Cartier catapulted to fame at the dawn of the twentieth century. When King Edward VII of England held his coronation in 1902, the French jeweler made dozens of diamond tiaras for women to wear to the festivities. After seeing the splendor of it all, Edward proclaimed Cartier was “the jeweler of kings and king of jewelers.” Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century, the sensational exhibition at the Denver Art Museum curated by Margaret Young-Sánchez, shows just how the extraordinary jeweler’s work gained its acclaim and continued to evolve over time with imaginative designs, astounding gems, and exquisite manufacturing.
Tiaras, diadems, and other diamond and platinum regalia made for European nobility and well-heeled Americans from the early years of century kick-off the exhibit. Innovative Art Deco dazzlers conceived for Jazz Age beauties during the 1920s form a substantial section of the presentation. Some of the most unexpected segments of Brilliant are the “Masculine View” centering on men’s watches and accessories and “The Art of Smoking” featuring luxurious gem-set cigarette holders, gold cigarette cases, and ashtrays carved of stones--items made in the days when lighting up was fashionable.
Interspersed throughout the exhibition of over 250 jewels and objects are jaw-dropping pieces from the collections of some legendary figures. The range extends from a table-clock that once belonged to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to an extensive Art Deco vanity set from Barbara Streisand’s personal collection of vintage. The finale of Brilliant, titled “Icons of Style” is pure jewelry fireworks. It consists of mini collections of Cartier from the jewel boxes of Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, the Duchess of Windsor, socialite Daisy Fellowes, and Mexican film star Maria Felix.
1. Emerald Necklace
Movie producer Alexander Korda gave this distinctive Cartier necklace with 29-emerald beads (suspended from a necklace of diamond rondelles) to his wife, silver screen star Merle Oberon, in 1938.
2. Tutti-Frutti Bracelet
The Tutti-Frutti style of carved emeralds, sapphires and rubies on diamonds was one of Cartier’s signature looks of the 1920s and 30s. American composer Cole Porter gave his wife Linda this stunning Tutti-Frutti bracelet in 1929.
3. Five-Dial Clock
Pierre Cartier, one of the three Cartier brothers who ran the firm through the first half of the twentieth century presented this five-dial clock to President Franklin D. Roosevelt near the end of World War II. The dials were set to times where American forces were based. Cartier’s note to the president with the gift said the clock would “mark the hour of victory.”
4. Vanity Set
This extensive vanity set made by Cartier in 1927 belongs to Barbra Streisand. Chinese lacquer screens influence the lacquer and obsidian designs on the gold, silver and coral objects.
5. Diamond Engagement Ring
Grace Kelly wore her 10.48-carat emerald-cut diamond Cartier engagement ring in MGM film stills (seen here) and in her final High Society made before she set sail to Monaco to marry Prince Rainier. The royal family loaned the jewel to the Denver Art Museum for the Brilliant exhibition.
6. Ruby and Diamond Necklace
This stunning ruby and diamond necklace given by producer Mike Todd to Elizabeth Taylor around 1951 was purchased by Cartier at the actresses’ epic estate sale at Christie’s three years ago. The Brilliant exhibition marks the first time the jewel is being displayed in United States.
7. Crocodile Necklace
Cartier created this extraordinary crocodile necklace of gold, diamond, emeralds and rubies for the Mexican film star Maria Felix in 1975.