The Cartier name is so well-known that when you hear it, chances are you immediately think of the iconic Cartier love bracelet, or perhaps the coveted Panthere de Cartier collection, both staples in all the most enviable jewelry collections worldwide. Few brands have put an instantly recognizable stamp on the world of luxury jewelry quite like Cartier has.
But the Cartier name didn't pop up overnight, and neither did its smashing success. In fact, the house of Cartier’s humble beginnings date all the way back to 1847, so the brand’s reputation and top-shelf status have certainly been earned throughout the course of history. Proving they're no flash in the pan, Cartier continues to deliver fine jewelry with consistent messaging.
If you've ever wondered about the story behind the beloved brand, you've come to the right place. Let's delve into the history of one of the longest-standing front-runners in luxury jewelry.
We begin in Paris, France. The year is 1847, and Louis-Francois Cartier has recently acquired his former employer’s workshop. Louis-Francois, fresh from a successful apprenticeship under master watchmaker Adolphe Picard, has reached a pivotal point in his work history by taking over his mentor’s shop. Cartier takes his newfound authority seriously, rapidly building a solid reputation as one of the most sought-after watchmakers in France. Flash forward to 1874. Louis-Francois Cartier's son Alfred has taken over for his father, but it isn't until Alfred's sons Pierre, Jacques and Louis get hold of the company that it becomes a household name.
Perhaps the most impactful milestone in the early Cartier days happened in 1904. Louis Cartier was engaging in conversation with his friend Alberto Santos Dumont, an aviator from Brazil, when Dumont complained about the inconvenience of flying with pocket watches. This conversation sparked a creative surge in Louis. The result? Cartier's very first men's wrist watch, aptly named the Santos. The watch was flat with a square bezel, which, coupled with its impressive craftsmanship, helped propel it to immense popularity.
Shortly thereafter, the three Cartier brothers decided to branch out from Paris, opening stores in London and New York. All three locations saw great success, and Cartier's headquarters still exist in Paris, though the brand is now owned by Compagnie Financière Richemont SA in Switzerland.
Since its inception, Cartier has cemented a reputation as one of the most trustworthy purveyors of fine jewelry worldwide. The brand has enjoyed a myriad of sales coming from royalty, starting with King Edward VII of England, who affectionately and appropriately deemed Cartier "the jeweler of kings and the king of jewelers”. A royal warrant was issued to Cartier in 1904 for Edward VII's 1902 coronation. 27 Cartier tiaras were commissioned for the occasion. Courts such as Russia, Spain, Greece and Egypt followed suit, eager to jump on the Cartier bandwagon and stay in tune with the jewelry trends of the elite.
The relatively young Cartier brand had already secured a lofty spot in jewelry history, and it certainly didn't stop there - the legendary Panthere collection was soon to be born. The powerful animal has been closely associated with the Cartier name since Louis Cartier hired the French painter George Barbier to create a painting which would be printed on an invite to a Paris jewelry exhibition in 1914. The painting, titled Dame a la Panthere, featured the animal at the feet of an elegant woman. Cartier fell in love with this imagery, and soon the image of the panther became an integral part of the brand's advertising.
The first Cartier de Panthere piece, a watch designed to emulate the spots of the sleek, feminine feline by way of onyx and diamonds, was released to great adoration in 1915. Jeanne Touissant, at the time a popular handbag designer and budding fashion icon, joined the Cartier team as director of bags, accessories and objects. A woman of impeccable style, grace and a carefree spirit, Touissant earned the nickname "La Panthere" by Cartier himself, for her power, sophistication and beauty. It is said that she was the major inspiration behind many of Cartier's designs, most notably from the Panthere collection, which today includes cuffs, earrings, bracelets, rings and necklaces. Touissant was named head of Cartier Fine Jewellery in 1933.
Throughout its evolving and long-standing reign, Cartier has achieved remarkable milestones. Some of these include earrings worn by none other than Marie Antoinette, the creation of the "Mystery pocket watch" stores opening in Cannes and Monte Carlo, and the release of both the "Caged bird" and "Free bird" brooches - representing the Occupation and the liberation of France, respectively. There are a mere handful of the major moments in which Cartier changed the game of luxury jewelry forever.
While the Cartier family hasn't been in control of the brand since 1964, the original commitment to outstanding, unmistakable design, immeasurable quality and indisputable luxury remains. One case in point is the famous Love bracelet, one of Cartier's most covetable pieces. Created in 1969 by Aldo Cipullo, the screw design with screwdriver closure was originally meant to imitate a chastity belt! Today, it serves as a symbol of everlasting love, almost like a key to a lock, except with a unique Cartier edge. Celebrities and fashionistas all over the world adore the bracelet to this day.
And speaking of current times, the modern day house of Cartier is as strong and beloved as ever, churning out collections that are at once cutting edge and classic, true to the empowered, creative and elegant messaging they've always put forth. They're still getting major props from the royals (indeed, Kate Middleton donned a Cartier tiara for her wedding to Prince William), and they show no signs of stopping.
Cartier pieces appear with regularity on the runway, at posh events, on the most prestigious stages and in the jewelry collections of the highest order of collectors. With a fresh, modern website, intelligent social media presence, and countless third party sellers globally, the brand that found its way into the luxury jewelry market's heart well over a century ago doesn't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. And that's something fine jewelry lovers everywhere can celebrate.