The Cartier Bracelet

Contemporary history
1920 - 1930
platinum, white gold, rubies, diamonds
casting, grinding
L = 188 mm; l. max = 33.6 mm
W = 86.64 gr.


    Text: Raluca Mălăncioiu; photo: Marius Amarie


    Cartier - a brand, a story... a bracelet

    A relationship of reciprocity has always been established between jewelry and garments. In the search for the perfect balance between gaudery and garments, famous names were born, personalities who grasped the importance of the adornments’ role of “dressing up”, starting from the human need of individualization, of being awarded with a singular distinction among peers. Among the visionaries who understood the role of jewelry and the reciprocity relation between rank, distinction and jewelry and who created myths around their workmanship, was Louis-François (1819-1942), the founder of the jewelry parlor that would bear his name. The first Cartier franchise was opened in Paris in 1847 and would develop in extremely favorable circumstances. Their talent, forthwith noticed by the Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III, hastened the company’s ascent towards exclusivism, a position that they have claimed for centuries and which continues into present times.

    Jewelry has always meant value, wealth and investment, above all. The House of Cartier would work, without exception, only for the upper crust, placing itself not only at the expectation level of European monarchs, but also at that of Arab sheiks and Indian princes. They would overcome the jewelry’s superficial role of “gloss” by assiduously seeking originality through daring aesthetic combinations and materials of carefully selected quality.

    Under the leadership of Alfred Cartier (1841-1925), the son of the initial proprietor of the company, dubbed the “king of jewelers” by King Edward VII of The United Kingdom, Cartier became a renowned brand on the old continent as well as in The New World. Not lastly, they even captured the hearts of the wealthiest Indian maharajas. The connections between the French jewelry house on 13 Rue de la Paix and India are notorious, as many of the iconic motifs used in the brand’s creations are of classical Indian inspiration. Up to the beginning of World War II, the majority of the gems they used were of Indian origin, and let us not forget that an important clientele in the interbellum period was represented by the maharajas on India.

    By overcoming the barriers of stereotypes, the jewels released on the market by this already renowned brand distinguished themselves far and away within the Art Deco stylistic current. The three Cartier brothers who remained at the head of the company following their father’s death built the most important luxury commercial empire during the interbellum period. Stores with limited edition products were opened all throughout the wealthy world, including the countries around the Persian Gulf. The general headquarters in Paris, run by Louis (1875-1942), the older brother, a watch design aficionado, was appended with the center in New York directed by Pierre (1878-1965), the most experienced merchant of the three brothers, and last but not least the one opened in London by the youngest of the family, Jacques (1884-1942), a skilled jewels connoisseur. Jacques Cartier manifested the most poignant interest in traveling to India, where he would collect important information about gem polishing.

    Jacques quickly understood that the success of the Cartier jewelry lay in choosing the highest quality gems, mounted in new combinations meant to exceed the area of ordinary chromatic. He defeated the European taboos regarding the color association order by proposing unusual settings through juxtaposing rubies, emeralds and blue sapphires in the same piece, as a result of his fascination for intensely colored objects. His permanent cultural interaction with the Oriental world allowed him to inventively use his novel sources of inspiration: architecture, history, and Oriental aesthetics. To these was added his well-known passion for collecting items – beyond jewelry – with traditional Indian and Persian themes, which he would gather for the creative inspiration they infused him with. Sometimes he would acquire ready polished Indian jewels, especially emeralds, the polishing of which is an art in itself. Emerald is an extremely sensitive gem, easily breakable during processing. More than once, Jacques would integrate into his own creations gems already placed in fittings by Indian jewelers, for whom he held great admiration.

    Jewelry managed to act as a bridge between the East and the West, defying cultural differences. The House of Cartier, favorably represented in the Orient by the youngest brother, succeeds in clearly detaching itself from the other aspirers on the jewelry market during the interbellum period, by gaining the confidence of European buyers, irresistibly attracted by the mirage of the Orient, but at the same time maintaining a wealthy clientele from the Eastern continent – sheikhs and maharajas, hopelessly fascinated by the European fashion.

    The National Museum of Romanian History exhibits, alongside other jewelry, a bracelet inscribed Cartier with the serial number 0444. The bracelet is whimsy in format, made of platinum – unmarked, with a rectangular shaped fastener-lock and a hook-shaped clasp of 18 k white gold. The bracelet is composed of seven oval pieces laid out centrally, with seven cabochon cut rubies mounted in grippers, two triangular and two horseshoe-shaped pieces, each composed of eight rectangular pieces. The bracelet has 311 mounted brilliants, all of different sizes, this being the best method of polishing diamond in order to highlight it.

    The piece can be chronologically placed in the first half of the 20th century and it stylistically falls under the fairly long-lasting Art Deco current that first made its appearance as early as the first decade, around 1919, and lasted under different forms and manifestations up to World War II. Art Deco, which is short for the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts organized in Paris in 1925, brings forth concession in the industrialization of art as a main ideological shift. Out of the metals used in Art Deco jewelry, platinum was the most intensely popularized by Louis Cartier. The geometric shapes are considered crucial for the sketching of the piece, as the design symmetry of finished jewelry calls for the use of bright materials and gems. Thus, platinum, diamonds, rubies, but also emeralds, onyx and colorful geometrically cut enamel are characteristic of the Art Deco creations.

    The ruby bracelet on display at The National Museum of Romanian History can be chronologically placed during the interbellum period. This model was fashionable between 1920 and 1930. Jacques Cartier exhibited a keen interest in rubies and sought to acquire them during his numerous trips to India, in which he prospected the pearls market. The perfect ruby in Jacques’ view was dark red, blood colored, as are the rubies on the displayed bracelet. His good friend, maharajah Ranji, had a different opinion and preferred the cherry colored ones which he considered superior, probably voicing Indian aesthetic criteria. A century ago rubies were considered highly fashionable. Cartier would integrate them in the decorative construction of jewelry of the 20th century, but would mostly pair them with bright brilliants, their reflections and brightness being emphasized by the platinum setting.

    The ruby bracelet on exhibit at NMRH comes from the Royal House of Romania Fund and theoretically could have belonged to Queen Maria. Following World War I, the Queen had the opportunity to travel for several times to Paris, metropolis which hosted the fashion universe. She now keenly felt the absence of the jewelry she had sent to Moscow during World War I and were never returned, but she displayed a royal appearance by carefully selecting her outfits for diplomatic meetings with major French, English and American political figures. In 1920, following the death of Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, Queen Maria would inherit a series of highly valuable jewelry. Furthermore, she also acquires other family jewelry, including a cabochon sapphire tiara signed Cartier, which she bequeaths to Princess Ileana. For her, King Ferdinand buys a diamond and sapphire necklace signed Cartier for the coronation in Alba Iulia and it is possible that he also acquired other jewelry from this brand, in which he showed a keen interest. Unequivocally, the Cartier stores in New York didn’t go unvisited, since the Queen was extremely concerned with garments and had an overt propensity for jewelry.

    Jewelry and garments have historically evolved intertwined. Year after year, people have learned to dress differently, but to love jewelry just the same. Inspired and influenced by each idea that has changed something in the world, by every new book read, by every new musical style, experiencing the hard times of war, living in an era of inventions and accelerated technological progress, the artist jewelers from the end of the 19th century and those from the 20th century have accumulated and mirrored all these transformations into their works.

    The 20th century is one of extremes in terms of jewelry. Pieces are sold at exorbitant prices, specifically crafted for the elites of society. The best materials were sought and long exploratory expeditions across the oceans were organized in order to purchase the perfect gem. These jewels will define the rank and financial power of those for whom they were crafted, members of the Royal houses and high society.

    On the other hand, at the onset of the century, we are still during the last years of the Belle Epoque. As a response to the sometimes uninspired extravagance, great artists distinguished themselves, preferring inexpensive materials, yet elevated by the aesthetic qualities of the final product.

    After the interbellum period, the shift in moral values becomes extremely obvious. A society depleted by war, yet full of hope, will give rise to clear shifts in the status of women in the family and society. Women have been the main jewelry “consumers” of all centuries, therefore jewelry has also changed alongside women. The aesthetics of adornments underwent radical changes in the second half of the century, and this time ornaments lost their privileged position for a while.

    The war left behind a society that would be reborn from its own ashes. In the latter part of the 20th century, the notion of costume jewelry is emphasized more than ever. Jewelry made of plastic, glass and other materials of little value, not devoid of fantasy, are in demand. Silver, gold and platinum pieces aren’t excluded, crafted to fit the style of the clothes and the size of the pockets.