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The Legendary Glory of Cartier

Tiara made for Princess Marie Bonaparte in 1907, for her wedding to Prince George of Greece.

Tiara made for Princess Marie Bonaparte in 1907, for her wedding to Prince George of Greece.

Opening on November 16, 2014 through March 15, 2015, it presents breathtaking, iconic pieces created by Cartier, once known as the Jeweler to Kings and the King of Jewelers. Organized by the DAM and presented by Bank of Colorado, it’s the only venue worldwide for this immersive installation. It includes major pieces from the Cartier Collection, and others on loan from museums and private collections in the U.S. and Europe—jewelry, timepieces and decorative objects.

All that glitters in this show is definitely gold—and platinum—and precious gems. But it‘s also more than that. It’s a collection that reflects significant historical and cultural events between 1900 and 1975.

“The evolution of Cartier takes us on a journey through 20th century history, from the era of the last czars in Russia to the Roaring 1920s in America, to the onset of Hollywood glamour as we know it,” says Christoph Heinrich, Director of the DAM. 

 Cartier was a family dynasty that began with its founder, Louis Francois Cartier, a goldsmith in 1847 in Paris. He quickly became known for his workmanship and elegant taste, and was soon a favorite of Parisian society. His son, Alfred, later took over the company, and the Cartier dynasty grew when his three sons, Louis, Pierre and Jacque, were entrusted to manage the business. 

 But it was Louis who became the driving force behind the Cartier name and took the brand to world renown in 1904 with his creation of the first wristwatch for men. This was a daring innovation, as the pocket watch was considered the only timepiece suitable for gentlemen. The original wristwatches— the Tank and Santos— are still made and sold today.

In 1909, Pierre Cartier opened a boutique on Fifth Avenue in New York. Wealthy society women of the time flocked through its doors, and the Cartier era flourished in America. Although the ensuing war years and global depressions affected the business, Cartier maintained a faithful following. There seemed to be no shortage of wealth.

In the 1970s, the famous jeweler began to reassemble items from its own production to establish its rich history. Jewelry, watches, clocks and other precious accessories were collected for conservation, which in 1983 led to the foundation of the Cartier Collection as a compendium of its artistic and cultural heritage. Today, it includes nearly 1,500 pieces that act as records of Cartier’s 167-year history.

Although no longer a family held business—it’s wholly owned by Compagnie Financiere Richemont SA—its story is carefully preserved by Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s director of heritage and keeper of the jewelry empire’s staggering history.

To say the DAM’s exhibition is stunning is an understatement. The jewels and other objects on display illustrate the breathtaking excess of those who wore them and could afford them in a clear, historical context. The exhibition is displayed in seven different themes:

Aristocracy and Aspiration showcases jewels preferred by European royalty and wealthy Americans from 1900-1918. This is the pinnacle of opulence.

Art Deco: New Outlook shows Cartier as a leader in the innovative Art Deco movement of 1910-1920 with his bold use of color and geometry.

Art Deco: Foreign Fascination explores Cartier’s exotic flair in design following WWI and exciting events that included the discovery of King Tut’s tomb.

Masculine View proves Cartier isn’t just about women’s jewelry. Besides the famous watches, they have always produced elegant accessories that appeal to men.

Art of Smoking looks at a time when smoking was considered glamorous and elegant accessories, such as holders, cigarette cases and lighters were a necessity. 

Age of Glamour is all about designs from 1930-1960, preferred by the rich and famous during a time of global depression that affected Cartier’s business.

The Icons of Style may be the most fun. Concluding the exhibition, it highlights Cartier’s most famous clients, including the Duchess of Windsor, Princess Grace of Monaco, Dame Elizabeth Taylor (remember her famous 69.42 carat diamond Cartier pendant?) and other famous names who shaped 20th century culture and fashion.

Brilliant requires a special exhibition ticket. The museum offers a special members’ preview on November 15. It also continues its 30-minute Nooner Tours on Wednesdays and Fridays with special attention to Brilliant.

The Cartier exhibit will take you back to an opulent era we may not see again.