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Cartier, a name that implies luxury and elegance, has been pivotal in some of the most important design trends of the 20th century and now the 21st century. Some of the most iconic jewelry in history bears the Cartier name.
Brief History of Cartier Jewelry
Louis-Francois Cartier was an apprentice watchmaker in Paris. In 1847, he bought the business from his employer and expanded into selling fine jewelry. In 1859, his son, Alfred, joined the business. When the Socialists took over Paris in 1870 and restricted access to banks, aristocrats, desperate to leave, sold their jewelry. Alfred bought it for pennies on the dollar, resulting in one of the finest collections of jewelry in all of France. The Socialists were soon gone. The aristocrats once again had money, and they were buying up the Cartier collection as well as requesting bespoke jewelry.
Alfred’s three sons, Louis, Pierre and Jacques, each talented in his own way, took Cartier to the ultimate in jewelry brands, as it remains today. Louis gets credit for being the driving force behind the firm’s success with his insistence on perfection. He also revolutionized the jewelry industry with his use of platinum. Louis also designed the first wristwatch for men in 1904, a time when pocket watches were standard and, later, made the first waterproof watch.
After World War I and the economic prosperity that followed in the U.S., Pierre established the company headquarters in a Fifth Avenue townhouse in New York City. During the Great Depression, Cartier managed to survived by conducting more business in the Far East.
Louis and Jacques both died in 1942. Pierre was in charge of the main business while the children of the three brothers ran the branches in New York, London and Paris. When Pierre died in 1964, each branch was sold separately and operated separately. In 1972, a consortium bought all the branches. Today, the company is one entity but with no connection to the Cartier family.
Cartier Jewelry Designers
Charles Jacqueau was the chief designer in the 1910s and 1920s. He was inspired by his travels to Egypt, Arabia, India, China and Japan; visits to the Louvre; attendance at performances by the Ballets Russes with the striking costume and colors. He also initiated the use of less expensive materials, such as coral and agate, combined with diamonds and emeralds.
Jeanne Toussaint was not an artist, but exerted an important creative influence on Cartier jewelry for decades. She is credited with making the panther a symbol of Cartier. After World War II, she collaborated with the designer Peter Lemarchand to develop the original panther motif into a three-dimensional brooch studded with sapphires and seated on a huge sapphire. Perhaps the piece de resistance of the panther line is the fully articulated bracelet with diamonds and calibré-cut black onyx.
Jean Cocteau, renowned writer, painter, filmmaker and poet, and great friend of Louis Cartier, designed the “Trinity” ring. It quickly became a classic. The design looks simple enough, but it was a feat of technical genius that allowed the three bands, each a different color gold, to slide smoothly over the finger.
Aldo Cipullo was an Italian jeweler who came to New York and joined Cartier in 1969. He created two of the most iconic Cartier designs: the Love Bracelet and the Juste un Clou (“Just a Nail”). The Love Bracelet is a symbol of the everlasting connection between lovers. Cartier gifted the bracelets to two of the most famous and devoted couples of the time, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and Ali McGraw and Steve McQeen. Not exactly good role models for lasting love! The Juste un Clou, bracelets and rings, were born of Cipullo’s minimalist and androgynous style and his affinity for hardware stores!
Cartier Jewelry Marks
A genuine piece of Cartier jewelry will have embossed on it a serial number, the Cartier signature and a metal mark—all of the markings readable, even and smooth.
- Older pieces will have block script, "CARTIER."
- Today, commonly used cursive, "Cartier."
- Serial number, such as "12183” or "57 BOS832."
- Year, such as "1972."
- Purity of gold, "18K" or “AU750” (the European designation for 18K gold or 75% gold).
- Platinum, “950” for 95% platinum, which is what Cartier uses.
- Size of bracelet, 16, 17, 18, 19 or 20 (diameter in inches).
- Other hallmarks: "C SA," “interlocking Cs,” “CA,” “J C,” “J.C.,” “JC.”
- Imprints: cartouche, crescent, frame, heart or rectangle
Materials used in Cartier Jewelry
- White gold, yellow gold, platinum and silver
- Precious gems: diamonds (including colored diamonds), emeralds, rubies and sapphires
- Semi-precious gems: opal, garnet, moonstone, onyx, coral, agate, jade, lapis lazuli, coral, morganite, amber, labradorite, chaledony, quartz, fluorite, pyrite, rhodonite, etc.
- Tortoise shell
- Cloisonné and guilloché enamel
Most Collectible Vintage Cartier Jewelry
Art Deco pieces feature vivid colors in unusual combinations, such as coral and jade and onyx and diamonds. Also, the characteristic geometrical Art Deco designs are made more exotic with influences from Egypt, the Far East and India.
Tutti-Frutti designs are named after the Italian sweet treat with a colorful array of chopped candied fruits. Cartier combined a new and unusual use of primary colors, a whimsical arrangement of a hodgepodge of stones, and designs of leaves and flowers that make it almost impossible to have two pieces alike.
Cartier Trinity is among the most popular collections. Originally, a ring was created from three interlocking bands of white, yellow, and rose gold. Later, diamonds were added to the bands. Since the Trinity line is more than 85 years old, you can find vintage rings for affordable prices.
Panthère de Cartier is more than 100 years old, and the panther is as recognizably Cartier as any of their more recent collections.
How to Buy Vintage Cartier Jewelry
- The piece should have some weight to it. Cartier uses only the finest of materials and they are not lightweight.
- If the price is an incredible bargain, you need to pass it up.
- Fakes often have hallmarks that are poorly done, blurry, misspelled, etc.
- It would be great if the piece has provenance documentation, i.e., the history of ownership. Large gaps in ownership is a big red flag.
- Seek the advice of a reputable dealer.
- How to buy Cartier watches:
- Remove the case back. "Cartier" will be inscribed on the movement.
- Glass is scratch-proof glass
- The winder has a gemstone on it—securely fastened on, not glued.
Cartier jewelry is known for holding its value over time, but, more important to the collector, it is not unusual for vintage pieces signed and in good condition to appreciate considerably in value. An established, reputable vendor will be able to give you the most comprehensive and accurate information pertaining to Cartier. The Cartier pages on Etsy have a wonderfully diverse selection of affordable (and not) vintage Cartier.