The Cartier brand had humble beginnings when it was established in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier in Paris, France. Louis-François had taken over the business from the jeweler Adolphe Picard, who assisted in moving the premises to a more prime location which was to serve Cartier well in the coming years. Cartier set up shop in the area immediately surrounding the Palais-Royal with the ambitious intention to become jeweler to the French imperial family. After gaining an aristocratic clientele composed of counts and international princes, Cartier’s ambition was realized and he received his first order from the Empress Eugenie in 1859. Cartier again upgraded his premises in Paris and continued as a purveyor of luxury items to the imperial family and other members of the international elite. The business was run as a family trade, with Louis-François’ son Alfred also working in the company. The brand was not confined merely to the crafting of bijouterie and haute joaillerie, however, as the firm also produced charming objets d’art, elaborate clocks and silver sets.
Upon the death of Louis-François, the firm was taken over by Alfred. The business might have faltered amidst a climate of economic instability and fierce competition from other jewelers at that time, including Boucheron, but Alfred held on to his father’s legacy and expanded the firm’s recognition further. The latter half of the 19th century was marked by a renewal of interest in Neoclassical design and Cartier was instrumental in furthering the style by crafting intricate tiaras, necklaces, bracelets and other diamond-set items of the finest quality, especially for the royal families of Europe. In 1911, Jacques Cartier traveled to India and thus began a period of intense creativity for the firm. Inspired by the brilliant colors and exotic motifs of Mughal jewels, Cartier reinterpreted these ancient designs into modern wonders, characterized by elaborately carved rubies, emeralds and sapphires composed in patterns of flowers and fruit. This Indian influence attained its zenith with the creation of the famed and rare Tutti-Frutti bracelets of the 1920s and ’30s.
Cartier jewelry continues to be desired for its sophistication and elegance by a wide-ranging international clientele and many of the designs have become truly iconic, including the Love collection, the Panthère, the Tutti-Frutti and the instantly recognizable watches such as the Santos, the Ballon Bleu and perhaps the most well-known of all, the Tank.