The beginning of the 20th century marked the dawn of a tradition for innovation and creativity that catapulted the house of Cartier to iconic status.
Founded in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier, the house in the 19th century earned a reputation as one of Paris’ preeminent jewelers, furnishing baubles to aristocrats like Princess Mathilde of France and Empress Eugénie.
Despite this undeniable success, Cartier didn’t own a singular style. In fact, if the house had closed before the beginning of the 20th century, history would probably have remembered its quality of craftsmanship and stones—but Cartier would have been grouped with any number of Paris’ leading names, which shared a similar style typified by garland necklaces and brooches.
When Louis-François’ grandson Louis Cartier joined the house in 1898, the company took a resolutely modern turn that propelled it boldly into the new century while laying the creative bedrock that would make it one of the most innovative and widely emulated jewelers in the world.
Louis Cartier was by nature a pioneer: openminded, curious and intelligent. He was obsessed with modernity and how it could translate into jewelry. For him, a true style was meant to evolve over time. That stylistic philosophy was one of the main reasons he didn’t appreciate or emulate the vogue for Art Nouveau, which he judged too self-referential and kitsch.
Cartier’s aesthetic was more classically informed. He held little affinity for the eclecticism that defined the late 19th century, whether it was the flights of fancy of the neo-Gothic or the regal turns of the neo-Renaissance.
His ideal was the French 18th century. This is seen in his use of classically modeled motifs at the time, based on proportion and symmetry.
But Cartier married that inspiration with influences as diverse as Islamic art and the percolating Modernist art movement, accounting for his lasting influence and originality.
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