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Live Review: Cartier Exhibition at Prague Castle

Diamonds are forever, and Cartier hopes to be doing business in them for just as long.

The Prague Castle, the site of “The Power of Style” exhibition was an ironic choice: The building is just a stone throw away from the Charle’s Bridge where Kanye West filmed the music video for his hit single "Diamonds Are Forever."

© Prague Castle Administration, photo: Jan Gloc

A castle is a perfect fit for a brand that has received fifteen royal warrants. Between 1904 to the start of World War II, Cartier pieces were sported by the members of royal families across the globe including Britain, Egypt, Monaco, Russia, and Thailand.

Indeed from the beginning, the story of Cartier has been a story globalalization. One result of the British Empire’s control of South Africa was the growth of the diamond trade. South Africa is diamond rich and this new source greatly increased the world’s supply of a rock which is often called “a girl’s best friend.” Diamonds for centuries were the exclusive property of Kings and Queens, Sultans and Maharajahs. But thanks to the discovery of a large diamond supply in South Africa: bankers, speculators and later industrialists soon joined the ranks of the diamond owning. The increased supply and clever marketing have insured wide distribution and market expansion. Diamonds (perhaps in the form of an engagement ring) have become available to middle-class owners the world over.

On the walls of this traveling exhibition are photos of famous Cartier owners. The photos are as much a trophy case as the central displays of jewelry in the middle of the exhibition hall. The Belgian queen, The heirs of the Vanderbilt fortune, and even a photo of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth dressed in near flapper girl attire adorn the walls.

© Collection Cyrille Boulay / Cartier
However, the Prague Castle Exhibition was about more than just diamonds. The Cartier brand is an innovative one. Louis Cartier, the head of Cartier in the early 20th century showed talent in creating wearable presentations of not just diamonds and gold but, also sapphires, rubies, silver and a host of semi-precious stones.
N. Welsh, Cartier Collection © Cartier

Louis Cartier, constantly tried to reinvent the brand and drew from global traditions in developing pieces for his global clientele. Cartier innovations include the classic “Panther skin” motif (a combination of onyx with diamonds), the “Peacock pattern (Emeralds and blue sapphires) and the often overwhelming “Tutti Frutti” motif (Sapphires, Emeralds and Rubies). Louis Cartier also drew on East Asian, Islamic, and occasionally African culture in developing pieces for Cartier. Cartier shyed away from using the human form in its jewelry with the exception of pieces done in an East Asian style of which this traveling exhibition has several including a 1928 vanity case. In 1904, Louis Cartier developed a totally new form in jewelry when he created the world’s first wearable wrist watch for Albert Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian aviation pioneer.

Daisy Fellowes wearing the Tutti Frutti necklace made of emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds, created in 1936. 
Photo credit: © Cecil Beaton, Courtesy Sotheby’s, London

If one must choose a masterpiece amongst the traveling collection it is the The Patiala Necklace. This elaborate piece was once in the possession of the Maharajah of Patiala, the head of an Indian princely state. The necklace seems other worldly and its hard to imagine someone wearing a piece that heavy. In jewelry as an art form, the limitations of the human mind are further constrained by “wear ability”: the limitations of the human form.

Other pieces seem less of curiosities and more examples of dead ends in the fashion world. Diamond encrusted opera glasses, cigarette cases and make-up kits speak of an age when women were less active than today. The use of ivory and ancient Egyptian artifacts in other pieces can seem to the modern mind offensive.

Still, visitors to the Prague exhibition were left with a clear sense of the importance of Cartier to jewelry, luxury and globalization. Cartier pieces set timeless standards for the jewelry industry. Cartier’s influence has also extended into popular culture. The brand has been refernced in hip-hop songs and The Rolling Stone classic “Some Girls” by Mick Jagger includes the following lyrics.

French girls they want Cartier

Italian girls want cars

American girls want everything in the world

The exhibition at Prague Castle ran between July 9 and October 17th. Organizers noted that the Exhibition is headed to New York for a month before moving to a site in a major Asian city.

About the Author 

Joseph Hammond is a freelance journalist who has been published in California, Estonia, Egypt, and Jordan. He enjoys learning languages and is pretty good at table football. He’s a big fan of boxing, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and FC Barçelona. He is currently based in Prague, Czech Republic.

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