Cartier and America

Editorial Staff Exhibitions

Organized to celebrate the firm’s one hundred years in the United States, Cartier and America, which opened last month at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor, explores the history of the house of Cartier from its first great successes as the “king of jewelers and the jeweler to kings” at the end of the nineteenth century through the 1960s and 1970s, when Cartier supplied international celebrities with jewels and luxury accessories, and up to the present.

Founded in Paris in 1847, the final year of the last French monarchy and the dawn of the Second Empire, the firm quickly attracted an international following comprising not only French aristocrats, but also Russian princes and, according to Cartier’s director of heritage, Pierre Rainero, wealthy Americans. It was the belle époque era, however, that was perhaps the most crucial time in the company’s history. In 1898 Louis Cartier, grandson of the founder Louis-François Cartier, came onto the scene with a new vision for the company; as de facto art director, he guided the firm’s craftsmen in creating and perfecting what we now appreciate as the distinctive Cartier style. Expanding to the United States in 1909 (Cartier had already set up shop in London in 1902) to capitalize on a potentially large customer base of wealthy industrialists and other well-heeled Americans who encountered Cartier on trips to Paris, the firm sent a group of designers and workers from Paris to New York, where local artisans were trained to manufacture pieces such as the elegant pendant brooch illustrated here.

The more than two hundred objects included in the exhibition at the Legion of Honor are derived mainly from the private Cartier Collection in Geneva, and feature jewelry from the Gilded Age and art deco periods, as well as clocks and other works of art made for Americans or in the United States. Cartier and America is accompanied by a catalogue written by the exhibition’s curator, Martin Chapman, that offers an in-depth look at how the firm conquered the American market, tracing compelling connections with key patrons such as Marion Davies, Linda Lee Thomas (Mrs. Cole Porter), Mary Pickford, Barbara Hutton, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Cartier and America  •  Legion of Honor, San Francisco • December 19 to April 18, 2010  •

Images: Drawing for the brooch at right, as altered by Cartier New York, 1928. Graphite, ink, and watercolor on beige tracing paper; 14 by 7 7⁄8 inches. Cartier Archives © Cartier. Pendant brooch made by Cartier London, 1923, altered for Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973) by Cartier New York, 1928. Emeralds, diamonds, platinum, and enamel; length 8 inches. Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens, Washington, bequest of Marjorie Merriweather Post; photograph by Edward Owen.