Photo: Legion of Honor Museum
To see more photos from the Cartier exhibit visit:
The Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco certainly knows what thrills the ladies – jewelry. The museum’s latest exhibit, Cartier and America is a retrospective of the famous French jeweler from the 1899 to the 1970s and runs now through April 18, 2010. Curated by Martin Chapman this exhibit is an exclusive treat to San Francisco.
The House of Cartier illustrious background -
The House of Cartier was established in Paris in 1847 by jeweler and watch maker Louis-Francois Cartier. Many years later his grandsons Louis, Pierre, and Jacques took over the business and developed it into a notable brand by creating extravagant pieces for European royalty and wealthy Americans such as the Vanderbilts and the Astors. In addition to jewelry, the Cartier brothers are known for designing the first wristwatch in 1904 and later the tank style watch in 1917. In the early 20th century Cartier opened shops across Europe and New York in 1909. The current NYC location on Fifth Avenue is the former mansion owned by railroad tycoon Henry Plant. The story goes that Cartier purchased the mansion in 1917 for $100 and a double strand necklace of natural pearls. In 1964 the family sold the business to a group of investors. Cartier still carries on today as a luxury brand.
Famous Collectors love the bling -
Under the three brothers, Cartier pieces quickly became the must-have collectible for not just wealthy elites but celebrities of all kinds. Cartier collectors included:
- Mrs. Cole Porter favored Cartier’s Tutti Frutti designs – rubies, sapphires, and emeralds set in platinum.
- For Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, Cartier created an articulated tiger brooch with matching earrings made of yellow diamonds and onyx.
- Gloria Swanson wore her own set of Cartier crystal and diamond bracelets in the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard.
- The Duchess of Windsor collected many Cartier pieces including the first three-dimensional panther brooch created in 1949 by Cartier designer Jeanne Toussaint. The brooch includes a 152.35 carat Kashmir cabochon sapphire.
The Exhibit -
In celebration of the 100 year anniversary of the New York Cartier shop, the Legion of Honor exhibit focuses on American-owned pieces, most of which are loaned from the Historical Cartier Collection and private collectors. With over 200 pieces displayed, visitors experience the development of Cartier from the Belle Epoque diamond encrusted tiaras to the exotic Art Deco era of gemstones set in platinum to the revival of gold in the 1950s. Some surprises are the 1920s Egyptian influenced pieces, Faberge-style enamel desk sets and picture frames, and novelty pieces of the 1930s which include Disney character charms in enamel. Additionally it’s interesting to see some of the jewels in action on video loops of Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, and Gloria Swanson, all happily donning their Cartier. A side room to the exhibit features Cartier designers’ illustrations offering another perspective of the jewelry.
Cartier is drawing big crowds - expect to stand in line to buy tickets unless you are a museum member (and now would be a good time to become a member). Bring along a bit of patience and comfy shoes, as visitors tend to move slowly and hover around the cases. Keep in mind that there’s much to learn about Cartier and the curators have provided detailed information plaques, which are well worth taking the time to read. A brochure is not provided, so a notebook might come in handy. For those who want to drool over Cartier at home, there’s a fabulous exhibit catalog for sale in the gift shop.
Cartier and America, now through April 18, 2010 at the Legion of Honor Museum, Lincoln Park, 34th Avenue & Clement Street, Tues-Sun, 9:30 to 5:15, 415-750-3600. www.famsf.org