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Cartier Through The Eyes Of The Sixth Generation

3rd June 2015 Tara Loader Wilkinson, Wealth-X

Francesca Cartier Brickell on the history and evolution of the iconic Cartier brand.

Maybe a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But when it comes to vintage luxury jewellery, a name means a lot.  Especially if it’s a name as desirable as 168-year-old French jeweller, Cartier.

“When we auction a piece by Cartier, you can at least double the value compared to an equivalent unnamed piece,” says Graeme Thompson, Director of Jewellery for the Asia division of British auction house, Bonhams.

Next week Bonhams is holding a 177-lot Fine Jewellery and Jadeite auction in Hong Kong, including nine vintage Cartier pieces. One of the lots, an articulated 1960’s emerald and diamond bracelet, could go for US$100,000 to US$150,000. Another, a fine art deco 21-carat diamond cuff with five emerald cabochons, has an estimated price tag of US$130,000 to US$190,000.

“Fine Cartier pieces are very rare today and that is a reflection of how desired they are,” says Thompson. “Antique and vintage jewellery are the new coveted collectibles.”

Today vintage Cartier is even more desirable than it was as new, according to sixth generation family member, Francesca Cartier Brickell, the great-great-great-granddaughter of founder, Louis-François Cartier. Although Louis-François started the shop in Paris, it wasn’t until his three grandsons Louis, Pierre and Jacques came onboard that the business grew to international acclaim. “Some of the pieces from the 1920s are the most sought after jewellery in the world today, breaking records at auction every time,” she says.

Cartier Brickell never worked at Cartier; her background is in finance (she was working as an analyst at BarCap, then a fund manager at RBS). But a few years ago when the family was celebrating her grandfather’s birthday, she happened upon an old trunk full of letters between the family ancestors. Her grandfather had given it up as lost thirty years before. She became so enthralled in the research of Cartier’s history that she left her job in the City, to lecture on the subject and write a book.

“Over the past 10 years or so I have been researching that past, travelling all over the world meeting people who knew the business when it was a family firm and tracking down letters and photographs,” said Cartier Brickell. “I found incredible correspondence in a university archive in St Louis, Missouri, met the old pearl stringers who worked for Cartier in 1920’s Paris, and interviewed many of the now very elderly people connected with Cartier London when it was run by my grandfather.”

True to her passion, Cartier Brickell is wearing heirlooms including a classic Cartier Tank watch, a gift from her father, an art deco-style ring that her grandfather designed for her mother, and her engagement ring, which was designed by her grandfather. “He literally scribbled the design on the back of an envelope as we sat having lunch on his terrace one day, with the diamond bought for me secretly by my husband,” says Cartier Brickell.

From the turn of the century Cartier was known as ‘the Jeweller of Kings and the King of Jewellers.’ Coveted by celebrities, film stars, maharajas and international royalty, for his coronation in 1902, Edward VII ordered 27 tiaras from Cartier. He issued them a royal warrant that led to other warrants from monarchs in Spain, Portugal, Russia, Greece and Belgium.

But for the three Cartier brothers, it was not just about catering to Royals. They were driven by creativity that led them to design the first wristwatch, after a pilot friend of Louis complained that a pocket watch was impractical while flying. They pioneered the use of platinum in jewellery as it was stronger than silver, which allowed them to create a more delicate design.

Everything and anything could be a source of inspiration, from travel, to fashion, nature and art. They loved symmetry and proportion, inspired by the neo-classical buildings in Paris. “Their sketchbooks were full of drawings of railings, staircases, or furniture,” she recalls.

“They hired designers from different fields, like tapestry designers, lace designers, interior designers and architects. They wanted to bring something new to jewellery.” They only had one rule, says Cartier Brickell. “Never copy, only create.”

The Cartier brothers’ inspiration for design also came from books. For example, the iconic Cartier Panthère brooch of the 1940s, including one created for Wallis Simpson, was inspired by Bagheera in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The idea of putting a dragon on powder boxes came from a book on Chinese tapestry.

“I used to ask my grandfather, ‘Can you describe to me the Cartier style?’"recalls Cartier Brickell.  “He said, ‘Well, it is modern but classic, beautifully made but understated. It’s so hard to describe in a word, but when you see it, you know it is Cartier.’”

Up until the 1970’s, Cartier was family-run, and since 2012, following a string of owners, it has been part of the Richemont Group. Cartier Brickell’s grandfather was the last family member to run a branch of a Cartier store until he sold it in the 1970’s.

Today, Cartier operates over 200 stores in 125 countries and has diversified into leather goods, watches, accessories and perfume, as well as its jewellery collections in modern interpretations including “Juste un Clou”, with the iconic nail, or the “Trinity de Cartier”, with the triple band in pink, yellow and white gold, which was actually a design of Louis Cartier in the 1924.

Today the group draws on its heritage in its marketing, for example using the diamond panther in its recent commercials which have all attracted millions of views on YouTube. But experts in the luxury industry say that like many of its peers, Cartier risks going mainstream with too many products at aspirational price points, and losing a sense of exclusivity. What would Jean-Jacques have made of Cartier today?

“In the 1970’s the world was changing, luxury was changing and people were no longer willing to spend a fortune on a hand-made piece of jewellery. Everyone wanted a little bit of luxury at a lower price that meant machine-made products. My grandfather couldn’t do that. He couldn’t make pieces of a lower quality, so he knew he wasn’t the man to take the business forward,” says Cartier Brickell.

She adds: “We’re not that unique among family firms. By the time you get to the fourth generation, there are more family members and you’re not that close. My grandfather shared the pride of his father but his cousins didn’t feel the same, so they sold their shares and he was the only one left holding London.”

“Ironically the world has come full circle and now the finest handmade pieces are the ultimate luxury.”

This article first featured on wealth-x and has been reproduced with their permission.

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