From its humble beginnings, Cartier has evolved into a multinational luxury goods conglomerate with more than 300 boutiques across the world. Cartier may perhaps be best known for its jewelry and watches, but it has also forged successful niches in leather goods and perfumes. To date the brand still lives by the motto of its pioneer, Alfred Cartier: “Never imitate, always innovate .” In this special feature, we highlight ten captivating facts about this iconic brand over its 174-year long history.
1. Cartier Crash Watch Unusual History
Cartier has always been known to find inspiration from highly unusual places, only to come up with the most stand-out and innovative designs. One of such is the Cartier Crash watch.
A common origin story states that after a car accident, the owner of a Cartier Baignoire watch brought it back to the store, hoping to get it repaired.
However, Jean-Jacques Cartier (who ran the Cartier London branch from the 1940s through the 1970s) saw it and had a flash of genius. He decided to develop an asymmetric watch case, which to him symbolized non-conformism and creative freedom.
That being said, a more likely story is that watch was just a collaboration between Jean-Jacques Cartier and designer Rupert Emmerson. Not the result of a car crash melting a Cartier Baignoire Allongée.
Since its launch in 1967 as a limited edition, it has continually appealed to diverse collectors and is still highly coveted at auctions.
2. Cartier Popularised Mystery Clocks
Sometimes called impossible clocks, the hands of a mystery clock seem to levitate and float on the dial without any perceivable gears attached to them. Turn the clock over, examine the back, and you still won’t be able to tell what makes it tick and keep accurate time.
This illusionary effect is achieved by attaching the clock hands to transparent glass discs driven by well-hidden metal gears.
Did you know that Robert-Houdin is widely hailed as the inventor of the mystery clocks? The 19th-century Frenchman was not only a magician but also came from a lineage of clockmakers.
While Robert Houdin is credited with inventing mystery clocks, it’s the Cartier family that took them mainstream. Another French clockmaker, Maurice Couet, began making mystery clocks for the famous French jeweler Cartier early in the 20th century.
These mystery clocks, lavishly ordained with diamonds and gemstones, quickly became collectibles for the wealthy.
J.P Morgan, the famed 20th-century financier, bought the first mystery watch Couet made for Cartier for $3,200 in 1929. Sixty-four years later, the same clock fetched a whopping $1.5 million at a British auction house.
3. The World’s Most Expensive Ruby
Cartier’s Sunrise Ruby, a 25.6-carat Burmese ruby held between shield-shaped diamonds, made its way to the Sotheby’s auction in May 2015. The end result was a winning bid of $30,335,698! The Sunrise Ruby was initially estimated to be worth between US$12 and 18 million before the auction, and bidding started at US$11.8 million.
The gem is currently the most expensive ruby, the most expensive colored gemstone, and the most expensive non-diamond gemstone in the world.
4. Cartier’s Iconic Love Bracelet’s Intriguing Origin
With an average retail price of $5,000 up to $55,000, Cartier’s love bracelets have become a must-have fashion piece for the rich and famous.
Designed in New York in 1969 by Italian jewelry designer Aldo Cipullo, the bracelet was controversially modeled after medieval chastity belts. According to folklore, chastity belts were devices that women reportedly wore in the Middle Ages to preserve their faithfulness to their husbands when knights left for battles, pilgrimages, or religious crusades.
In terms of design, the oval shape bracelet is meant to adhere closely to the body and features a solid cuff with screws and a lock mechanism. It can only be removed using a special screwdriver that comes with the bracelet.
Love bracelets are so popular that NYC hospitals stock screwdrivers in their wards so they can remove the bracelet from patients’ wrists during an emergency.
5. Forbes Ranked Cartier as the 56th World’s Most Valuable Brand 2020
Known to appear in multiple lists every year, such as the Forbes World’s Most Valuable Brands and Kantar BrandZ Top 75 Global Retail Brands, Cartier has established itself as a multi-billion conglomerate.
With an estimated market value of $12.2B and 2020 revenue of $6.2B, Cartier is extremely profitable due to the ever-growing demand for luxury items. The brand distributes its collections of high-end jewelry, watches and luxury items through close to 300 Cartier boutiques worldwide.
6. Cartier Pioneered Use of Platinum in Jewelry Making
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, silver was considered the perfect setting for diamonds. But silver had shortcomings. While it was easy to manipulate—making the jeweler’s job easier—it was also fragile, prone to bending out of shape and tarnished easily.
Around the turn of the 20th century, Alfred Cartier and his three sons begun experimenting with platinum. However, the durable white metal had an extremely high melting point which made it difficult to work with.
But over time, the Cartiers ‘tamed the beast’ and in return got a metal with all of the aesthetic benefits of silver and one enormous advantage: once platinum cools, it becomes nearly indestructible. Platinum soon became the perfect setting for diamonds in high-end jewelry.
Interesting fact: platinum is more expensive and rarer than gold. Around 190 metric tons of platinum is mined worldwide each year, compared to 3,300 metric tons of gold, with 72 percent of annual platinum production coming from South Africa.
Also, platinum is more dense than gold, so the same ring will weigh significantly more in platinum than in gold (and precious metals are priced by weight).
7. The “Jeweler of Kings and King of Jewelers.”
King Edward VII of England dubbed Louis Cartier the “Jeweller of Kings and King of Jewellers.” Rightly so because the jewelry maker had a client list full of aristocrats and royals. These included Princess Mathilde, the niece of Napoleon I, who made her first purchase from Cartier in 1856 and Napoleon III’s wife Empress Eugenie who became a client in 1859.
In the years that followed, Cartier was be appointed the official purveyor to 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).
Cartier was also famed for its elegant and exquisite tiaras. They sold one to Elizabeth, Queen of the Belgians in 1912, among many other reigning monarchs at the time.
8. Must de Cartier Perfume
In 1981, more than 120 years after Alfred Cartier opened the jewelery business, Cartier ventured into the world of perfume for the first time with the launch of Must de Cartier. The fragrance was created by perfumer Jean-Jacques Diener, and was a big success right from the off bat.
It is still part of the Cartier perfume portfolio today, alongside newer creations such as Carat, L’Envoi de Cartier, Les Heures Voyageuses and La Panthère. Being Cartier, it’s not just any ordinary fragrances but perfumes designed to ‘adorn the skin like invisible and intimate precious gems.’
9. The Legendary Cartier Mansion
By 1917, life on 5th Avenue and 52nd Street had long since become untenable for millionaire Morton Plant. For many years, an ongoing battle had been waged on NYC’s 5th avenue.
On one side, the fabulously wealthy families who’d built colossal homes there, and on the other side, businesses and real estate developers who wanted the ideally-situated lots on which those homes sat. Around the same time, Pierre Cartier opened Cartier’s flagship store in New York City.
The story goes that Mrs. Plant (Morton’s wife) fell hard for a pearl necklace worth $1 million that had been exhibited by Cartier at its store. Mrs. Plant wanted the pearls, and Mr. Plant wanted out of the house on Fifth and 52nd, so a deal was struck. Plant’s six-story building in exchange for Cartier’s pearl necklace along with a $100 payment to Cartier.
The building has landmark status in New York City and still looks substantially as it did when Cartier acquired it. In keeping with its agreement with Morton Plant, the exterior of the building was not altered in any way, with the exception of a refurbishment in 2000-2001 and some major renovations in 2014-2016.
10 . Tutti Frutti Jewelry
In 2015, a Cartier Tutti Frutti bracelet broke a world record when it sold at a Sotheby’s jewelry auction for $2.1 million. The first Tutti Frutti piece was designed in 1901 by Pierre Cartier, making him the first jeweler to experiment with mixing different colored stones.
The Tutti Frutti necklaces and bracelets, with their eye-catching brightly colored gemstones (rubies, sapphires and emeralds), are considered a perfect mix of the East and West cultures. This is because the gems are carved using Indian techniques then set in French platinum and diamond mountings.
The Cartier brand rise to the top is phenomenal story of ingenuity, good timing and a culture of excellence. We hope you enjoyed reading these top ten facts about Cartier.
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