- Harry Fane
Someone recently asked me
to pick something made by Cartier which hasn’t recently be sold and which I find particularly beautiful or extraordinary. That is quite a difficult request because my admiration for what the three Cartier brothers brought about in the first few decades of the 20th Century is all encompassing and to chose one item…ummm?? There are literally hundreds of stunning jewels from tiny Art Deco earrings to necklaces made for Maharajas. And what about all the extraordinary jewelled or enamelled gold boxes created in the 1920s? Don’t even try picking just one! And, we have not even mentioned clocks, objets d’art nor wristwatches. All the same, I do want to answer the question and, for a number of reasons, I have picked this one piece made by Cartier, Paris in the mid-1920s.
This is something I find truly stunning. Of course, today, an elongated, pendant watch would be hard to wear so it would probably have been more sensible if I had picked a bracelet or necklace but I love all the intricacies and Cartier flourishes this piece offers.
It is never my intention to write pages and pages and I will try and keep this relatively brief so let’s first consider two very important points of design which were always essential ingredients for Cartier. First, there is a strong connection through the elongated, linear design to the Art Deco movement which was a sort of ‘ground zero’ or starting point for so much of Cartier’s ‘oeuvre’. Second, Mughal India which had such a profound influence on Cartier in the early 1920s and can never be under-rated in significance, is clearly apparent with the central, huge, beautifully carved, emerald. These elements, Art Deco & Mughal India, are the two basic building blocks for so much of Cartier’s creativity. Whilst hints of this ‘look’ had begun appearing as early 1910/1912, stimulated, without doubt, by the radical Orientalist ballet ‘Sherherazad’ in 1910, it wasn’t until after the First World War that it really flowered.
Now we have established the essentials, let’s consider some of the intricacies which make this, in my opinion, one of Cartier’s most successful designs. First, turning a huge, 19th Century, Indian carved emerald into a watch is radical to say the least. Who would have considered that but the most imaginative of designers? The shape of the emerald, with a solid diamond ‘base’ containing the watch and then surmounted with a large, jewelled ‘ring-fitting’, could not be better conceived. Dimension is everything in design and the dimensions of this specific part of the whole, is really perfect. The emerald is big but it’s treatment is clever and there is no shyness in the design. First, look at the side edge…a double row of sugar-loaf cut sapphires creates a halo around the emerald and these are interspersed with tiny rubies which offers a full and exotic colour palette which lesser jewellers may never have considered. And, see how the ‘ring-fitting’, is mounted’s with big, fat sapphires….nothing dinky here. This is a brave concept. As we move up the jewel…first, there is an emerald set ring and then, the elongated, diamond set ‘rope’ element from which the whole pendant hangs. Look closely at this element…more sugar-loaf sapphires, more rubies and then, at the pinnacle, this emerald, sapphire and ruby section which is quite random in the positioning of the stones. A line of rubies here, square-cut sapphires there. The length of this middle section is perfect and the overall, scale remains ‘spot on’. The full green, blue and red palette keeps us engaged but in the most subtle way. Just try to imagine what the designer must have thought as he applied the final dash of colour to his finished rendering. So many tiny elements have gone into creating this magical design but each element plays it’s own part. It was then the turn of the craftsmen who would turn this idea, intricately sketched on paper, into reality. There must have been a great sense of pride in the Cartier workshops. This so often shows itself in the finished jewellery. Cartier’s reputation was forged not only through design but equally through their exquisite workmanship and execution. One never finds poorly made Cartier jewels and this exceptional piece is proof of this.
The very top of the pendant is the Art Deco pin-fitting…..this is actually a diamond set, upside down, Indian ‘arch’ and a shape that is very familiar to the Cartier design book. But in this pin-fitting, look how the edge is set with sapphires….this ties the whole piece together…..beautiful!
As I stated before, I chose this impractical piece to answer the question I was asked. The overall boldness of the design, mixed with all the tiny, highly refined design surprises draw me ito this particular jewel. This is Cartier in their heyday, at their finest. The work could only be by Cartier and it illustrates just what an innovative company Cartier was.
It is a masterpiece.