SURREAL GENERATION continues the Iconic Designs series with a second chapter devoted to the house of Cartier.
Panthère de Cartier is probably the most recognizable and desirable animal in the jewelry zoo. Firstly introduced in 1914 as an onyx-spotted panther-pattern female wristwatch, this cat has never left the Maison ever since and found its place in collections of the Duchess of Windsor, Daisy Fellowes, Barbara Hutton, and many others.
The person who brought “great cats” to Cartier was Jeanne Toussaint – the embodiment of a powerful independent woman, creative director of the Maison, and love affair of Louis Cartier. Jeanne was endowed with a great sense of style and an ability to involve and captivate people around her thanks to an innate charisma. All in all, that was a big luck for Cartier, that Louis got caught in Jeannes’ net.
Panther appeared as a figurative animalistic piece of jewelry in the late 20s as a two-dimensional pin, and throughout almost a century had developed into one of the iconic designs of Cartier introduced in multiple variations (as any iconic designs) united under the “Panthère de Cartier” name. Panther jewelry symbolizes the strength and hypnotism of female personality – things that will always be compelling and admired.
Another design strongly associated with Cartier is the vibrant Tutti Frutti. The Maison started using colored gems from India when the Art-deco style dominated in jewelry – it was a period of colorless diamond ornaments. Despite this, somehow, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires carved in the shapes of leaves and fruits in a brimming setup became one of the most recognizable designs of the mid-1920s and the 1930s.
Tutti Frutti pieces represented a perfect blend of Eastern and Western aesthetics: exotic, but not too much. They still suited current fashion tendencies and clients’ tastes of that time. By the way, back then nobody used the name Tutti Frutti, people would rather call that bright jewelry simply “pierres de couleur” (colored stones), or ‘Hindou’. Only in the 1970s the actual name was given to the style.
Today, the Tutti Frutti items are among the most coveted by collectors and valuable jewelry pieces. In 1991 Daisy Fellowes’s tutti frutti necklace estimated $ 650.000-950.000 was sold at a Sotheby’s Geneva auction for $2.655.172. This way it became the highest-priced piece of art-deco jewel ever sold at an auction. In April 2020 a tutti frutti bracelet estimated at $ 600-800,000 was sold by Sotheby’s at online sale for $ 1.34 million, and set a record for an online jewelry auction.
Historically, the wristwatch was a women’s accessory, while the pocket watch had been intended for men. The first to launch a male wristwatch into the market was Cartier in 1911, and that was the Santos watch. Even though it didn’t become very popular, it can certainly take the credit of having unlocked a taboo.
The great success was waiting for the following model, with its minimalistic geometric design and brutal name – Tank. Said to be inspired by a war machine, Tank was an attempt to masculinize Santos, and thus, to occupy this newly created niche of male watches. The plan worked perfectly.
Not only the design itself but also the personality makes a design iconic. The innovative piece attracted open-minded buyers such as Boni de Castellan (an eccentric art dealer and dandy) and Jean Cocteau. Throughout a bit more than a century (Tank was first conceived in 1917) this watch appeared on the wrist of style icons of each decade. Inevitably Tank became a unisex model, thanks to its laconic lines without a hint of gender. This way Elizabeth Taylor could wear one herself and give Tank to each husband. Other connoisseurs of Tank were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Princess Diana, and Jacquelyn Onassis. It turned out that also Kim Kardashian is a Tank-lover since she bought Jacquelyns’ watch at Christie’s. This proves again the impressive universality of Tank, and its value as an investment.