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.