Friday, Apr. 24, 2009

The Cartier Era

"Everybody talks about bling-bling," says Pierre Rainero, who as director of heritage for Cartier and keeper of the French jewelry empire's staggering history — which tells of Aga Khans, aristocrats and Presidents — is plainly not too fond of the term. "As far as high jewelry, extraordinary jewelry, exceptional jewelry goes," Rainero explains, "it's not about glittering. It's about delicacy and taste." Americans have a long-standing relationship with that iconic taste. And, indeed, a glittering one. By April 1909, when the New York Times announced the company's arrival across the pond with the headline paris jeweler to open here, a parade of Vanderbilts, Morgans and Rockefellers had long been beating a path to the jeweler's headquarters in Paris. And when Pierre Cartier, the most pioneering of the three Cartier brothers, grandsons of founder Louis-François Cartier, opened the second-floor shop on New York City's Fifth Avenue 100 years ago, the relationship flourished. Since then, events in U.S. history could feasibly be traced by the glistening Cartier objets left in their wake. The signature Tank watch, for instance, was said to be inspired by the U.S. Army's use of the Renault tank during World War I. Meanwhile, society women like Wallis Simpson and Barbara Hutton, whose independent, expensive tastes made them fashion plates, found a provocative ally in Cartier. And vice versa. "Americans really pushed us to the magnificence of the jewelry," Rainero says. Famous examples of that magnificence will be on display in May as the New York City boutique presents "Cartier ... 100 Years of Passion and Free Spirit in America." Here, a glimpse of U.S. history while Cartier's been on the watch.