From a quaint workshop in Paris, France to one of the most coveted jewelry brands in the world, Cartier has come a long way since Louis-François Cartier’s founding in 1847. Today, Cartier is internationally recognized as a symbol of Parisian luxury and French savoir-faire. If you’re curious to know more about this exquisite brand, keep reading for the most fascinating facts about Cartier.
- Louis-François Cartier came from humble beginnings
Though Cartier is synonymous with opulence, the brand’s founder was born into hardship and poverty. Louis-François Cartier was one of six children and lived in Le Marais, which was an overcrowded and disease-ridden area of Paris back in the day. Francesca Cartier Brickell, a direct descendant of the Cartier family, penned “With a mother who was a washerwoman and a father a metal worker, Louis-François Cartier’s working-class upbringing was about as far removed from diamonds and pearls as it was possible to be.” in the biography The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewelry Empire.
Even though the jewelry apprenticeship he served under Adolphe Picard was a promising first step in establishing his unparalleled legacy, the traineeship was challenging as the elbow grease required him to toil alongside several other young workers 15 hours a day. Both the money and champagne did not flow until many decades later.
- Louis-François was the first jeweler to popularize wristwatches for men
Alberto Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian aviator and longtime friend of Louis-François, came to him lamenting about the impracticality of using a pocket watch to track flight times. The innovative man of creative excellence he was, Louis-François made it his mission to design and develop a more practical wristwatch for not only pilots and aircrews, but also for everyone who wanted a more convenient accessory to tell time.
In 1904, Cartier introduced his first men’s wristwatch, which he named the “Santos” watch. At the time, it was a risky launch for the designer since society’s elite considered pocket watches to be every gentleman’s timepiece, and mostly women wore wristwatches. But Santos-Dumont’s aeronautic accomplishments and growing fame in the public eye helped propel the popularity of Cartier’s functional, comfortable, and aesthetic wristwatch for men.
- Alfred Cartier was the first to successfully use platinum in jewelry-making
Platinum was an incredibly expensive resource throughout the 19th Century, so much so that it was almost exclusive to royal family members, who used platinum for their cutlery and watch chains. The high melting point of platinum made it difficult to work with, so it was an impressive achievement when Alfred Cartier, son and successor of Louis-François, began incorporating the metal in his jewelry-making in 1847. Cartier used platinum in his “Garland Style” pieces and to maximize the brilliance of diamonds.
- King Edward VII of England dubbed Louis-François Cartier the “Jeweler of Kings and King of Jewelers”
Cartier’s clientele included a number of royals and aristocrats from all over the world. In 1856, Princess Mathilde, the niece of Napoleon I, became Cartier’s client. In 1859, Napoleon III’s wife Empress Eugenie made her first purchase. Years later, Cartier became the official purveyor to several other royals, including King Edward VII (1904), King Carlos I of Portugal (1905), King Chulalongkorn of Siam (1908), King Peter I of Serbia (1913), King Fouad I of Egypt (1929), and King Zog I of Albania (1939).
- Pierre Cartier bought the Cartier New York flagship with a pearl necklace
In 1914, Pierre Cartier, son and successor of Alfred Cartier, struck a once-in-a-lifetime deal when his stunning double-strand pearl necklace caught the eye of Maisie, the bride-to-be of magnate Morton Plant. The couple was looking to move out of the growingly commercialized area — the posh corner of 5th Avenue and 52nd Street. Pierre, meanwhile, was keen to have a place of his own in the bustling playground of the elite. He and Plant bartered a trade: One of Pierre’s pearl necklaces in exchange for Plant’s six-story apartment building plus $100. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, indeed.
- Medieval chastity belts inspired Aldo Cipullo’s Love Bracelet design
The popular Cartier Love Bracelet was inspired by the rather torturous practice of chastity belts. According to medieval folklore, chastity belts, which women wore like underwear during the Crusades, prevented wives from having intercourse with other men, preserving their faithfulness and loyalty to their husbands who left to fight.
Despite the rather barbaric nature of these devices, Aldo Cipullo still drew great inspiration from chastity belts. However, he chose to focus on the belts’ symbolism of commitment and fidelity. His Love Bracelet design features a distinct solid cuff complete with screws and a lock mechanism that secures the bracelet around the wearer’s wrist. The gender-neutral piece of jewelry comes with a small screwdriver, which your significant other should keep so only they can open it.
- New York City hospitals have Love screwdrivers in case of emergencies
According to Vogue, the Cartier Love bracelet is so popular that some NYC hospitals stock Love screwdrivers in their wards, allowing doctors and nurses to remove the bracelet from a patient’s wrists during a medical emergency.
- The most expensive piece of jewelry from Cartier is worth $30,335,698
Cartier’s Sunrise Ruby, a lavish 25.6 carat Burmese ruby, sold for $30,335,698 during a Sotheby’s auction in May 2015. The gem holds the title of most expensive ruby, most expensive colored gemstone, and most expensive non-diamond gemstone in the entire world.
- The iconic Panthère did not begin with Jeanne Toussaint
Cartier’s most famous artistic director did play an important role in perfecting and popularizing the firm’s Panthère motif, but Brickell’s book suggests that Cartier’s fondness toward the animal predates Jeanne Toussaint’s tenure. The author wrote that her grandfather circled an illustration of the panther Bagheera in a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. “The image would mix with many others over the years, all secret ingredients in the creation of Cartier’s bejeweled panthers,” she explained.
- In 2020, Forbes magazine dubbed Cartier as the 56th most valuable brand in the world
The brand is valued at an estimated $12.2 billion and boasts sales of $6.2 billion with over 200 stores in 125 countries.
Did you enjoy our top ten interesting facts about Cartier? For more Cartier-related stories, we highly recommend Certified Iconic: The Six Most Beloved Cartier Collections and A Royal Legacy: History of Cartier’s Exquisite Luxury Creations.