The Power of Motif
Few icons of design and fashion have stood the test of time as well as Cartier’s Panthère which has been reimagined in countless ways for more than a century. The iconic great feline first appeared in Cartier’s imagery in 1914 on an invitation but also as a scintillating diamond and onyx wristwatch, the onyx emulating the alluring fur pattern of the panther.
At the time, the panther was becoming a popular motif in both fashion and home décor. Animals were not new to jewelry, but the strength, grace and power of the big cats captured the mood in Paris following World War I. By the Art Deco period, Cartier was incorporating panthers into watches, jewelry and small accessories. The real showstopper came in 1948 when Jean Toussaint, the Head of Creation at Cartier, created a three dimensional Panthère brooch for the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson. Created in the round and encrusted with diamonds and sapphires, the great cat sits perched atop a 152.35 carat sapphire cabochon, the brooch and the Panthère symbolic of the sleek elegance of the Cartier brand.
The Panthère has remained a popular motif for jewelry and watches throughout the decades. In the 1980s, Cartier introduced quartz watches featuring the bold cat appealing to men such as Keith Richards and Pierce Brosnan. Other more modern iterations of the motif include the Cartier Panthère tassel necklace and or the abstract spotted pattern of the ‘Panthère de Cartier’ ring continue to illustrate that powerful, bold and distinct aesthetic of Cartier.
Cartier is one of the most recognizable names in luxury and their jewelry and timepieces are some of the most coveted in the entire world. Founded in 1847 by jewelry apprentice Louis-François Cartier, the company quickly became known for its high-quality workmanship and taste. Cartier became a supplier to the royal court of Napoleon III and by the end of the 19th century the company introduced branded watches. Louis-François’ grandsons, Louis, Pierre, and Jacques took over around the turn of the century and helped to establish the Cartier name worldwide.
The 20th century saw the rapid expansion and success of the firm. In 1904, they designed their Santos wristwatch for Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, a design so popular that it is still in production today. Several years later, Cartier signed a contract with the luxury watch and clock manufacturer Jaeger-LeCoultre. By this time, Cartier had offices in London, New York, and St. Petersburg and was becoming one of the most successful watch companies in the world. Their jewelry was also enormously successful, characterized by light and airy designs which stood in stark contrast to the more formal and highly decorative accessories of the period. They produced some of the best pieces the world had ever seen, including their famous tutti frutti necklaces and bracelets, made of multi-color gemstones, and a necklace for the Maharaja of Patiala consisting of nearly 3,000 diamonds. For a brief period in the early 20th century they were also owners of the infamous Hope Diamond, which was then sold to New York socialite Evelyn Walsh McLean.
Unlike many companies, Cartier managed to survive the Great Depression and continued to expand globally. Louis and Jacques died in 1942 and Pierre carried on leading the firm until his death in 1964. In 1972, the company was acquired by a consortium led by WW2 French Resistance hero, Robert Hocq, and they set about buying all of the branches of Cartier and forming a single entity, which it remains to this day. Cartier continues to be considered one of the premier jewelers and watchmakers, worn by celebrities, world leaders, and the wealthy elite, and operating 200 stores in 125 different countries.