‘The Cartiers’ explores origin story of world’s prestigious jewellery brand

Francesca Cartier Brickell and the cover of her book

Chennai: Cartier is one of world’s prestigious jewellery brand recognised for its design and rare collections, worn by famous royal families and celebrities. The founding brothers: Louis, Pierre and Jacques, are credited for transforming their father’s store in Paris into a global luxury icon. None would have heard about their dreams or struggles if it wasn’t for Jacques’ great-granddaughter, Francesca Cartier Brickell. In her book, ‘The Cartiers’, Francesca writes about their lives. And interestingly, the author’s dive into their times started with a search for a bottle of champagne.

Trunk of Secrets
Speaking to News Today, Francesca recalls the journey of her book which began on the 90th birthday of her late grandfather, Jean-Jacques Cartier. ‘He was the last of Cartiers to own and manage a branch of the family firm and had retired and moved to France,’ she says. Today, Cartier is owned by the Richemont group. While looking around for the celebratory birthday bottle, Francesca stumbled across an old trunk and thought the champagne might be inside.

Jean Jacques Cartier, the author’s grandfather

‘Instead, I found hundreds of long-lost family letters,’ she says. ‘They told the story of my family and the firm they had founded more than a century and a half earlier.’ Francesca describes the discovery as ‘one of those real magic moments that life sometimes gifts you’. ‘It was amazing – I couldn’t have been more excited if I’d discovered a treasure chest of jewels,’ the author says.

Golden Trio
Francesca talks about the brothers. ‘Louis was responsible for coming up with ground-breaking ideas that have since become ubiquitous like using platinum with diamonds known and creating the first wristwatch for men,’ she explains. Pierre was the master salesman, responsible for deals like selling the ‘Cursed Hope Diamond’ in a transaction that would help make Cartier’s name in America and for exchanging a pearl necklace for a building that became (and remains) the firm’s Fifth Avenue headquarters.

Louis Francois Cartier

Jacques, the youngest and the author’s great-grandfather, was the globetrotting gem expert, responsible for ensuring Cartier become known for having world’s best rubies, sapphires and emeralds. ‘He was also a mix of both brothers: creative and good at business and built a loyal client base from Mayfair to Mumbai,’ Francesca notes.

Indian Connect
To research her book, Francesca visited India. ‘I loved walking through towns, marveling at buildings, taking my shoes off outside temples Jacques had visited,’ she reminisces. Francesca met descendants of ruling families Jacques had known in Baroda, Patiala, Jaipur, among others. ‘There is nothing like sharing stories of our ancestors in places they had met 100-odd years ago,’ she says. ‘In Kapurthala, I recently visited Jagatjit Palace, the former residence of Maharaja Jagatjit Singh.’

The Maharaja of Kapurthala wearing the Turban Ornament

Francesca had known the Maharaja as an important Cartier client – his emerald turban ornament is legendary – and she knew from books that he had been a ‘Francophile’. ‘But it was only when I was in his French-inspired former home, speaking to his grandson  that I really grasped what that great man had been like as a person,’ she says. ‘The story moved from being two-dimensional to three-dimensional. I love such moments.’

City Lights
In one of his observations, Jacques compared India to an impressionist painting, saying, ‘Out there, everything is flooded with the wonderful Indian sunlight.. one does not see as in the English light, he is only conscious that here is a blaze of red, and there of green or yellow’. He wrote, ‘Nothing is clearly defined, and there is but one vivid impression of undreamed gorgeousness and wealth.’

Jacques Cartier buying gems in India

Francesca says, it was this impression that helped inspired Cartier’s colourful ‘Tutti Frutti Jewels‘, where carved emeralds, sapphires and rubies sit boldly side-by-side. ‘This style, popular with Daisy Fellowes to Duchess of Windsor, remains highly sought after today with bracelets reaching hundreds of thousands – and in some cases millions – of dollars,’ the author says.

Precious Stones
Jacques’ trip to India became increasingly important. ‘India, being the gem-capital of the world, had some of the best gemstones available anywhere on planet. As a result of Jacques’ trips, Cartier gained a reputation as having some of highest quality rubies, sapphires and emeralds on the market,’ Francesca says. ‘Jewels like the Patiala diamond necklace or Nawanagar necklace have become legendary.’

Tutti Frutti design

Success Recipe
What made Cartier one of greatest jewellery makers? ‘The brothers had a dream to create a leading jewellry firm in the world – and by that, they meant creating innovative items of highest quality for an exclusive client base,’ observes Francesca. ‘That they succeeded was down to their talents of course but it was also down to their bond and drive.’     

Success wasn’t instant for it took three generations before they earned the title, ‘Jeweller of Kings and Kings of jewellers’ from King Edward VII. ‘It required an enormous amount of work and sacrifice,’ she says. ‘Even when success did come, the brothers never took it for granted or became lazy.’

Francesca also points out that the brothers were not the only heroes. She says, ‘I wanted to also highlight the ‘unsung heroes’ as my grandfather called them, all those incredibly skilled designers, craftsmen, specialists, and salesmen working behind the scenes who would train for years as apprentices perfecting their craft before being deemed ready to become part of the dedicated team.’

(This is the first article in 2-part series of ‘The Cartiers’. For more details, visit: www.the-cartiers.com)

Mohammed Rayaan