MADRID — Braving a record-breaking heatwave, Cartier on Tuesday presented its new high jewelry line at a star-studded gala in Madrid, marking the first chapter of a collection that will unfold over several events worldwide between now and the beginning of next year.
Yara Shahidi playfully ventilated fellow guest Emma Chamberlain with one of the black fans handed out to guests arriving at Liria Palace, the art-filled 18th-century estate of Carlos Fitz-James Stuart, heir to one of Spain’s most flamboyant aristocrats and society page fixtures in recent history, the late Duchess of Alba.
The “Black-ish” actress was accompanied by her mother, Keri, and made the most of her first visit to the Spanish capital, going on a museum tour despite the 40-degree Celsius temperature. “I went to the Prado, I went to Reina Sofia, and as a history nerd, as soon as I turned to my tour guide and I was like, ‘OK, so the Habsburgs and the Bourbons,’ we were off studying Madrid’s history for, like, hours,” Shahidi said.
Cell phones clustered around Jisoo of South Korean girl band Blackpink, making her debut as a Cartier brand ambassador as she posed in front of a fountain wearing a black bustier minidress and the Paroca necklace, featuring a 36.67-carat Ceylon sapphire surrounded by diamonds in a geometric setting inspired by the ripples of a wave.
Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani wore a scoop-necked sleeveless tuxedo gown to showcase the Belvedere necklace, set with diamonds and 20 octagonal emeralds from Zambia that glinted with every move.
As the face of the “Beautés du monde” (“Beauties of the World”) collection, she had already been photographed in every key piece, clocking them as models walked past guests dressed in gowns designed by Alvarno, the brand founded by two Karl Lagerfeld alums, Spanish designer Álvaro Castejón and French designer Arnaud Maillard.
“It’s really a privilege to be able to wear so many necklaces, not owning them. I don’t feel like possessing any, but I feel very familiar to them, as if I’d worn them so many lifetimes. I say hello and goodbye. They’re really beautiful and I remember all of them,” she said wistfully.
Dinner under a pergola in the garden was followed by a flamenco performance and a concert by the Black Eyed Peas.
Earlier in the day, the jewels were revealed in a presentation at the former British embassy, a striking example of ‘60s-era Brutalist architecture that had stood unused since 2009. Cartier spent seven months restoring the interior of the circular building, inspired by a bullring, and plans to open the showroom, conceived by Spanish designer Jaime Hayón, to the general public.
It’s all part of the jeweler’s philosophy of finding beauty everywhere, in line with the theme of the collection, said chief executive officer Cyrille Vigneron.
“Often it’s things that are close to us, that we don’t see or that we no longer see. In Europe, Madrid is rather little-known, even though it’s a capital,” he remarked.
“And within Madrid, this building might not be known, even to the people who live here,” he added. “Seeing invisible beauty and allowing it to reemerge is an important mission for high jewelry. It shows that inspiration can come from anywhere.”
Spain is a flourishing market for the jeweler, especially with the return of tourists in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. The country recently scrapped all COVID-19 restrictions for travelers from other European Union countries.
In the first four months of the year, Spain welcomed 15.8 million tourists, up from just 1.8 million during the same period last year, according to the latest data published by the National Statistics Institute.
A few days ago, Cartier reopened its renovated store in Barcelona, and it recently set up shop at the Galeria Canalejas in Madrid, an exclusive new mall that is also home to Hermès and Zegna, and will soon welcome other brands including Louis Vuitton and Giorgio Armani.
It’s part of an ambitious ongoing program of renovations of its network of 280 stores worldwide, launched by Vigneron after he took over as CEO of the brand in 2016. He’s overhauled around 150 boutiques so far, including recently reopened locations in Geneva, Milan and Chengdu, China.
Among upcoming projects is the flagship on Fifth Avenue in New York City, known as the Mansion, due to reopen at the end of August; its store in the Cheongdam district of Seoul, slated for late September or early October; and the historic flagship on Rue de la Paix in Paris, set to be unveiled on Oct. 28 after an extensive redesign.
“If you knew the store before, you won’t recognize it at all,” said Vigneron, explaining that the boutique will have a new atrium in the back, and will alternate between open spaces and smaller salons, expanding from 6,450 square feet to 10,765 square feet.
Part of Swiss conglomerate Compagnie Financière Richemont, Cartier is keeping up a steady clip of investments to maintain its market leadership, in the face of growing competition from Tiffany & Co., which is undergoing an overhaul under new owner LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
If Vigneron is nervous about the challenge, the softly spoken executive didn’t let it show. He noted that in the full year to March 31, Richemont’s jewelry maisons posted growth of 54 percent at constant exchange rates versus 2019. E-commerce is growing faster still, accounting for 8 to 9 percent of revenues in the 2021 fiscal year, versus 1 percent the previous year.
“Compared to the pre-COVID-19 period, we are experiencing extremely strong growth,” said Vigneron, adding that the momentum has continued so far this year, despite the war in Ukraine and fresh lockdowns in China, thanks to a strong performance in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Japan.
“It’s a year with a lot of uncertainty and it’s difficult to have a precise outlook. But we demonstrated in the recent period that we are capable of adapting to circumstances,” he said.
In a recent research note, HSBC predicted revenues at Tiffany & Co. will rise to 6.4 billion euros in 2024, versus 9.7 billion euros for Cartier.
“As Tiffany has been part of LVMH for a year now, we have heard much competitive rhetoric and the idea from some that as Tiffany is at long last revived, Cartier will come under significant pressure. We see this as an extreme exaggeration,” its analysts wrote.
“We don’t think it is incompatible for Cartier to do well despite Tiffany rebounding as indeed we see a very fragmented jewelry market and one that is still dominated by non-branded sales,” they added.
As part of efforts to maintain its visibility, Cartier this summer opened its first resort pop-up stores in Mykonos and East Hampton, said Arnaud Carrez, Cartier’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer.
And it has stepped up communication efforts, whether through product ads like its recent Panthère de Cartier handbag campaign featuring “Emily in Paris” star Lily Collins, or its sponsorship of the Women’s Pavilion at the Expo 2020 world fair in Dubai, and its ongoing Women’s Initiative prize supporting female entrepreneurs.
“The house has never been so desirable,” Carrez said. “We’re investing strongly in communication and we’re communicating on more and more fronts. Our ecosystem has grown considerably richer, and we will continue to capitalize on it. That’s really what makes us unique in the luxury world today.”
While some may read Cartier’s recent brand ambassador choices — Chamberlain, a leading YouTube content creator, “Elvis” star Austin Butler and Jisoo — as an aggressive play for Gen Z customers, Carrez disputed this interpretation, saying the house was interesting in fostering long-term relationships with key talents.
“Worldwide, Gen Z and Millennials account for more than 50 percent of our sales,” he said. “So it’s not a question of engagement, and there is no obsession at Cartier with courting young people to please Gen Z. We see that our creations are universal and cross-generational.”
The initial presentation of 97 pieces from the “Beautés du monde” collection in Madrid will be followed by events in Singapore and the U.S. in the second half of the year, and Thailand in January 2023, he said. In all, the collection will total 211 designs.
Jacqueline Karachi, creative director of Cartier, said the line was conceived like a “cabinet of curiosities” inspired by Louis, Pierre and Jacques Cartier, grandsons of house founder Louis-François Cartier, who traveled the world to source stones and amass cultural elements that would then nourish their design teams.
Some pieces are inspired by animals, like the colorful Apatura necklace, with a detachable butterfly-shaped pendant set with a large Australian opal. Others reference the wonders of nature, like the Récif necklace, which features an emerald center stone set off by diamonds, amethysts and coral pearls in Cartier’s signature melon cut.
Her personal favorite is the Iwana necklace, constructed around three hexagonal-shaped Colombian emeralds totaling more than 43 carats. Inspired by the skin of an iguana, the triangular-shaped piece is a technological feat, with diamonds and emeralds set in a geometric pattern on a supple platinum base.
“It’s built like a second skin,” Karachi said. “It’s an extremely technical piece. The technique is completely invisible, but when you look at the back of the necklace, you really understand the complexity of this construction.”
Two years in the making, the collection was designed during the pandemic, when the team at Cartier sought solace in imaginary voyages, she said. Its wide-ranging influences reflect Cartier’s global clientele, Karachi said.
“What’s fabulous about this period is that our customer base is very diverse, and what’s interesting to see is that they all want the same thing,” she said. “They want beauty, they want joy, they want colors, they want to feel alive. And I think that our collection responds to those needs and desires.”
Cartier has historically drawn inspiration from countries as far afield as China, Russia and India, and recently staged an exhibition on the contribution of Islamic arts to its design canon, which is slated to head to the Louvre Abu Dhabi after its current stint at the Dallas Museum of Art.
But with the cultural climate quick to generate accusations of cultural appropriation, the new collection reflected a broader approach to its heritage. Nonetheless, Vigneron cautioned against self-censorship, saying that most countries contain multiple cultures that are themselves the product of hybridization.
“Trying to determine a specific cultural identity is a serious mental simplification that can ultimately be too narrow-minded,” he said, arguing that culture should be an open resource for creatives.
“Provided a source of inspiration is clearly credited and that it’s treated respectfully, there is no problem. So this collection is a manifesto about beauty as a universal heritage of humanity,” he said.