Stunning treasures reveal the influence of women in the world of jewellery

Diamond & Ruby Necklace
Dolphin bangle
Jadeite Necklace
Stomacher brooch
Platinum & Diamond Bracelet
Travel case with toiletries
Egyptian striking clock
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Marilyn Monroe’s Best Friend

Whether it’s Marilyn Monroe announcing that they’re a girl’s best friend or leading industry player DeBeers declaring that they are “forever”, there is no doubt that diamonds are a powerful symbol of class and status. Their significance in the world of fashion only rose as women gained more autonomy and financial freedom.

House of Cartier

Cartier, a brand now known worldwide, responded and reacted to the changing times with innovative pieces that garner awe and envy to this day. With an impressive range of products – including tiaras, necklaces, bags, and clocks – the house of Cartier and its genius coterie of designers engaged in twentieth-century cross-cultural discourse features prominently in the public championing of independent women. The Palace Museum’s Cartier & Women exhibition showcases how the developing public presence of women in society impacted fashion and jewellery design.

Stomacher Brooch

In the Victorian era for the fashion-forward, the hourglass shape was the ideal figure. Cartier’s garland style, which was in vogue at the time, is reflected in a special-order stomacher brooch designed by Cartier Paris in 1907. It features leaflike scrolls with cascades of diamonds. The stomacher, the triangular central panel of a corseted dress, became a place to display large ornamental brooches. Many stomacher brooches were reset when corsets went out of fashion, making the three full pieces on display a rare treat.

Scarab brooch, Gold, platinum, blue Egyptian faience, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, citrines and onyx, Cartier London, 1925

Princess of Kapurthala’s Egyptian Goddess vanity case

Cartier’s influences were not limited to the Western socio-political climate. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the combination of archaeological finds and growing travel accessibilities created a demand for products that engaged in cross-cultural discourse. For example, in 1922, the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb became a global sensation that revived interest in ancient Egypt. In response, Cartier combined Art Deco designs with Egyptian imagery. One such piece that Cartier constructed was a nod to this trend and a celebration of women’s strength. Designed by Cartier Paris circa 1928-30, the Egyptian Goddess vanity case was acquired by the Princess of Kapurthala, Amrit Kaur, India’s first health minister and a great champion of women’s rights. Fittingly, the vanity case’s central diamond motif represents Maat, the goddess of truth and justice, as a young woman.

Barbara Hutton, the world’s wealthiest woman

From the 1850s onwards, increasing trade flows between the East and West revitalised interest in Eastern art. Chinese art profoundly impacted Cartier and women’s style in general. The fine craftsmanship and design of Chinese porcelain, lacquers, jade, textiles and jewellery ignited widespread enthusiasm. One particular international icon that admired Chinese designs was Barbara Hutton. Heiress of the Woolworth retail business at the age of twenty-one, Hutton became the world’s wealthiest woman. She had a particular fondness for jadeite, a classic symbol of wealth and status in Chinese decorative art. One unique wedding gift Hutton received was a jadeite necklace to celebrate her marriage to Russian Prince Alexis Mdivani in 1933. Comprised of twenty-seven matching jadeite beads, Hutton refined its rare composition further. At her request, Cartier replaced the original clasp with one set with diamonds and rubies, creating a striking contrast of red and green.

The Duchess of Windsor’s panther clip brooch

Besides finding inspiration in renowned female figures, Cartier also recognised their talents and brought them to the fore. The brand’s first female creative director, Jeanne Toussaint, is credited with the panther imagery famously linked to Cartier. A style icon, Toussaint’s eye for the exquisite was noticed by Louis Cartier, who recruited her into the newly created, accessory-dedicated S Department. She was nicknamed “the panther” in recognition of her strong character and free spirit. She translated this imagery into her work and made timeless pieces for famous clients. Commissioned in 1949 by the Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson, the panther clip brooch is a provocative piece of platinum, white gold, diamonds and sapphires.

Gloria Swanson’s diamond bracelet

Gloria Swanson enjoyed a career as one of the most successful silent screen stars. Like others of her time, the advent of talking films saw Swanson encounter difficulties in the transition. However, she overcame the odds and became one of the few silent-era stars that experienced a career revival. Her historic comeback to the screen in the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard earned Swanson her third Oscar nomination and reignited the public’s adoration of her talents. Swanson’s diamond bracelet, designed by Cartier Paris in 1930, was as timeless as the actress who adorned it. The rounded bracelet is understated and intricate in composition, comprised of platinum, diamonds and rock crystals, featured in her 1932 film Perfect Understanding and Sunset Boulevard.

The Princess of Monaco Grace Kelly’s engagement ring

Besides stunning Hollywood films with her presence, Princess of Monaco Grace Kelly remains a pillar of class and sophistication. Brief as her acting career was, Kelly made her mark, earning the Academy Award for Best Actress when she was only twenty-five years old. Marrying the Prince of Monaco, Rainier III, in 1956, her engagement ring was commissioned to Cartier Paris and remains part of the Monaco Princely Palace Collection.

Cartier & Women

Each Cartier decade has brought forth a new chapter and fresh sources of inspiration. Women’s rising social status, the promotion of their rights, and more fluid gender boundaries have broadened the scope of imagination for couturiers across the globe. More so as more women actively pursue jewellery collection to assert their influence, autonomy and character.

Text & photos Victoria Mae Martyn, Cammy Yiu