The Cartiers: Understanding the jewellery and those who made them

the-cartiers 'The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewellery Empire', was released by a princess, MP Diya Kumari | Sanjay Ahlawat

Francesca Cartier Brickell was sent down to the cellar by her grandfather to fetch a bottle of champagne. When she came back without a bottle, she stumbled upon a battered trunk full of letters. Dating back to a century, these letters—by the three Cartier brothers to each other as they set out to bedazzle the world with jewellery—were the beginning of a journey that took her across continents to write about her family.

The result of her research was 'The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewellery Empire', which was released by a princess, MP Diya Kumari (daughter of the late Maharaja Brigadier Sawai Bhawani Singh Bahadur and Rajmata Padmini Devi), at the Jaipur Literature Festival. The bond of diamonds—and emeralds—is a strong one. And it was the royals of India, including the family of Diya Kumari, who kept the Cartier afloat during the 1930s when the Great Depression hit America.

“Other luxury firms were going under,’’ said Francesca. But Cartier survived because of the commission they had from Maharaja Bhupinder Singh. Narrating an incident when Singh travelled to Paris and called the senior salesman at Cartier to come visit him at his hotel, Francesca said a box was put in front of the salesman. He opened it and saw that there were “crumpled newspapers’’. The Maharaja gestured to him to open the paper and a large Burmese ruby tumbled out. Each paper revealed gems and the Maharaja said he wanted Cartier to remodel them to make them fit for a king. “It took Cartier three years to create a collection,’’ she said.

India became a market for their jewellery. Jacques Cartier travelled to India to the 1911 Durbar. “He brought jewels to sell,’’ said Francesca. “But was disappointed because those buying jewellery then were men for themselves.” He did go back with gem stones.

The book that traces the journey of Cartier—fuelled by the ambition of three brothers—also brings alive the iconic jewels they created as well as those who bought them. Louis Cartier, Jacques Cartier and Pierre Cartier grew up living above the shop of their father who did modestly well. “They had grown up with the ambition to create the biggest jewellery business,’’ she said. When they were only boys, they took a map of the world and split it up between the three. Louis got Paris, Pierre got America—he later exchanged a pearl necklace for a building on 5th Avenue in America, which is still the headquarters for the Cartier—and the youngest Jacques got England and therefore the colonies.

It was Louis Cartier who was a genius, who really created the masterpiece of jewellery that Cartier is known for. He was the first one to design a wrist watch for men for an aviator friend, and to use platinum. “He spotted it at the end of a railway carriage,’’ she said. This shiny material—so light—was first used by him in jewellery. Employing architects, lace designers and interior designers, Louis changed the way jewellery was made.