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Cartier: the timeless diamond jeweller

As Cartier celebrates 165 years of elegance, Isabel Dexter explores the house’s timeless allure – starting with the world-famous diamonds

Isabel Dexter,

It was Marilyn Monroe who helped immortalise Cartier as the go-to brand for Hollywood’s elite; in the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she performed the now classic song Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend, before exclaiming ‘Cartier!’ as she raised her hands in the air.

The golden age of Hollywood
Marilyn was by no means the only star from the golden age of Hollywood to covet Cartier’s potent brand of refined, glamorous jewellery. ‘Cartier is so iconic because of what it stands for,’ says fashion designer Corrie Nielsen. ‘One can't help but think of all those old-school Hollywood stars: Loretta Young, Judy Garland, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford. They are just some of the world’s most renowned A-listers representing and evoking the Cartier image.’

The tales have become fashion lore and Cartier has become a byword for elegance. In 1969 Cartier acquired an exceptional pear-shaped diamond of an awe-inspiring 69.42 carats. The British actor Richard Burton gave it to his wife Elizabeth Taylor for her birthday, and the famous Cartier diamond was renamed the Taylor-Burton.

The jeweller of kings
Cartier revealed its first boutique in 1899 in Paris and in 2007 opened its first flagship store in Istanbul; this year the brand celebrates 165 years in business. Cartier has built up a reputation for setting jewellery trends while maintaining a sophisticated, timeless allure. It has become a favourite of the discerning elite and stylish royalty: ‘Cartier is the jeweller of kings, and the king of jewellery in Turkey and in the rest of world,’ says Alessandro Patti, managing director of Cartier Turkey.

Along with royalty, romance is a common theme at Cartier. In 1956, when Prince Rainier III of Monaco wanted to propose to actress Grace Kelly he took her shopping at Cartier. In the 1930s, the company created a gold cigarette holder for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor – members of the English royal family – which was encrusted with precious stones outlining their honeymoon journey. The bride was Wallis Simpson, an American socialite known for her elegance and fashion sense, and it is fitting that Cartier’s jewels are sprinkled throughout Madonna’s film about Simpson’s life, W.E. The company refers to its refined love tokens as ‘dreams incarnated’, underlining the complicity between the house and its clients. As a confidante and a messenger of love, the house has created special pieces inspired by great love affairs: the fiancée of a renowned athlete asked Cartier to recreate his dumbbells in platinum and diamonds in the corresponding weight and shape. Naturally, the company is far too discreet to name this client.

The Love bracelet
‘Cartier’s best sellers in Turkey are from the Love, Trinity and Panther collections, which are the ‘pillars’ of the house. These collections show the creativity of the brand and are made up of strong, exclusive designs,’ says Patti. The Love bracelet was created in 1969; its pared-down, discreet design was conceived to appeal to a younger customer seeking an everyday piece of affordable jewellery that wouldn’t look overdone with their modern, simple clothing.

Cartier is steeped in history yet remains firmly focused on the contemporary. ‘Cartier has always managed to remain old-school stylish, while feeling absolutely right for the moment, whenever that moment is,’ says fashion stylist Sophie de la Faille. ‘They have a knack for creating mouth-watering pieces, whether it's watches or tiaras, that women of all ages can hanker after.’ In 2010, when Istanbul was European Capital of Culture, Cartier produced a unique watch in celebration, the Pasha 42 Istanbul Special Edition. With versions in white and pink gold the piece swiftly became a collector’s item. This year, chiming with the times, the house announced that its watch collection would steer firmly clear of ostentation. ‘Bigger watches are losing ground today,’ says Cartier chief executive Bernard Fornas. This grande dame of Paris might be a stalwart on the jewellery map, but as she raises a crystal flute to toast her 165th year, she’s doing it in thoroughly modern, if classic, style.

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