.
In the Été Indien bracelet for example, Cartier worked with a rare oval-shaped 24.91-ct Ethiopian opal with digit patterns that resemble a snake’s scales. Surrounded by a dense foliage of carved garnet leaves and drops of coloured sapphires, garnets and diamonds, one almost pictures a sloughed-off snake skin hidden among a lush undergrowth of fallen leaves. “Imagine a windy summer day. You can practically smell the perfume on this piece,” says Karachi-Langane. And that is how, with the help of a little imagination, one picks up the scent of a jewel.
The Été Indien bracelet and the Été Indien (with a 4.18-ct opal) ring are just two examples of how Cartier has used opals to express colour. Offered in various hues spanning the most mysterious blues to the brightest oranges, the opal’s ability to display a spectrum of colours within one single stone, coupled with its natural and interesting play of colour, make it an ideal gemstone to work with for this collection. Another example is the Lagon bracelet that comes festooned with a magnificent 85.42-ct oval-shaped cabochon-cut black opal. Surrounded by sapphire beads, long emerald beads, Paraíba tourmalines and brilliant-cut diamonds, the opal resembles an enigmatic whirlpool surrounded by tendrils of seaweed caught in its sweeping current.
Coral is another material that Cartier has used extensively. In fact, this is the first time since the 1920s that coral has been used to this effect. Although available in a variety of shades from angel skin to oxblood, it is only those in dark orange and red which appeal to Cartier. “We call it the Louis Cartier coral because these were his favourite. It was also the traditional type that we used in the 1920s and 1940s, and even during Jeanne Toussaint’s time,” explains Rainero.
Relying only on farmed coral from the Mediterranean (such as in Naples where the coral comes in a very vibrant shade of red), as well as old stones from antique jewellery, some of these pieces are truly spectacular. Examples include a sautoir adorned with large coral beads and the Flamboyant ring (Rainero’s favourite piece in the collection) that is adorned with a 30.19-ct cabochon-cut coral encircled by four coral beads (13.47ct), four Zambian emerald beads (14.28ct), a cabochon-cut emerald, onyx, black lacquer and brilliant-cut diamonds. Other designs also showcase the stone with diamonds, onyx and chrysoprase — a combination that is archetypically Cartier.
Venturing even further into unfamiliar territory, the jeweller has relied on unusually coloured gemstones, such as black sapphire and brown garnet, for the first time. The former is presented as a large centrepiece in a necklace composed of strands of diamond brilliants and ruby beads. Adorned with deliberately placed diamond studs, it also features a diamond-encrusted snake coiled tightly around its oval shape. “Black sapphires may not be very precious but this stone is so beautiful. It is magnetic and we highlighted its colour by pairing it with ruby and diamonds to give it life and a touch of light,” says Karachi-Langane.
As for the Arabica necklace and bracelet, each is composed of a cluster of long garnet beads with small ruby and diamond end stones. Fixed onto a flexible pink gold rope decorated with white and brown diamonds, their voluminous designs resemble the popular Coffee Bean line that was introduced sometime in the 1960s. “This is the first time we are using such long beads. These kinds of stones are generally worn strung but here we wanted to cluster them together like coffee beans or berries,” says Karachi-Langane. Indeed, with the rubies and diamonds twinkling against the glistening brown garnets, these bejewelled clusters resemble a bunch of tiny berries just ripe for the picking.
The use of new gemstones naturally leads to the adoption of new colour associations. In this regard, Cartier has also experimented with combinations that they have never used before. “What is a Cartier palette? It is about balance and it is a question of harmony. It’s how we use those colours. Although we played with new colour associations this time, you always have a reference of something we have done in the past before even though the colours are different,” says Karachi-Langane.
Some examples of new colour associations include the Violine sautoir and the Pushkar ring. The former is composed of chalcedony and amethyst beads, amethysts and brilliant-cut diamonds. “We added colour one touch at a time. If we had used too much amethyst, it would not have been so subtle. We always try to enhance the colour, not kill or drown it,” she says. The necklace can be draped across the front or on the back, with its amethyst tassel dangling at a length that encourages maximum movement when it is worn.
In the Pushkar ring, Cartier pays tribute to one of its most signature designs, the Indian-style Tutti Frutti. Traditionally offered with sapphires and emeralds, rubies with emeralds or a combination of all three stones, the Pushkar ring cannot be referred to as a Tutti Frutti design even though it stands by the same design fundamentals. Comprising carved mandarin garnets, carved tsavorite, cabochon-cut black opals and brilliant-cut diamonds, the tapestry of stones curve gently across the finger. It is accompanied by a pair of earrings in the same joyful colour combination and adorned with two black opals totalling 15.09ct.
Other highlights include the Hyderabad headband and the Garance set, which is composed of a necklace, earrings and a ring that look like they were modelled after early-19th-century jewellery. The Hyderabad headband is the first time Cartier is presenting its beloved Tutti Frutti style on a head ornament. Made up of a 18.23-ct carved Colombian emerald, carved sapphires and emeralds, ruby drops, ruby, emerald and sapphire beads, onyx and diamonds, it is held together by a silk chord and can also be worn as a choker or coiled around the wrist.
Deceptively classic in design, the Garance necklace is held together by a flexible chain composed of alternating oval diamond-set links and diamond brilliants. “Such chains are not normally paired with classical designs but we really wanted this necklace to have movement. We are living in the 21st century and we need to create pieces for women who live in this epoch. These are women who are constantly moving!” she says. This is also the first time Cartier has paired Burmese rubies with those from Mozambique. “We often think that these rubies don’t look good together but when they were placed together, it worked. The fusion of colours was very interesting,” she says.
Among the first 60-something strong pieces are also several ultra-glamorous ones that would elicit gasps even from the most jaded high jewellery connoisseur. Stealing the limelight triumphantly is the Romanov bracelet that features the 197.80-ct Ceylon sapphire that once adorned a Fabergé brooch owned by Feodorovna, Russia’s last tsarina. It was first acquired by Cartier in 1929 and turned into a pendant purchased by singer Ganna Walska. Cartier re-acquired the sapphire in 2014, turning it into the Romanov bracelet, which allows the wearer to swap out the sapphire for an engraved rock crystal.
But even with its provenance, the Romanov bangle is not the most expensive jewellery in the collection (valued in the multimillions, it does however rank among the top three in price). That privilege belongs to the Aube ring that is valued close to €10 million. Set with a 5.58-ct fancy intense purple-pink diamond, it is flanked by two tapered diamonds worth 0.68ct. Another multimillion jaw-dropping highlight is the Azur Bleue ring that features a 3.45-ct fancy vivid blue diamond mined from the same South African mine as the famous 69.42-ct Taylor-Burton diamond.
Never one to shy away from audacious combinations, new materials and experimental ways of showing off a piece of jewellery, Cartier’s latest triumph, Étourdissant, is another glorious tribute to its craft.