Not only is the French high-jewellery house known for meticulous attention to detail, Cartier is also credited for revolutionising the way both jewellery and watches are constructed, worn and loved.
When jeweller Louis-François Cartier founded the company in 1847, no-one could foresee it would become one of the most sought-after brands of the 20th and 21st century. Cartier took over the workshop of his jewellery master against the dramatic backdrop of the tumultuous French Revolution; a time when beautiful jewellery wasn’t on the top of the shopping lists for French aristocrats.
However, as with most good business decisions, timing is everything, and Cartier’s timing was impeccable. Just as the dawn of the so-called ‘Spectacular Second Empire’ appeared a few years later, an indulgent period of living began in Paris. The grand boulevards were created, opulent parties were held, ball gowns were handmade and jewellery took centerstage.
In the decades that followed this belle epoch, Cartier’s sons and grandsons took the burgeoning brand to new elevated heights in Paris, before expanding to London and New York, slowly becoming the global powerhouse of style that it is today.
Along the way, Louis-François’s grandson, Louis, showed an impressive gift for precision and preempting future trends. Louis also introduced using platinum to set jewellery (challenging to work he created special hard platinum that was easier to use and both lighter and stronger than gold and silver). He also created the first wristwatch.
At the time, in the early 1900s, the pocket watch was standard, however, inspired by early air travel, Louis created the first watch for pilots, dubbed the Santos de Cartier. For ease of access, it was secured around the wrist and sported a streamlined square face.
Since then, Cartier has continued to create truly iconic pieces of cult jewellery and watchmaking designs, coveted by royalty, celebrities, sporting stars and lovers of style alike.
Their latest campaign, The Culture of Design, honors that legacy by highlighting seven instantly recognisable collections; Tank, Trinity, Juste un Clou, Santos, Love, Panthère and Ballon Bleu. These seven iconic pieces focus on Cartier’s four famous principles of creation: the purity of the line, the accuracy of the shape, the precision of proportions, and the precious details.
Two signature designs highlighted are the famous Tank watch and the iconic Love bracelet.
With a watch face design resembling an aerial view of a tank, Louis Cartier drew his vision from the Renault tanks used on the Western Front during the First World War. The balance between the lines and shape of this watch allows for the watch face to morph from the square of the Santos de Cartier to a rectangle shape with Roman numerals, allowing for a sleek design with a clean silhouette. Since its debut in 1917, the tank watch collection – with its fine details and revolutionary design – has adorned the wrists of style icons, such as Rudolph Valentino, Cary Grant, President John F. Kennedy, Princess Diana, and former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Created by designer Aldo Cipullo in 1969 at a time when jewellery was chosen to accompany an outfit, the Love bracelet was designed to be worn at all times; even while naked. Controversially modelled on medieval chastity belts, the Love bracelet became a way for the wearer to show the world they were ‘taken’. Adorned with small screws, similar to those from the bezel of the Santos de Cartier watch, the bracelet can only be removed with a matching, equally beautifully designed screwdriver.
Cartier famously gifted bracelets to some of the most well-known couples of their time, including Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Ali McGraw and Steve McQueen and The Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Since then the Love bracelet has grown in popularity with loyalists stacking several on their wrists at once, collecting the design in yellow, rose and white gold, and even in variations studded with diamonds.