Jacques Cartier

Jacques Cartier (1885-1942) was the grandson of the eponymous jewellery dynasty’s founder Louis-François Cartier who took over the business of his Parisian master Adolphe Picard in 1847 and opened his first premises in 1852. The Cartier family defied the rule that the third generation would dissipate the wealth created by the first. Until the end of the 19th century, Cartier was a retailer selling pieces by high jewellers such as Falize, Boucheron and Fossin. By 1910 the brothers Jacques, Pierre and Louis directed branches of Cartier in London, New York and Paris respectively; each designing and manufacturing pieces unique to their own clientele and the house style.

It was rumoured with some foundation that King Edward VII suggested the Cartier brothers open a branch in London in 1902 (the year of his coronation) and christened the house ‘king of jewellers, jeweller of kings’. Established at No 4 New Burlington Street in Mayfair, Cartier soon migrated to 175-6 New Bond Street where it remains to this day. Youngest son Jacques took charge of London in 1906 and remained its director for the rest of his life. In addition to the New York-London-Paris axis, Pierre Cartier organised selling exhibitions in St Petersburg and Moscow also importing the guilloché work popularised by Imperial jeweller Fabergé to New York.

Whereas Pierre was the gemologist businessman and Louis the creative genius who invented the first wrist watch, Jacques was a combination of the two temperaments. He employed only English craftsmen in the Cartier workshops and had a firm understanding of the house remit never to copy, only to create. Cartier designer Dennis Gardner recalls presenting his first design to Jacques only to be told, ‘it is very good, but it is not quite Cartier. Try again’. This exchange went on for three years until Gardner understood the language of Cartier fine jewellery’.

Jacques Cartier directed the firm through arguably the most creative period of jewellery design in the 20th century. His firm designed, set or reset magnificent diamond tiaras, stomachers, chokers and bracelets for three coronations: Kings Edward VII (1902), George V (1911) and George VI (1937) as well as re-setting the Indian Maharajas’ crown jewels for the 1911 Coronation Durbar in Delhi. Jacques’ first visit to India coincided with the Delhi Durbar and his clients included the Maharajas of Kapurthala and Nawanager, the Nazim of Hyderabad the Aga Khan, the Nawab of Rampur and the Gaekwar of Baroda.

From 1909, Cartier London was solely responsible for the Indian Maharajas’ jewels that would bring the house its most extraordinary commissions and also inspire the vogue for Art Deco settings in the 1920s and 30s that became the fashion in European jewellery not least the Tutti Frutti setting of ancient carved emeralds, rubies and sapphires. Under Jacques, Cartier London was also a pioneer in the promotion of high jewellery.

The firm presented an exhibition of tiaras in 1911 in the months leading up to King George Vs coronation. Cartier was one of the first houses to loan jewels for society parties and furnished French-born C.B. Cochran’s Follies actress Alice Delysia with £340,000 of jewels to wear on and off stage. In a 1926 advert. Cartier showed-off an emerald turban tiara made for the Maharaja of Kapurthala with the headline ‘the Maharaja, like most of the other Indian potentates, has faith in the increasing value of pearls and precious stones and regularly devotes a portion of his annual income to increasing his collection. The Hindu princes look upon gems as a permanent investment to pass from generation to generation’.

While Louis Cartier married Andreé Worth, granddaughter of the famous couturier Charles, and Pierre had married heiress Elma Rumsey, Jacques remained unattached. World War One barely registered in the fortunes of Cartier London though the family was perfectly placed to acquire fabulous jewels from Russian royal and aristocratic families fleeing the Revolution of 1917. The Prince Youssoupoff, whose wealth exceeded the Romanov family, sold numerous pieces including famous diamonds such as the Polar Star, Sultan of Morocco and Marie Antoinette’s earrings through Cartier London and Paris. The demand and the funds for such treasures were sitting with Pierre in New York.

After the Great War, London was one of the few capital cities where court jewels were still worn. According to Cartier: 1900-1939 by Judy Rudoe (1997), ‘Cartier London dominated at the production of large necklaces of diamonds or coloured stones between 1933 and 1938 and produced approximately 280 including 45 coloured bead sautoirs’. Jacques Cartier found new fashions for Art Deco jewels such as Diamants Mysterieux solitaire diamonds set in platinum as individual hair ornaments, tiaras designed as bandeaux to suit the fashionable shingled hair, diamond or emerald single shoulder straps and dress clips to secure open-backed slipper satin gowns to underwear. Rudoe writes ‘Cartier London seems to have made a speciality of head ornaments possibly because court or social occasions for which tiaras and other head ornaments were worn were more numerous and continued for a longer period than on the Continent or in America’.

Describing Jacques Cartier’s office in 1923, James Gardner writes ‘I was set up in the corner of his office, which was rather like an antechamber to a Louis XVI boudoir, to work at a little ormolu table under a pink-ruched, silk-shaded lamp, within range of the maestro’s enquiring eye. Though scared stiff, I soon found something I could hang on to. Jacques was what we called a gentleman. He was excitable, had compassion and he lived for design’. As with the Arts Decoratifs 1925 exhibition in Paris that gave the design movement its name, jewels, furniture, art and architecture informed each other.

The jewels in the Art Deco exhibition were set by Cartier Paris but Jacques and his London craftsmen made the collection exhibited at the 1929 Exposition Française in Cairo. Whereas other houses such as Van Cleef & Arpels and Mauboussin created hieroglyphic jewels inspired by the 1922 discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, Cartier set ancient scarabs, amulets and faience in Art Deco designs. Cartier’s Indian jewels established London as the most creative of the three international outposts. Cartier’s Indian representative, C. W. North, kept detailed records of coronations, multiple weddings and jubilees of the ruling houses with special attention to clients the Maharajas of Kashmir, Jaipur Gwalior, Udiapur and Nawanaga. For important commissions Jacques Cartier would travel to the Indian princely states. In 1927 the Gaekwar of Baroda commissioned a new crown from Cartier. Eight years later Jacques Cartier reluctantly abandoned the project.

Using his knowledge of Indian gems and settings, Jacques Cartier instructed his designers to make increasingly exotic pieces to be sold as stock in London that appealed equally to socialites such as Countess Edwina Mountbatten, the Duchess of Windsor and Daisy Fellowes as well as the Indian Maharajas. At the height of Cartier’s creative power in the 1930s, the workshop directed by Felix Bertrand employed 60 craftsmen. Jacques Cartier died two years into World War II. His brother Louis also died in 1942. Individual divisions of Cartier would be sold off by the family in the 1960s only to reunite as Cartier Monde in 1979. Cartier is now owned by the Switzerland-based Richemont luxury goods group.

(c) James Sherwood


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