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Cartier and The Story Behind Its Celebrated Fifth Avenue Maison

The legendary doors of the Fifth Avenue flagship have re-opened

Cartier and The Story Behind Its Celebrated Fifth Avenue Maison

Photo: Getty Images/Dimitrios Kambouris

After a 2-year renovation, the re-opening of the historic Cartier Mansion at 653 Fifth Avenue last week is just the latest in the long string of major milestone moments tied to the stately midtown building.

Yes, celebrities and luminaries from the art, film and fashion worlds all flocked to the official opening party on September 7th (among them, Sofia Coppola, Iris Apfel, Patti Smith, Rooney Mara and president and CEO of Cartier Cyrille Vigneron), making for a truly memorable event, but it’s the manner in which the mansion was acquired by the brand back in 1917 that is still the jewel in the crown of Cartier’s colorful history.

The story goes that Morton F. Plant, son of railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant struck a deal with Pierre Cartier to sell the Italianite mansion at 52nd and 5th to the jeweler for $100 and a double-row strand of extremely fine and rare natural pearls then valued at $1,000,000. Today the pearls are worth significantly more than that, but still a tiny fraction of the current value of the building!

Legend has it that Plant’s wife Maisie coveted the pearl necklace and was the lucky recipient of the jewels once the deal between Plant and Cartier was done.

She continued to love the necklace and wore it straight through two more marriages, but the development of cultured pearls in the 1930s deflated the value of Maisie’s natural version. In 1957 at the time of her death, the necklace fetched just $150,000 at auction.

The mansion however, obviously continued to flourish, developing into the historic and recently refurbished Cartier Mansion.

The current renovation of the landmark property, which took two years to complete, was overseen by the French architect and designer, Thierry Despont, who is also responsible for the recently renovated Ritz Hotel on Place Vendôme in Paris. The result is an opulent space that only Cartier could accomplish. Rooms include the Princess Grace Salon, where the actress and style icon’s wedding suite is on display and a Gary Cooper Salon, which has a focus on men’s timepieces.

Despite the impressive 4 stories of luxury retail, it’s the reproduction of a portrait of Maisie, wearing her pearls, of course, that greets guests entering the store and immediately ties the modern day grandeur of the brand right back to the unconventional real estate deal that started it all.

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