Thomas Faerber (I) : A life for jewelry

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Renowned jeweler specializing in precious stones, antique and vintage jewelry and exceptional pieces, Thomas Faerber, has been acknowledged for more than five decades for his contribution in the jewelry market throughout the world.

The “Faerber-Collection”, placed under the aegis of Thomas Faerber, Alberto Corticelli (at his side since 1988), his children Ida Faerber and Max Faerber, and Philippe Atamian (all three joined the company in 1998), buy and sells gems, antique and vintage jewelry, exceptional pieces in Europe (Geneva and Paris), America (New York) and Asia (Hong Kong). The House stands out, says Thomas Faerber, by a taste for "the emblematic jewels of an era; those of noble origin, created by the most remarkable craftsmen; pieces that, if they could speak, would tell a thousand stories. "

Thomas Faerber belongs to the exclusive club of major international collectors.

Magnificent emerald and diamond ring. Russian, circa 1800.
Given to a French nobleman as a present from Czar of Russia, Alexander 1st , in Erfurt.
The square step-cut emerald framed by a closed back yellow gold leaf and flower motif set with rose-cut diamonds, surrounded by 16 old mine-cut diamonds and a second line of rose-cut diamonds. The mounting is in silver and 14k gold, typical in the Russian work at the time. The emerald weighs 5.84 carat and is of Colombian origin. The 16 diamonds weigh circa 5.50 carat. The ring is in the original fitted box.
Length : 32mm. Width : 20mm. Height : 24mm. Size : 14 / 54.
Photo credit Katharina Faerber

It is a great honor for me and I am grateful to him for having opened these rarely seen pages of this private collection catalog, giving me the opportunity of presenting these masterpieces that he is particularly fond of and willing to lend to jewelry exhibitions as well as to the readers of Property of a Lady.

The collection is an amazingly eclectic set and includes pieces from the Renaissance to 2019. It mainly brings together pieces that were “love at first sight” and at times memories, explains Thomas Faerber. Just like this Belle Époque pearl necklace which was made by Thomas Faerber's maternal grandfather at the beginning of the last century.

Belle Epoque pearl and diamond necklace by August Schöning.
The five-strand necklace set with cream-colored natural pearls, ranging between circa 3.0 and 3.5 mm, decorated with four campanula-shaped spacers, delicately millegrain-set with rose- and old-mine cut diamonds, mounted in platinum, with original burgundy fitted case signed Aug. C. Schöning, Cologne, Germany, circa 1910, length circa 38 cm.
Photo credit Katharina Faerber


Let's discover parts of the collection and gain a better insight of the history of Thomas Faerber.


From the very beginnings to international recognition

August Schöning, the maternal grandfather of Thomas Faerber, was a jeweler and a goldsmith in central Cologne, Germany, between the Belle Époque and WWII. He died in the Fifties. “This necklace is the only piece I own from my grandfather,” explains Thomas Faerber. It was cheer luck that made it possible at an auction in 2019 in Cologne. "I had gone there for another piece that interested me and then came across this necklace. It was one of the most exciting auction in my life because I absolutely wanted to get it! "

Belle Epoque pearl and diamond necklace by August Schöning with its original burgundy fitted case signed Aug. C. Schöning, Cologne, Germany, circa 1910. Photo credit Katharina Faerber


Thomas Faerber's father, Ernst Faerber, came from Bavaria. He was born at the turn of the century, in 1900. He was dreaming of becoming a photographer and wanted to take part of the creative development that this technique was experiencing in those years. However, in the sadly difficult context of the end of the Twenties, he couldn't find a job fulfilling his dream and finally had no other choice than to become an intern for a pearl merchant in Berlin. He lost no time and learned the various technics of coating, piercing and bead threading.

Thomas Faerber explained to me that a man in 1930 came forward to sell a very beautiful necklace of fine pearls. “My father asked the pearl merchant, his boss, if they could purchase it and he refused. He then asked for permission to buy it himself and he also asked if he could obtain a raise to no avail. This gave him no other choice than to set up his own business and buy the necklace." Ernst Faerber worked several weeks on the necklace, peeling it meticulously and turning it into a stunning piece it is today.

Having become a recognized trader in fine pearls and precious stones, he began to travel through Germany. One day, on his way to Cologne to see his client August Schöning, Ernst Faerber came across a thief running away from the jeweler's store and the jeweler chasing after him with a gun. Ernst Faerber did the only thing his heart told him to do and rushed to the jeweler's daughter in distress.

"My story began with love and a piece of candy"

The first thing Ernst Faerber did was to offer the young woman a piece of candy, as he always had some in his pockets -and "this is how my parents met! "

Ernst Faerber, married Maria Schöning (August's daughter) in the early 1930s. Ernst Faerber worked until he died in 1961. "I was barely 17", says Thomas Faerber. The Ernst Färber House, located on the elegant Promenadeplatz in Munich, was taken over by Rudolf Biehler, his former assistant after Ernst Faerber's death. Dominik Biehler is now in charge of the House Ernst Färber in Munich.

"It was agreed by the family that I would be trained by Rudolf Biehler so that at the age of twenty-five I would have an equal 50% partnership with him. I then went to Amsterdam where I learned to cut diamonds and then to Antwerp where I learned to negotiate them, notably at Backes & Strauss.

Thomas Faerber continued his training in London at Australian pearl company and after in Paris with Jean Rosenthal (1906-1993), a great dealer in precious stones, whom he affectionately nicknames "his great master". These months spent at his side are described as "wonderful". Today, it is with his son, Hubert Rosenthal, that he continues to maintain an indestructible friendship.

In 1968, Thomas Faerber decided to create his own trading company in precious stones and jewelry in Zurich, Switzerland, thus leaving the German market to Rudolf Biehler: “The markets were not then as globalized as they are nowadays, everyone had his own territory ". He recalls that when he started traveling in Switzerland, working around with modest jewelers and the few watch factories that existed at this time, was quite "difficult".

Antique multi-gem and enamel "swiss cantons" necklace, circa 1830.
Composed of 22 oval enamel plaques each depicting the arms of a Canton within a varicolored gold openwork filigree mount set with spaced close-set pink topaz and with a collet set small cabochon turquoise between each mount. With a pendant drop suspended in the center depicting the symbols of the Confederation. 
"Swiss enamel was a very popular souvenir for tourists visiting Switzerland in the 19th century, especially for the British. Geneva was the center for enameling. This Necklace depicting the 22 Cantons of Switzerland is a typical souvenir of that time" explains Thomas Faerber. Photo credit Katharina Faerber

The year 1969 was an important turning point in the life of Thomas Faerber. That summer he visited New York for the first time and made two momentous encounters there. First Katharina, a photographer, who would become his wife and then Paul Fisher (1927-2019), a major player in the jewelry industry of the second half of the 20th century, whom his peers regard as a model. Thomas Faerber fondly remembers a man whom he considers a second father. “He guided me a lot. We have worked together in America and all over the world”.

Paul Fisher and Thomas Faerber few years ago. Courtesy of Thomas Faerber.

Another major year in Thomas Faerber's professional life was 1973. He took his first booth, precisely 9m2, in Basel, the jewelry and watchmaking fair that had not yet become Baselworld. Exhibiting mainly for the Swiss market, Thomas Faerber remembers that his activity was mostly devoted to diamonds, with stones rarely exceeding 1 carat. In order to develop his entreprise, Paul Fisher suggested that Thomas Faerber present antique jewelry as well. In Switzerland at that time customers wanted modern jewelry he explains : “My reputation was just starting to establish itself, so I was hesitant, but not for long. I was the first jeweler and gems dealer to exhibit antique jewelry. At the end of the fair, the three antique jewels that Paul Fisher had given me were sold and this allowed me to meet new customers ". Thomas Faerber never left the antique jewelry market again and remained an exhibitor Basel until 2017.

Antique enamel gold wristwatch, circa 1840
The wristwatch designed as two enlaced snakes, decorated with black, green, red and blue colored enamel, the heads embellished with a collet-set garnet- cabochon, to the gem-set eyes, the snakes centering upon the round-shaped case with guilloché enamel reminiscent of a rose glass window, opening to reveal roman numerals, numbered ‘46373’, mounted in 18k yellow gold, probably English, circa 1840, inner circumference circa 19 cm, with winding key.
Photo credit Katharina Faerber

In 1980, Thomas Faerber moved to Geneva, a city with a prosperous jewelry and watchmaking tradition, while continuing to travel. America in the late 1970s was a haven for discerning dealers coming from all over the world as the dollar began to fluctuate. "I bought some beautiful vintage signed jewelry there: at the time, between a Cartier bracelet and an unsigned Art Deco bracelet there was 15% to 30% difference. It was later, from the 1980s, that signatures and origins became much more important. The fact that jewelry began to be exhibited in museums (e.g. Van Cleef & Arpels exhibition in 1992 at the Fashion and Costume Museum at the Palais Galliera in Paris) has contributed in changing mentalities as well as the international jewelry market."

Over the years, thanks to his in-depth knowledge and business ethics, Thomas Faerber has been able to establish a notoriety (from 1993 to 1998 he chaired the Swiss Precious Stones Dealers Association) as he never stopped acquiring new important pieces.

In 2004, he provided the Louvre with a necklace of emeralds and diamonds and matching earrings that Napoleon I presented to the Archduchess Marie-Louise on the occasion of their wedding in 1810. Thomas Faerber explains that after acquiring these two exceptional pieces, miraculously preserved in their original state, he very much wanted them to be part of the fabulous Louvre collection. This half-set created by François-Regnault Nitot was part of the Empress Marie-Louise's personal jewelry items and has since entered the window display of the admirable Diamonds of the Crown of France located in the splendid Galerie Apollon.

That same year, Thomas Faerber was made a Chevalier of the "Ordre des Arts et Lettres".

The new Faerber generation in front of Empress Marie-Louise's emerald and diamond necklace and earrings at the Louvre before the restoration of the gallery. Personal photo of Thomas Faerber
Necklace and earrings from a set offered by Napoleon I to Marie-Louise, Archduchess of Austria, at the time of their marriage in 1810.
Pieces made by the jeweler François-Regnault Nitot (1779 - 1853) in Paris. The necklace consists of 32 emeralds (13.75 ct central emerald); 1138 diamonds (874 brilliants and 264 roses); gold ; money. The earrings are made of 6 emeralds; 108 diamonds; gold ; money.
Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum): Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Thanks to many years of experience and a large international network, Thomas Faerber and his colleague Ronny Totah joined forces four years ago to create "with colleagues, friends and other dealers, a quality, friendly and family-like jewelry fair on a human scale”: GemGenève.

The first two exhibitions, which brought together jewelers, dealers, designers, collectors, gemological laboratories, booksellers and enthusiasts, took place in 2018 and 2019 successfully bringing together exhibitors and visitors from all over the world.

Hopefully GemGenève will reopen its doors in November 2021.

Opening ceremony of the first Gem Geneva show in May 2018. Photo credit GemGenève.


This conversation with Thomas Faerber will continue here : "About the collection"



Visual at the top of the article: An antique sapphire and diamond bangle mid 18th century.
The brooch element set with a sapphire of circa 56 carats, within an old mine cut diamond surround dated from the time of Catherine the Great (mid-18th century). According to family tradition, this jewel belonged to the Zoubov family.Possibly a gift by the Empress Catherine the Great to Platon Alexandrovitch Zoubov (1767-1822) who was the Empress' last favorite.
The yellow gold bangle, a later addition, has the St. Petersburg mark used from 1826 up until 1876 and master’s mark, Cyrillic script P I. It is encrusted with small ivy diamond motif of pre-art nouveau style. With report no. 47838 from the SSEF stating that the sapphire is from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) with no indications of heating.

Photo credit Katharina Faerber


Many thanks to Myriam de Mareuil for her very careful proofreading of my translation

Thomas Faerber (II) : A conversation about the Collection

Pour lire cet article en français, cliquer ici


“The collection is eclectic,” says Thomas Faerber. I purchase what I like. It can be antique, modern or contemporary ”.

1970's gold and rubber necklace by SCHULLIN & SEITNER.
Designed as a flexible torque, composed of brushed gold links on a black rubber band, mounted in 18k yellow gold, with Austrian assay marks, with Manfred Seitner maker's mark, circa 1970, inner circumference circa 50cm, width circa 3.2 cm.
Photo credit Katharina Faerber


Jewelry, watches and precious objects make up for this collection, which began in the 1970s with “a few pieces of lesser importance”. Over time and through the various fairs, Thomas Faerber regretted having sold certain pieces. "This, I believe, is how the collection started." He adds that even today, most of the pieces that he and his associates buy are intended to be sold: "I remain a dealer at heart. "


Do you plan to exhibit your collection one day?

I prefer to lend parts of it.

Antique sapphire and diamond brooch designed as an undulating rose-cut diamond peacock feather, enhanced by a cushion-shaped sapphire of 32.24 carats within an old mine-cut diamond cluster set "en tremblant", to the ruby (circa 0.75 cts) and diamond quill terminating by an oval-shaped sapphire, mounted in silver and gold, French, circa 1870, with a burgundy leather "Morel & Cie, J. Chaumet" fitted case with the initials "R.U", with a brooch fitting, 14.0 x 4.5 cm.
With report no. 63234 dated 26/04/12 from SSEF stating that the sapphire is from Ceylon with no indications of heating.
With a certificate of authenticity by Chaumet.
The original drawing of this piece is kept in the archives of Chaumet.
Photo credit Katharina Faerber

The great Houses of Place Vendôme and the museums are mostly aware of this and don't hesitate if needed to ask me. Some of you may have already admired this brooch during the "Chaumet en Majesté" exhibition at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco in the summer of 2019? It was also featured at the Beijing exhibition.

"Plume" brooch by Morel & Cie, J. Chaumet.
Photo credit Katharina Faerber

At the beginning of September, Thomas Faerber left an exceptional necklace in emerald drops and diamonds designed by Jacques Arpels in 1950, as well as a pair of matching earrings, on loan for the Pierres Précieuses exhibition at the Museum of Natural History (MNHN) in Paris.

This set belonged to Maharani Sita Devi of Baroda (1917-1989), wife of Maharaja Pratapsingh Gaekwar.

Earrings from the former collection of the Maharani from Baroda, Van Cleef & Arpels, circa 1950. Photo credit Katharina Faerber
"Hindu" necklace, Van Cleef & Arpels Paris 1950, former collection of the Maharani of Baroda. Platinum, brilliant and baguette-cut diamonds, ribbed emeralds, ball and pear-cut emeralds.
Photo credit Katharina Faerber

Sita Devi had an unrestrained passion for jewelry and possessed extraordinary gems which she drew from the Baroda treasury. Some of these precious stones date back to Mughal times. In the latter part of her life, the Maharani saw her jewelry dispersed during an auction organized by Crédit Mobilier de Monaco on November 16, 1974. The emerald and diamond half-set created by Jacques Arpels was part of a private collection before Thomas Faerber acquired it at an auction in May 2002.

Almost twenty years later, the collector continues to admire the design and the gems of this magnificent set that he considers exceptional.


Do you have a favorite jeweler?

I have great admiration for the work of Lalique, Vever, Cartier and, today for JAR - but one of my great heroes is Frédéric Boucheron (1830-1902)!

The tremendous quality of the execution of the pieces created under his direction, the human value of the character, his sensitivity, the fact that he was so involved in the profession and that he was keen to help younger generations aroused my admiration.

That is why the first major acquisition in my collection was a Boucheron necklace.

Magnificent diamond rose open collar by Boucheron.
Composed of 900 diamonds for a total weight of circa 45.75 carats, this necklace is the only surviving piece to be known according to the technique invented by Frederic Boucheron in the end of the years 1890. The necklace is composed of a very thin flexible steel thread covered in silver. It can be transformed into a brooch, length : 21 cm, rose width : 3 cm, rose height : 12.5 cm.
Photo credit Katharina Faerber

The first drawing of this necklace made by Paul Legrand, main designer of the House of Boucheron at the time of Frédéric Boucheron, dates from 1879. It then took a few years to carry out this project and invent a technique which made it possible to bend and thread the metal around the neck, without the diamonds jumping under the pressure of the movement. Achieving this extraordinary flexibility was an incredible challenge for the workshop. It was only in 1889, during the Universal Exhibition in Paris, that Frédéric Boucheron officially presented his technical innovations, including engraved diamonds and the so-called "Point d'Interrogation" (Question mark) necklaces. The jeweler won the "grand prix" there - the highest distinction after the gold medal - for his remarkable work, and was soon after made an officer of the Legion of Honor.

"Spring collars" (another name for this invention) impressed critics who described them as “revolutionary”! explains Boucheron's Heritage Director, Claire de Truchis-Lauriston. She also draws our attention to how much Frédéric Boucheron was attentive to the comfort of his clients, who at the time had to have a maid to dress and adorn themselves, in particular with their choker (dog collar) so difficult to attach behind the neck. Frédéric Boucheron certainly wanted to free them from constraint. The "Point d'Interrogation" necklaces come without a clasp and most have a central part that can be transformed into a brooch or hair ornament.

Almost all of these necklaces represented nature: flowering branches of acacias, plaine trees, lotus flowers, ears of wheat, peacock feathers, ivy leaves, poppies, snakes… The necklace that Thomas Faerber owns is made up of a blooming rose, surrounded by three leaves, topped with a a rose bud about to bloom.

To this day, this is the only “Point d'Interrogation necklace” in its original state.

“When this necklace was put on sale in Paris in the Eighties at Drouot, says Thomas Faerber, it was estimated at a reasonable price, but during the sale, the bids flew - I had had a formidable opponent in front of me! Nevertheless, I won the bid and this necklace now belongs to my wife. "


Is there a gem that particularly appeals to you?

Faerber-Collection ring box.
Photo credit Katharina Faerber

I don't have a favorite stone; nevertheless there is one that has always fascinated me, is the alexandrite, the color change variety of chrysoberyl which has the particularity of changing colors depending on the light (green in daylight, red under a lite candle).

Above, an alexandrite of almost 8 ct put on sale last June in Vienna at the Dorotheum. Estimated between € 13,000 and € 16,000, it was sold for € 115,300.

I'm still trying to get chrysoberyls, but their prices are prohibitive. I took a huge risk to get it, because it truly had a very nice color-change. Fortunately, it was another who got it, he said with a smile.


What type of jewelry is particularly sought after by dealers today?

I would say the tiara.

In the 1970s, tiaras were unsaleable, we bought them to take them apart. It reminds me of an anecdote: in the 90s, there was a beautiful tiara for sale at Christie’s. I admit, I had done my calculations to make five brooches, three pairs of earrings ... I won the bid and the tiara was delivered in a beautiful initialed Chaumet case. I thought maybe I wasn't going to take it apart right away, he laughs. I wrote to Madame Béatrice de Plinval, Chaumet's Heritage director, to tell her that I had been able to acquire this tiara. This tiara has since become one of the centerpieces of their Heritage Collection.

Today tiaras are a real craze, e.g. this sale on June 10, 2020 at the Dorotheum, still, a Cartier tiara in aquamarines and diamonds mounted on platinum. Characteristic of the Art Deco style, it was created in London by Jacques Cartier around 1930-35. Estimated between € 34,000 and € 70,000, it sold for € 582,800 (more than seventeen times over its low estimate!).


You also own exceptional objets in the collection. Are there any that you would like to present?

Antique samorodok cigarette case by Joseph Marchak.
The rectangular case with round corners in 14k yellow gold with a samorodok finish surface, inset with rose-cut diamond, opening on a compartment for the cigarettes, and a smaller case of similar design for the matches, a mirror in the lid, a diamond set push piece, with Russian assay mark for Kiev after 1908 and maker's mark for Josef Marchak, circa 1910, 10.5 x 5.5 cm.
Photo credit Katharina Faerber

This rectangular cigarette case with rounded corners depicts a winter landscape around the ghostly face of Ded Moroz, the “Grand Father of Frost” or Russian Father Christmas.

"I don't smoke," says Thomas Faerber, "but the elegance of this set appealed to me."

The cigarette and matching case, both illustrate the technique of samorodok, a Russian word meaning "nugget" or "virgin metal." At the end of the 19th century, this technique was used by Russian silversmiths and in particular by Fabergé who applied it when creating precious objects.

Obtained by heating silver or gold to a temperature near the melting point and then suddenly cooling it in water, the samorodok produces a textured effect on the surface of the object, which suggests snowy forest paths in Switzerland, sand games in the desert, the lunar surface ... Everyone is free to let their imagination run wild!

This technique is nevertheless very difficult to master, the samorodok is rare.


Will you create a Faerber museum in Geneva?

I believe my collection should stay in the family company. I am fortunate to be surrounded by two children and five grandchildren; my daughter Ida Faerber is very attached to our legacy, she'll guard the temple.



Visual at the top of the article : A Joël Arthur Rosenthal ring that belonged to Marie-Hélène de Rothschild (1927-1996).
Recently acquired at the Pierre Bergé & Associés auction on Tuesday, December 15, 2020, Lot 100. This 18K (750) yellow gold ring is adorned with a troidia-shaped diamond weighing 6.31 carats.The ring is covered with a mosaic of agate geode studded with shards of diamonds. Work from the 1980s. Signed JAR.
Photo credit Katharina Faerber


Many thanks to Myriam de Mareuil for her very careful proofreading of my translation


Thomas Faerber SA

29, rue du Rhône

1204 Genève


Tel: +41 22 318 66 33



1 rue de Châteaudun

75009 Paris


Tel: +33 1 48 78 84 65


Faerber Inc.

589 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1103

New York, NY 10017


Tel: +1 212 752 42 00


Faerber-Collection (HK) Limited

1503 15/F, 9 Queens Rd.

Central – Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Tel: +852 2520 2521


Gem Genève

Geneva International Gem & Jewellery Show

Palexpo Genève Halle 7

Route Francois-Peyrot 30

1218 – Le Grand-Saconnex

Genève. Suisse




Cartier London in the 30's : A decade of contradictions

At the very heart of the Cartier saga: the extraordinary life of Jacques Théodule Cartier (1884-1941) recovered and told by his great-granddaughter Francesca Cartier Brickell - PART III


Pour lire cet article en français, cliquez ici

To read part I "He lived for design : Jacques Cartier, the lesser-known brother", click here ;

To read part II "Cartier London: The roaring 20s", click here


What were the 1930s like for Cartier?

My grandfather [Jean-Jacques Cartier] used to tell me how, after the boom of the 1920s, the 1930s brought such terrible challenges for Cartier and other luxury firms, many of whom did not survive. The Great Crash began in October 1929. In just two days, the U.S. equity market lost a quarter of its value, devastating investors, and over the next three years, as the Great Depression took hold, there was wave after wave of banking panic. “Eighty percent of our orders were canceled" Pierre Cartier reported to the American press in 1930. And for those clients that remained, “the Maison had to grant credits varying from six months to a year.”

For Cartier, the difficulty was exacerbated by the sudden decline in demand for the gem that had, for several decades, represented the lion’s shares of their income: pearls. The steady rise in commercially available cultured pearls had put the natural pearl market under increasing pressure since the late 1920s. In 1930, prices for natural pearls plummeted by 85 percent. Cartier suffered considerably as a result: my great-grandfather [Jacques Cartier] said this crashhurt business almost more than the ef­fects of the Depression.

One saving grace during this period was the Cartiers’ – by now well-established – links with India. Not only did the firm continue to receive large commissions from the maharajas at a time when wealthy Americans were reigning in their spending, but also the fashion for Cartier’s Indian-inspired jewellery (including the colourful jewels later referred to as ‘Tutti Frutti’) helped keep the firm ahead of the competition in the West.

AN ART DECO MULTI-GEM AND DIAMOND 'TUTTI FRUTTI' BROOCH, CARTIER, circa 1930. Carved emeralds, emerald, ruby and sapphire beads, onyx plaques, old-cut diamonds, platinum and gold, 3 3/8 ins., signed Cartier @Christie's Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence
New York, 19 June 2019

I recall you writing that the centre of gravity shifted away from Paris to London?

Yes, one thing that’s not widely known is that, by 1925 already, Louis Cartier had stepped down from the Board of Cartier SA in Paris. In the 1930s, Louis was already in his early sixties and effectively retired, spending a significant time away in his Budapest palace (he had married a Hungarian countess) and his Spanish villa in San Sebastian. My grandfather said that Louis used to turn up announced in Paris after weeks or months away and move between the workshops and Rue de la Paix showroom like a ‘meteor’, tearing strips off his team for anything that wasn’t up to his almost impossibly high standards. He’d then disappear again, creating something of a power vacuum in Paris which Louis tried to fill initially by putting his son-in-law Rene Revillon in charge. Unfortunately this only led to more problems, ending in the most unexpected family tragedy, and it really wasn’t until Louis’ brilliant protégé, Louis Devaux, took over in the late 1930s that this power vacuum in Cartier Paris was resolved.

Francesca Cartier Brickell holding a sketch of Louis Cartier, the eldest of the three Cartier brothers, and the one renowned for his creative genius. On the back of the photograph, Francesca’s grandfather has written “Uncle Louis”. Courtesy of the author © Jonathan James Wilson

I found it fascinating to read the letters between the brothers which revealed the human behind-the-scenes reality to the flawless impression that the family strove to give the world in their calm beautiful showrooms. Pierre and Jacques, for instance, were worried for the business but they were also concerned for their older brother, admitting to each other (even if they kept it secret from the world) that on occasion they had no idea where he was or when he would be back. Louis still came up with new ideas in this period, and he kept pushing his team to innovate (in one letter asking them to come up with “something tastier, or something new”) but those long absences and the need to be alone were the flipside, perhaps, to his creative genius.

There was also a big argument between Jacques and Louis in the early 1930s. I won’t go into the details here, it’s all in the book, but save to say, relations took a nosedive for a while. In a fit of anger, Louis refused Jacques access to Cartier Paris: “The worst aspect is the sanction taken by LC [Louis] with regard to JC [Jacques]—JC forbidden to enter S.A. locations at 4 or 13 Rue de la Paix. Cessation of all relations between the two companies, no S.A. stock to be sent, ordered, or repaired. Only current business to be conducted, no new business to be carried out.”

Despite this, Cartier London was perhaps the best placed branch in the 1930s as it benefitted not only from the relationship with Indian clients (who Jacques had been visiting for the past two decades), but also the ongoing custom of the British royal court.

These aristocratic clients were not only generally less negatively impacted by the Great Depression than many of Pierre’s clients over the Atlantic, they (and their jewels) also often appeared in the social columns, resulting in the ideal type of marketing for Cartier.

Beatrice (née Mills), Countess of Granardby. Bassano Ltd
whole-plate glass negative, circa 1909. Given by Bassano & Vandyk Studios, 1974. Photographs Collection © National Portrait Gallery, London

For example, Lady Granard, daughter of the American financier Ogden Mills and wife of the Earl of Granard, had been known in British high society for her love of gems ever since The Washington Post had remarked of her 1909 debut in Parliament that “after the Queen, who wore the crown jewels, no woman in the chamber wore so many splendid gems as the new American countess, and if the Queen had not worn the Cullinan diamonds for the first time, the American countess would have outshone Her Majesty.” Two decades later, though the British capital may have been under the shadow of the Great Depression, court life - and with it the requirement for big jewels - continued. In 1932, Lady Granard commissioned a truly remarkable necklace from Cartier London: it incorporated two thousand diamonds and an enormous rectangular emerald of 143.23 carats (all the gems were her own).

Necklace worn by Countess of Granard. Cartier London, special order, 1932. Platinum, diamonds, emerald (143.23 carat cushion). Height at center 8.80 cm. Photo: Vincent Wulveryck, Cartier Collection © Cartier.

The London branch’s association with the British royal family was bolstered further in 1933 when Queen Mary asked to exchange a gift she had been given from Cartier for a more valuable clip brooch. After Cartier made the exchange for free, the Queen thanked the firm by visiting its New Bond Street store. Looking through the showrooms and the various departments upstairs, “Her Majesty,” Cartier’s director Joseph Sinden recalled, “talked to quite a number of the workmen and the visit lasted an hour and a half.” She had entered through the side entrance on Albemarle Street, but by the time she left, “the news had got round that Her Majesty was here and there were a number of people waiting to watch her leave.” 

News of the royal visit was excellent for business. “Bond Street is busy,” Jacques reported a couple of months later; “the workshop is blocked with orders.” Her much-reported visit would also help publicize the fact that although Cartier was a French firm, the London branch employed Englishmen. This was an important message to convey at a time when there was a backlash against firms in London employing foreign workers over British ones.

The Royal Family on the balcony at Buckingham Palace after the coronation of King George VI of England. From left, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth, Queen Mary, Princess Margaret and King George VI. @HULTON-DEUTSCH COLLECTION/CORBIS/GETTY IMAGES.

Later in the 1930s, when Paris was struggling from political and social unrest, London was also busy with 27 tiara commissions for the 1937 coronation. Two years earlier, Vogue declared tiaras had made a comeback in England (“tiaras are all the rage”) and in 1936, Cartier made a diamond and platinum tiara with a cascading scroll design that the future King George VI would buy for his wife, Queen Elizabeth. This piece, known as the Halo tiara, would subsequently be worn by four generations of the royal family, making a special appearance in 2011 when Catherine Middleton (the future Duchess of Cambridge) wore it for her wedding to Prince William. Other significant 1930s royal clients included the future Duke of Windsor, whose purchase of a Cartier emerald engagement ring for Wallis Simpson would effectively lead to his abdication.

Queen Elizabeth's Halo Tiara, Cartier, 1936.
A diamond 'halo' tiara formed as a band of 16 graduated scrolls, set with 739 brilliants and 149 baton diamonds, each scroll divided by a graduated brilliant and with a large brilliant at the centre; original red leather box, with later Garrards label. @Royal Collection Trust. All rights reserved

Tell us about Wallis’s engagement ring?

Well, fortunately for Cartier, the Duke of Windsor (then the Prince of Wales) had favoured Boucheron when buying gifts for his previous mistress, Freda Dudley Ward. When he started a relationship with Wallis, he was apparently instructed by her to switch allegiance from one French jeweller to another because she didn’t want anything reminiscent of his previous lover!

The Prince showered Wallis in jewels. A regular to Cartier London, he would generally use the back entrance on Albemarle Street (in order to avoid being spotted by the public) before being discreetly ushered into one of the private client rooms by a waiting salesman. For a high-end jeweller, discretion was the name of the game and for a future king conducting a romantic liason with a married woman, it became particularly important. For most of 1936, the scandalous relationship was successfully kept out of the British press. In fact, Jacques, as one of the King’s trusted jewellers, would have been one of the very few who knew of its significance.

I love the story of the Wallis’ engagement ring. Traditionally, emeralds are not used for engagement rings. Compared to diamonds, the stone is soft and can scratch easily with everyday wear. But King Edward VIII (as he was for a very brief period after his father died and before becoming the Duke of Windsor) wasn’t interested in tradition.

Emerald is a variety of beryl (beryllium aluminium silicate).Possibly from collection of Rt Hon Charles Greville in 1810. @ Natural History Museum, London

Some years earlier, Jacques had sent a trusted salesman to Baghdad to negotiate the purchase of several important gemstones. On his arrival, the salesman had been informed that the sale had to be conducted secretly and that he was forbidden to telegraph any details back to London. All he was allowed to say was that he needed a large amount of money to be sent over as soon as possible. Trusting his employee, Jacques approved the sum and had it wired over without delay. For such a large price, he supposed, Cartier would be acquiring an enormous number of precious gems. But when his salesman re-turned, he had with him only a small pouch. Out of this, he brought one single gemstone. It was an emerald the size of a bird’s egg. Jacques was enthralled. As a gemstone expert, he marveled at the chance to see and hold one of the great emeralds of the world, a gem so magnificent it had once belonged to the Great Mughal. But as a businessman, he was dismayed. Years ago, before the Russian Revolution, they would have had no problem finding buyers wealthy enough to afford such a gem. But the 1930s was a very different era. The only option for Cartier to make their money back was to cut the emerald in two and re-polish each half into a gleaming new stone. Though it pained Jacques even to consider splitting such a fantastic gemstone, he had to think of the business. One polished half ended up being sold to an American millionaire and the other, at 19.77 carats, became the centerpiece for Wallis’ engagement ring.

As with many of the jewels he bought for Wallis, the King had asked that Cartier engrave it with a personal message. This one read “WE are ours now 27 X 36.” He proposed on October 27, 1936, the same day Wallis was granted her divorce from Ernest Simpson.

The Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson presenting her with a 19.77-carat emerald ring. @Hulton Archive/Getty Images. On April 2 and 3--almost a year after the duchess’s death--Sotheby’s in Geneva is to sell her jewelry. The sale will include 87 pieces by Cartier of Paris. The duchess’s engagement ring, a large emerald mounted in gold with small diamonds on the shoulders, was remounted by Cartier in 1958. But in going through the collection, Sotheby’s staff found the original plain-gold mount, with baguette diamonds at the shoulders, engraved “We are ours now” and dated Oct. 27, 1936.

So Jacques – and Cartier London – were caught in the midst of this famous episode in history?

Yes, I love how this episode illustrates the importance of a jeweller’s discretion – how a jeweller may be privy to secrets that even families don’t know about each other, in this case, the Royal Family. Jacques was, on the one hand, working on tiaras for the upcoming planned coronation of King Edward VIII while also working on the ring that would lead to his abdication. In the end, the coronation set for the summer of 1937 would still go ahead, but it would be for a different King than the one the world had been expecting, King George VI. Because once Wallis had the ring on her finger, the British Prime Minister told the monarch that the British public would never accept a divorced woman as their queen. “I think I know our people,” he said. “They will tolerate a lot in private life, but they will not stand for this sort of thing in a public personage.” In a series of meetings, he clearly spelled out Edward’s options: either renounce Mrs. Simpson or abdicate. In a poignant radio broadcast from Windsor Castle, the King announced his abdication and left Great Britain bound for France.

Wallis, Duchess of Windsor; Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor (King Edward VIII) by Dorothy Wilding, 2 June 1943.© National Portrait Gallery, London. The Duchess is wearing her engagement ring, and the Duke is wearing a Cartier Trinity ring on his left little finger.

From then on, it would be Cartier Paris which would have the lion’s share of the couple’s jewellery commissions (her most well-known pieces would include a multi-gem flamingo brooch, an amethyst and turquoise necklace and the iconic big cat jewels).

In the 1930s, Cartier London was known for necklaces, and for its topaz and aquamarine jewels– why was that?

Rectangular, hexagonal, square and circular-cut aquamarines, circular and baguette-cut diamonds, platinum, may be worn as a necklace or applied to fitting and worn as a tiara, 16 ins., circa 1935, signed Cartier London, numbered. @Christie's Magnificent Jewels, New York, 5 December 2018.
Aquamarine @Mim museum in Beirut, Lebanon

This was a creative and prolific period for Cartier London, especially for big necklaces – although sadly, many of the necklaces have since been broken down and haven’t survived into the modern period. The head of the design studio, Georges Massabieaux, worked with designers like George Charity and Frederick Mew (Mew was responsible for many of the firm’s more innovative geometric designs). In 1935, the London team was joined by the talented artist Pierre Lemarchand, who moved over temporarily from Cartier Paris. He got along particularly well with Mew, both great admirers of each other’s work, and he would go on to design many of Cartier’s animal jewels during and after WW2 (he was the man behind the famous “bird in a cage” brooch during the occupation of Paris and the panther jewels for the Duchess of Windsor).

AN ART DECO AQUAMARINE AND DIAMOND CLIP BROOCH, BY CARTIER, circa 1930. Of stylised arrowhead design, the curving rectangular surmount set with a central line of square-cut aquamarines within a brilliant-cut diamond line border, to the circular-cut aquamarine cluster below with fancy-cut aquamarine and diamond point terminal, 4.2cm long. Signed Cartier London, no.6463. @Christie's Important Jewels, London, 27 November 2013

Reflecting the difficult Depression economy, Jacques prioritised the use of semi-precious stones, which were not only considerably more economical, but also readily available in a variety of geometric cuts. This gave the designers the opportunity to come up with an almost architectural look in accordance with the fashions of the time. Topaz was generally combined with diamonds or gold: “The only requirement,” Vogue would explain in its October 1938 issue, “is that topaz jewellery must look as important as if it were emeralds or rubies. That is the way Cartier has treated it.” Often clients would request matching jewels: When the debutante Lady Elizabeth Paget was photographed for Harper’s Bazaar in January 1935, she wore “Cartier’s magnificent parure . . . of light and dark topaz,” comprising necklace, bracelet, shoulder clip, and large pendant earrings”.

But it was the combination of diamonds with aquamarines that Jacques particularly liked. It created, he felt, a look that was fresh and elegant and suited everyone from royalty to trendsetters. His clients agreed, as did many visiting Americans who ordered their jewels from his branch.

quamarine and diamond clip, Cartier, 1930s
Of geometric design, set with oval, baguette and kite-shaped aquamarines and circular-cut diamonds, signed Cartier, fitted case stamped Cartier. @Sotheby's London, Fine Jewels, 16 July 2014

I was told by my grandfather the behind-the-scenes story of how the Cartiers put together these semi-precious stone collections. It was important—if they were to source good stones at reasonable prices—that neither the dealers nor their competitors caught on to their buying patterns. After deciding on a particular gemstone, the brothers bought them under the radar over several months, or even years. Assuming it was topaz, they would buy topazes when different gemstone dealers came to present their wares, but never too many at one time or from the same dealer. The idea was that over the course of a couple of years, they would have acquired enough highest-quality topaz to make an impressive collection for a season. And then, by showing topaz necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and bandeaux in their windows, they would make the topaz the gemstone du jour. By the time their competitors tried to copy them, not only would there be very few high-quality topazes left on the market but also the dealers would have hiked their prices and it would become almost impossible for another jeweler to create a topaz collection on anywhere near the same scale.

I read that Jacques suffered from ill-heath, eventually passing away before his brothers despite being the youngest?

Yes, Jacques continued to work in London and travel East throughout the 1930s but he suffered from ill-health as a result of weak lungs (during WW1 he had suffered from tuberculosis and been gassed at the Front). During a 1935 work trip to India with his wife, for example, instead of settling into their usual sea-view suite on arrival, Jacques had been rushed to the hospital. “Jacques has haemorrhages on arrival Tajmahal Hotel Bombay,” Nelly had telegraphed her husband’s brothers in fear. “Good doctor and nurses. Will keep you posted.” Fortunately he recovered that time but his health had taken another beating and those weak lungs remained a worry always in the background.

To manage his health, Jacques was advised by his doctors to spend time in the mountain air of Switzerland so he and his family spent the winters in the fashionable Swiss mountain resort of St. Moritz. Villa Chantarella, the chalet they rented each year next to the large hotel of the same name, became a home away from home. “Here we are again on top of the world in our Noah’s ark full to the brim of growing ones,” Jacques wrote to Pierre one Christmas, explaining how all four children were out on the slopes with their friends while he was inside in the warm working on designs for an upcoming exhibition. The ski resort was also good for business and Jacques set up a St. Moritz seasonal Cartier branch. Enticingly located next to the famous Swiss confectioner Hanselmann, Cartier’s new showroom in the mountains attracted a fair number of window shoppers over the few months it was open each year. Clients who visited the ski resort at the time included everyone from the the Aga Khan III and Coco Chanel to Hollywood stars like Gloria Swanson and Douglas Fairbanks to to businessmen like Henri Deterding, “the Napoleon of Oil,” who bought the famous Polar Star diamond from the St Moritz branch.

The Polar Star is a 41.28-carat cushion-cut diamond, so named because of its eight-pointed star-like cut. The stone was formerly in the collections of Joseph Bonaparte, and then Princess Tatiana Youssoupoff. It passed by descent to Prince Felix Youssoupov, who sold it to Cartier in 1924. It was bought from the San Moritz branch by Sir Henry Deterding, who gave it to his wife, Lydia. In 1980 it was sold for 4.6 million dollars, at that time a record price for a diamond @Christie’s in Geneva

By the outbreak of the Second World War, Jacques’ health had significantly deteriorated. Believing he should be in his native France in war time (despite the fact he shouldn’t have really travelled from England with his ill health) Jacques spent his last months in Hôtel Le Splendid in the spa town of Dax, in the south-west of France. Sadly, he wasn’t able to receive the medical care he needed there during wartime and passed away at 57 years old.

One of his last deeds was to ask his close friend, the designer Charles Jacqueau, to train my grandfather, Jean-Jacques Cartier in design. For Jean-Jacques, it was a great sadness he would never be able to work alongside his father in the business, but like his father he was also an artist at heart and grew to love the design and gemstone areas of the business. He took over Cartier London in the 1940s – when the pre-war era of big necklaces and diamond tiaras had been replaced by an age of austerity and a debilitating 125% luxury tax on jewels. Just as his ancestors had done, he had to drastically change tact once again in order to keep the business afloat… but that’s a story for another time…

Francesca Cartier Brickell’s book, “The Cartiers” is now available via Amazon or English language bookstores. You can also follow her journey via Instagram (@creatingcartier) or on Youtube (@francescacartierbrickell).


An Art Deco Aquamarine Diadem by Cartier London,
platinum 950, diamonds total weight c. 4 ct, aquamarines total weight c. 70 ct, signed Cartier London, reference no. 4423, workmanship c. 1930-35 @DOROTHEUM
The Dorotheum Auction Week was crowned by the sale of a rare Art Deco diadem for a sensational 582,800 euros on 10 June 2020.
The diadem was estimated € 34.000 - 70.000.
The diamond and aquamarine diadem can also be worn as a necklace. 


Cartier London: The roaring 20s

At the very heart of the Cartier saga: the extraordinary life of Jacques Cartier recovered and told by his great-granddaughter Francesca Cartier Brickell - PART II

Pour lire cet article en Français, veuillez cliquer sur ce lien

To read part I "He lived for design : Jacques Cartier, the lesser-known brother", click here


So Francesca, tell us more about the Cartier London operation in the 1920s: what was Jacques’ involvement in the design side?

An artist himself, Jacques enjoyed being involved in the creative process. He got along particularly well with the team of designers, who respected him for his love of their trade.

Vanity Cartier Paris for the London stock, 1924. Gold, enamel, turquoise cabochons. Inside, a compartment for cigarettes, one for matchstick with scraper, a tortoiseshell mirror, a tube of lipstick, two powder compartments. Signed Cartier Paris London New York, JC (for Jacques Cartier). Gold hallmark with the head of an eagle. English hallmark for 18 carat gold. Manufacturer's mark illegible. L.: 10 cm; l. : 4 cm; H.: 2.5 cm.
Courtesy of Olivier Bachet @Palais Royal Collection

In early 1921, he and his brothers set up English Art Works, the London workshop. Until then, Cartier London had relied on the Paris workshops that supplied 13 Rue de la Paix for its stock. The setup had worked well enough for a time, but as demand increased, it became apparent London should have its own team on the ground (as in New York). Félix Bertrand, a talented jeweler who had proved his skills setting up the American Art Works workshop under Pierre, was sent over to do the same in London. Under his leadership, and that of a fellow Frenchman, Georges Finsterwald, a team of skilled mounters, setters, and polishers were hired.

Of course, building a fine jewelry workshop didn’t happen overnight. The Cartiers sought to hire top master craftsmen, at considerable expense, and then relied on them to teach the young apprentices. The firm took on about five or six apprentices a year, mainly Englishmen (Jacques felt strongly it was his duty to offer opportunities to the English workforce), of which only one or two made it through the first year of a six-year traineeship.

The creations made under Jacques quickly found favour with the English aristocracy, both for their original designs and for the high quality of the craftsmanship. I love the example of a carved emerald necklace made for a maharaja: those emeralds were so fragile that the craftsman tasked with setting them was given 48 hours off work beforehand so he was entirely relaxed because any slight shake of his hand could cause the precious gems to crack!

Brooch modelled as an aeroplane, entirely pavé-set with circular and baguette-cut diamonds, circa 1920, 3.3cm wide, maker's case
Signed Cartier London. @Christie's London, Important jewels, 12 dec 2012.
Art Deco clip, jade, onyx, enamel and diamonds. Adorned in the center with two jade plates engraved with foliage on each side of geometric patterns set with old cut and punctuated diamonds built in onyx, around 1925, 7 cm, gross weight: 50.73 g, platinum setting (950). Signed Cartier London. @Christie's Paris, Fine Jewels, 6 June 2018.

There’s a fun account of Jacques as a boss by one of the apprentices: “Jacques was then what we called a gentleman. He was excitable, kind and lived for design. I learnt that everything grows from something that grew before, and the room contained a library of things that had gone before: Chinese carpets, Celtic bronze-work, Japanese sword hilts, arabesques...”. This is the basis of the family motto “Never Copy, Only Create”, which I discuss in the book (and in this Youtube video).

Essentially the idea was that anything and everything could and should be used for inspiration, except for existing jewelry. The brothers were avid readers of Owen Jones’ book, “The Grammar of Ornament” which had plates exploring the design principles behind the architecture, textiles, and decorative arts of contrasting cultural periods (for example, the Arabian, Turkish, Persian or Indian styles).

The grammar of ornament Author: Owen Jones (British, London 1809–1874 London) Illustrator: Francis Bedford (British, London 1816–1894 London) Publisher: Day & Son, Ltd. (London). 1856
The grammar of ornament, 1856. Indian N°6

To what extent do you think Cartier London had its own identity in Jacques’ time?

Certainly, by the late 1920s, Jacques had succeeded in creating a distinct identity for Cartier London, so much so that he decided to buy his two brothers out of the branch. But the three branches remained intertwined, as the three brothers continued to share everything from designs to clients to gems. And though Jacques was living in England and running a British company, he never lost that sense of duty to his native France, even becoming head of the Alliance Française in London.

Jacques was not particularly social by nature but he became well-networked within British high society, thanks in part to being a savvy marketeer. He would offer jewels as prizes for charity events or lend jewellery to socialites for big events, such as the Jewels of the Empire Ball at the Park Lane Hotel, the hot invite of the day. Most evenings after work, he and his wife Nelly would dine out in London with clients, visiting French dignitaries and friends.

Necklace worn by Countess of Granard. Cartier London, special order, 1932. Platinum, diamonds, emerald (143.23 carat cushion). Photo: Vincent Wulveryck, Cartier Collection © Cartier.

The 1920s were an exciting time for growth, with new money competing with old and Jacques’ acquaintances included a growing number of financiers, industrialists, and entrepreneurs, from Victor Sassoon to Captain Alfred Lowenstein (before his tragic – and mysterious – early death falling from his private plane). Clients of the London branch also covered the spectrum of English high society, from aristocrats and heiresses such as Lady Sackville (known to pop in to buy gifts for her daughter, the writer Vita Sackville-West, after their momentous rows) to a new generation of “bright young things”.

Satirized in Nancy Mitford’s and Evelyn Waugh’s novels, this fast-living wealthy bohemian group had expense accounts at Cartier and danced all night in diamonds. Their number included Nancy Cunard, Lady Abdy, Lois Stuart, the Guinness sisters, and even Daisy Fellowes whose famous Collier Hindou necklace was made in Paris but who – like many clients - shopped in all three Cartier branches: in London, she bought the 17.47ct Youssoupoff Tête de Bélier (ram's head) pink diamond which was said to have later inspired Elsa Schiaparelli's signature shocking pink.

Tell us more about Jacques’ wife, Nelly?

Nelly was great fun, a larger than life American heiress who was – on the surface – the opposite to Jacques. A Protestant who had been married before, she was living in Paris’ Avenue Henri Martin with her parents and young daughter when she met Jacques for the first time. It was pretty much love at first sight – or first meeting at least -  but Nelly’s father, John Harjes, a prominent banker and the partner of J.P. Morgan (in fact, John Harjes’ bust still sits proudly in the lobby of the Place Vendome J.P.Morgan bank today) did not approve of his daughter marrying a jeweller. So he set a condition: if Jacques really wanted to marry Nelly he must prove his love by staying away from her for an entire year. Jacques agreed without hesitation. 365 days later, he returned to ask for her hand in marriage. Mr Harjes agreed and Jacques promised there and then that he would never touch a cent of Nelly’s money.

The couple adored each other. In the 1920s and 1930s, Jacques went back to India regularly and Nelly would accompany him on the trips (she travelled with 18 suitcases so she took along her personal dresser as well!) They took their chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce all the way from London but it wasn’t always plain sailing: there were times when they had to cross streams on rafts or when the Rolls had to be dismantled to make it over rocky terrain - and then put back together again on the other side! Accommodation en route varied a large amount too: one minute they might be sleeping on the floor in a basic station house, the next luxuriating in the comfort of a maharaja’s palace.

Jacques and Nelly Cartier in an Indian palace. Image Courtesy of the author

Nelly was also a great adventurer in her own right, always up for new travel in exotic places. Jacques called her wanderlust the “Va Va” as she wasn't good at sitting still : she wanted to "go go" And when she returned from those explorations – she often travelled with her best friend, Madame Fournier - he loved hearing all about them: “raconte moi ton cinema” he would say, sitting by the fire in their sitting room as she filled him in on stories from the other side of the world. When she returned from Egypt, for example, she brought back small momentos. Jacques kept a bright blue scarab beetle made from fabric/feathers: remarkably similar to the ones Cartier would later create as jewels.

The sketch of the belt buckle is from the Stock Design Record Book, 1926, page 53, Cartier archive, Paris.1926. @Sotheby's Magnificent Jewels, 9 dec 2009, New York.
A rare Cartier jewel from a family collection inherited from Mrs John C. Wilson, née Princess Natalie Paley. Formerly in the collection of Mrs Cole Porter. Egyptian-Style Jeweled Scarab Belt Buckle, Cartier, Paris, 1926.@Sotheby's Magnificent Jewels, 9 dec 2009, New York.

Is this where the idea for Egyptian revival jewelry came from?

Well, Jacques had first visited Egypt in 1911 so they both knew the country, and there was something of an Egyptian craze in the early 1920s. When Egyptologist Howard Carter announced to the world in 1922 that he’d unearthed an opening to Tutankhamen’s tomb, and with it artistic treasures of a long-shuttered mysterious past, Egyptomania swept Paris, London, and New York.

After the deprivations of war, escapism was more welcome than ever, and ancient Egypt was suddenly all anyone could talk about. Fashion designers found inspiration in motifs like lotus patterns and the vibrant colors of Egyptian paintings. Women heaped on the black eyeliner and put their hair up to more closely resemble the glamorous beauties of the past. Bright cocktails with names like King Tut became the drinks du jour and Egyptian-themed parties were all the rage.

Jacques was similarly inspired. As photographs and articles made their way to the West, Jacques carefully cut them out of newspapers and folded them into his small black leather diary. Not many things made it into that diary, but Jacques felt that this momentous discovery had revealed works of art on “a plane of excellence probably higher than has been reached in any subsequent period of the world.”

Group of Egyptian-inspired jewels illustrated in a Cartier advertisement, in the Illustrated London News, 26th January 1924, showing “The Tutankhamen Influence in Modern Jewelry.” © Illustrated London News Ltd/Mary Evans

This led Cartier London to create some truly stunning Egyptian Revival style jewels. In January 1924, there was a full page spread in The Illustrated London News Cartier London’s Egyptian creations, announcing that “Women interested in Egyptology, who desire to be in the Tutankhamen fashion, can now wear real ancient gems in modern settings as personal ornaments.” These one-of-a-kind pieces incorporated genuine antique treasures, sourced by the Cartier brothers from European antiques shops and Eastern bazaars.

The challenge was keeping the purity of the ancient style while updating it for a modern audience. This wasn’t to be a whimsical attempt to follow the fashions of the day, it was deeply rooted in authenticity. For a deep blue bead from 900 B.C, Jacques chose to enhance its color with the smallest amount of diamond and onyx on its top and base, and to make it into a simple pendant. A figure in a bright blue crescent-shaped glazed faïence was brought into focus with a subtle border of diamonds and onyx, and three-thousand-year-old stone carvings were framed in black onyx. The focus was on a simple dressing up— nothing fanciful. It had to be true to the original style and stay classic. These were ancient artifacts that had survived thousands of years—they should not be turned into elaborate pieces that might soon go out of fashion.

Egyptian-Revival Faience and Jeweled Brooch, Cartier, London. This brooch, made in 1923, the year of the momentous discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, is one of only two similar designs, made by Cartier London. Designed as an Egyptian fan, or flabellum, centering an ancient green glazed faience bust of the goddess Sekhmet, depicted with a solar disc and a uraeus (cobra) upon her head, set against a lapis lazuli sky twinkling with diamond stars bordered by a black enamel aureole and repeating diamond-set stylized lotus motif, all surmounting a stylized lotus blossom; set in platinum and 18 karat gold with a total of 11 single-cut and 89 old European-cut diamonds; the back of the brooch fitted with an 18 karat gold crook, a symbol of state power in Egypt when held by the pharaohs in conjunction with a flail, placed as the connecting support element for the faience relic @ Sotheby's, Magnificent jewels New York, 11 December 2013

What about the Tutti Frutti jewels – how was Jacques involved with those?

An example of Jacques "Tutti Frutti" designs with a brooch laid on top. Courtesy of the author.

Jacques saw the world with an artist’s eye and India made a particularly strong impression on him: “Out there everything is flooded with the wonderful Indian sunlight.. one does not see as in the English light, he is only conscious that here is a blaze of red, and there of green or yellow”. After his trips, he would meet with his eldest brother Louis and the head designer in Paris, Charles Jacqueau, and they would discuss ideas for an Indian-style of jewellery. `

This would take many forms – from carved emerald pendant brooches (like the one bought by Marjorie Merriweather Post from Cartier London) – to the now iconic tutti frutti jewels where vivid rubies, emeralds and sapphires would be boldly combined together. The colored stones might be faceted, cabochon, or carved, and the motif was often based on nature but the most important characteristic of those gems – for Jacques – was their colour. They had to be bright, bold and striking. That was the secret behind the powerful effect of the tutti frutti jewels (along with the intricate designs and exquisite craftmanship).

And what I found particularly interesting in my research was that although those Indian-inspired jewels often reach record prices at auction today (it was fun to be involved on the online Sotheby’s sale of a Tutti Frutti bracelet last month that broke records when it sold for $1.3m!), in reality the carved gems that Cartier used back then were far less expensive than larger precious gemstones (partly because any flaws could be carved out). So actually, during the 1930s they became quite good “Depression-era jewels”. I show some more examples of that style in this Youtube video.

Do you have any favourite Indian-inspired pieces?

It’s hard to say – and I am guilty of changing my mind regularly! A wonderful example of a Cartier London "tutti frutti" piece that I saw again just before lockdown at the V&A Museum (where it sits on permanent display in the jewellery gallery for those who would like to see it too!) is the Mountbatten bandeau. It’s stunning – delicate and bold at the same time and a brilliant design made to either sit flatteringly on the forehead or be split into 2 bracelets. (3 jewels for the price of 1 really!).

The Mountbatten bandeau, now in the V&A Museum on permanent loan. An example of Cartier London Indian-inspired designs, with a 1920s "Tutti Frutti"  brooch laid on top.
Lady Mountbatten wears the Cartier bandeau in bracelets on her right wrist@ National Gallery of Australia (NGA).

In my research I dived into the background of those 1920s bandeaus and discovered that in 1928, Jacques wrote to his brother Pierre telling him about a London charity fashion show that he was working on with notorious society heiress Lady Cunard. “The idea”, Jacques explained,“[was] to show what women with short hair can wear, both now and when they start to grow their hair again.” The days of pre-war big hair up-dos and heavy tiaras were over and the Cartiers quickly adapted their offerings to include a vast array of head-dresses, bejewelled hair clips and diamond crescents and circles to decorate tightly shingled heads.

The colourful Mountbatten bandeau (as it later became known) was one of over 100 pieces that Cartier made for the fashion show but it was snapped up for £900 before it even made it to the runway. The buyer, Edwina Mountbatten (1901-1960), was a strong stylish and well-connected woman who knew what she wanted when she saw it. She would also, rather aptly given her choice of the Indian-inspired headdress, go on to become the last Vicereine of India.

Did Jacques have a favourite Indian client?

Well, over time, Jacques built a relationship with many of the Indian princes, from the Maharajas of Kapurthala, Patiala, Indore, Baroda to the Nizam of Hyderabad. They chose to give their large commissions to Cartier not only because they appreciated the quality of the firm’s craftsmanship, but also because they trusted Jacques, and were appreciative of the time he had spent in the country. Of all of them, he was especially close to the Maharaja of Nawanagar. Better known as Ranji (short for Ranjitsinji), the Jam Sahib had been educated in England and was a well- known cricketer.

Colonel HH Shri Sir Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji, Maharaja Jam Saheb of Nawanagar (1872-1933), ruled 1906-1933. Photographer: Lafayette Ltd., 160 New Bond Street, London. Image published in The Lafayette Studio and Princely India, Roli Books, New Delhi. Copyright V&A

After Jacques’ initial trip to India in 1911, the two men often saw each other and became good friends. Jacques and Nelly were frequent visitors at his Indian palace: Nelly wrote home to her children in excitement after her first trip there in 1926 for Christmas: “I hardly know how to begin to describe the luxury we live in. Indeed what with one Rolls at our disposal and the suite in this palace built for the Prince of Wales visit (which he never came to see and hurt most frightfully His Highness as you can imagine).” After a Christmas banquet -“table decorations wonderful but no crackers or mince pies could make it a real Christmas atmosphere” – they enjoyed a “very very thrilling” panther shoot. Not very politically correct these days but interesting given the iconic Cartier panther motif!

Ranji, like many of the Maharajas, also travelled to England regularly and he would meet Jacques in London to discuss jewellery commissions or invite him and Nelly – plus the kids - to spend holidays at his Ballynahinch estate in Ireland. My grandfather recalled spending blissful summers there as a young boy, roaming free with his siblings over the enormous estate, with his Ranji as their generous host.

An antique diamond, emerald and ruby necklace. Variously-shaped rose and table-cut diamonds, emerald beads, cabochon ruby, gold, 17 ins., mid to late 18th century. Provenance Maharaja of Nawanagar. @Christie's Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence. New York. 19 June 2019

At the root of the jeweller’s and the maharaja’s close friendship was a sense of sharing the same values. Jacques described Ranji as “a Prince really princely in his taste as well as by the qualities of his mind and heart”. But that was not all: they also shared a love of gemstones. The stylish Indian ruler would happily wait decades for the most perfectly deep- red ruby or vivid green emerald. It didn’t have to be huge and show-stopping; he was far more interested in the quality and innate beauty of the jewel. Like a true collector, he would admire his gems even when alone, holding them in his hands and studying them under different lights just for the pleasure of it. The two men tended to agree on most things, but interestingly disagreed on the perfect colour of rubies –Jacques felt it should be deep red but Ranji preferred more of a purple hue.

Superb and extremely rare ruby and diamond ring set with a cushion-shaped ruby weighing 25.59 carats, between shield-shaped diamonds weighing 2.47 and 2.70 carats, signed Cartier @Sotheby's, Magnificent jewels and Noble jewels, 12 Mai 2015, Genève.

Was there a favourite piece made for the Maharajah of Nawanagar?

The Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar became a very important client for Cartier, commissioning museum-worthy emerald necklaces and buying figurine mystery clocks. He had a truly incredible collection of stones. Jacques’ favourite commission of all was a diamond necklace. But not just any diamond necklace: this one took three years to make, as an increasing number of superb quality diamonds kept being added to the mix, so the design had to keep being adjusted to include them!

Had not our age witnessed an unprecedented succession of world-shaking events,” Jacques would later write, referring to the cumulative effect of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the Depression, “such gems could not have been bought at any price; at no other period in history could such a necklace have come into existence.”

Drawing of the ceremonial necklace for the Maharaja of Nawanagar, 1931. Courtesy of Cartier

In the end, the necklace included the Queen of Holland – a blue-white 136.25 carat diamond- as well as fancy blue and pink diamonds and an olive-green brilliant diamond of 12.86 carats—“A rare stone, indeed!” Jacques had exclaimed when he saw it. When the necklace was completed, the overall effect was extraordinary, a unique cascade of colored diamonds.

My grandfather told me how his father had been a very modest man who rarely talked about himself but this was one piece he admitted being truly proud of creating: he called it “a really superb realization of a connoisseur’s dream.”

The Maharaja of Nawanagar, holding the necklace.

Sadly, after all the work that had gone into it, Ranji did not have much time to enjoy the necklace and Jacques did not see his friend wear it again. Just two years later, Ranji would die from heart failure. His nephew and successor, Maharaja Digvijaysinhji of Nawanagar, would follow in his uncle’s footsteps, becoming an excellent client in his own right and often asking Jacques to remount old family heirlooms in the Cartier style such as the tiger’s eye diamond sarpech in 1937.

The Tiger eye turban ornament. Brooch: H. 12.7 cm; W. 6 cm; Weight of the Tiger Eye diamond: 61.50 ct © The Al Thani Collection. Photograph taken by Laziz Hamani. Published in Beyond Extravagance, a royal collection of gems and jewels. Edited by Amin Jaffer. Second edition. Assouline.

This interview will be continued next week, when Francesca will be discussing Jacques’ role in Cartier London in the 1930s.

Francesca Cartier Brickell’s book, “The Cartiers” is now available via Amazon or English language bookstores.

You can also follow her journey via Instagram (@creatingcartier) or on Youtube (@francescacartierbrickell).


A 1924 Scarab brooch with fragments of Egyptian faience. CARTIER, BROOCH, 1924Faience, diamond (round old-cut), emerald, smoky quartz, and enamel. Vincent Wulveryck, Cartier collection. © Cartier. This brooch was presented at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Past is Present: Revival Jewery. Exhibition from February 14, 2017 through August 19, 2018 @Museum of Fine arts, Boston

"He lived for design": Jacques Cartier, the lesser-known brother

At the very heart of the Cartier saga: the extraordinary life of Jacques Cartier recovered and told by his great-granddaughter - Part I

Pour lire cet article en français, veuillez cliquer sur ce lien

The history of Cartier in the first half of the 20thcentury is largely the story of the three Cartier brothers. Up until now, one of them has remained in the shadows: the youngest, Jacques. His elder brothers (Louis and Pierre) have been more widely discussed: Louis, who ran Paris, is often celebrated for his creative contribution to the jewellery world. He popularised the use of platinum as a mount in large diamond jewels and was the genius behind iconic pieces like the Tank watch. In America, there have been exhibitions and catalogues about Pierre and the Cartier New York business he founded. But Jacques has not been as widely discussed because there was less publicity known about him.  

More recently, that changed when the discovery of a trunk of long-lost family letters prompted Jacques’ great-grand-daughter to delve into the untold story. Francesca Cartier Brickell has spent the last decade researching and writing about four generations of her family for a new book, “The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family behind the Jewelry Empire”.

I spoke to her last week to find out more about the life of this remarkable man. I am honored that Francesca Cartier Brickell has reserved for Property of a Lady this first exclusive interview in the French media !

The author, Francesca Cartier Brickell
The author, Francesca Cartier Brickell. Photo Credit: Sam Irons
“The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family behind the Jewellery Empire”, published by Ballantine (Penguin Random House)
The author’s grandfather, Jean-Jacques Cartier, whose personal recollections, which appear throughout the book, were referred to by The New York Times as “the beating heart of The Cartiers.” Image courtesy of the author

Francesca, tell us about Jacques: what he was like and what was his role in the firm?

My great-grandfather Jacques was the youngest of the three Cartier brothers – born in 1884, he was almost ten years younger than Louis and still at school when his elder brother joined their father Alfred in the family business. Growing up, Jacques didn’t actually see himself as a jeweller: he was a gentle, artistic soul who felt a calling to become a Catholic priest. His family, however, had other ideas -  his brothers told him his duty was with their fraternal trinity rather than a life spent in worship of the Holy Trinity! And so in 1906, at 21 years old, after completing his education and military service, he joined the family firm. First up was an apprenticeship in Paris where he worked in all the departments but discovered a particular passion for design and gemstones.

Gold, platinum, onyx, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, Cartier Paris for the stock of Cartier London, circa 1913. Courtesy of Olivier Bachet. @Palais Royal Collection

In terms of his contribution to the firm, Jacques was something of an all-rounder. As I explain in this Youtube video, whereas Louis was focused on the creative side (hiring designers and insisting the firm create unique pieces in the ‘Cartier Style’) and Pierre threw himself into the business side (opening branches in London and New York, traveling to Russia to meet suppliers and open an early a ‘pop-up’ shop for the Christmas season in St Petersburg), Jacques became a connoisseur of gemstones, a respected designer and a salesman who inspired great loyalty among his clients. In fact it was one of these loyal clients who wrote his obituary when he passed away: I discovered it in an old yellowing Times newspaper kept safely in the family trunk of letters all these years and I think it’s worth sharing here as it really sums him up - Lady Oxford, wife of the former Prime Minister Asquith, wrote “Jewellers are not always great artists, but this was not the case with M. Jacques Cartier. He was rarer than a great artist, or designer in precious stones: he was a wonderful friend. Completely unself-seeking, courteous to strangers, gay, kind and the best of ambassadors between the France which he loved and the England which he admired.” I was very moved to discover that because while I had grown up hearing how wonderful Jacques had been as a father, this showed the high regard in which he was held by those outside the family as well.

Louis Cartier (1875-1942), who ran Cartier Paris. Image courtesy of the author
Pierre Cartier (1878-1964) who ran Cartier New York. Image courtesy of the author
Jacques Cartier (1884-1941), who ran Cartier London. Image courtesy of the author

As I explore in my book, “The Cartiers”, the strength of Cartier in the early 20thcentury was down to all three brothers: their magic mix of complementary talents, their unbreakable bond and their shared ambition to build “the leading jewellery firm in the world.” They also had something that their grandfather (who had founded the family business in 1847) and their father Alfred had lacked: scale. There were three of them (‘three bodies, one mind’ as a contemporary of them once said), and with three they could divide and conquer. Taking a map of the world, my grandfather told me how they literally split it between them with a pencil: Louis took Europe, including the firm’s Parisian headquarters; Pierre took the Americas (he would go on to open the Fifth Avenue branch in New York) and Jacques took responsibility for clients in Britain (he would run the London branch) and the British colonies, most significantly India.

Jacques visiting gem dealers in India at Kanjimull Jewelers, Old Delhi, with the jeweler, Mr. Kanjimull, seated second from right, front row. Image courtesy of the author

Tell us about the trips Jacques made to India, especially the first one – how did they come about?

Well, India was considered the jewel in the British Crown. Home to the Maharajas, some of the best jewellery clients on the planet, it was also the gem trading capital of the world. Jacques went on many business trips there over the years – both to buy and to sell jewels – but those trips weren’t just work for him, he came to truly love the country and its people (you can see more of Jacques’ trips to India in a behind-the-scenes video I made on Youtube).

India and its temples were sources of inspiration for the Cartier brothers as seen in this brooch. Image courtesy of the author

Reading Jacques’ Indian diaries, I found it fascinating to realise how those trips had inspired many of Cartier’s creations in the 1920s and 30s. Wherever he went – from Indore, to Calcutta, to Hyderabad, to Delhi to Mumbai - he sketched and wrote about things that interested him along the way. He might note how the shape of a temple could be transformed into a brooch or how a simple lace acorn pattern he had spied in a crowded Indian bazaar had given him the idea for a diamond necklace. He had a great respect and admiration for the country and its culture – when he visits a temple, he writes: The carving of the stone … show a superior art. The ten centuries that preceded our era are one of the most wonderful periods in the history of the world. India’s share in the intellectual discoveries of these times was paramount”.

Brooch "tutti frutti", Cartier London 1929. Signed Cartier.
Platinum, diamonds, engraved sapphire vase, engraved rubies and emeralds. Courtesy of Olivier Bachet. @Palais Royal Collection

Jacques was 27 years old when he first visited India in 1911.  Still unmarried, he had been working at the family firm for five years but he had lived a relatively sheltered life, only venturing overseas from Paris to London to head up the Cartier shop there. This was a far more adventurous mission: 3 weeks on a boat from Marseilles to Bombay, via Egypt, the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aden. They left in the Autumn of 1911 in order to reach Delhi for the much-anticipated Delhi Durbar taking place that December. All the Indian princes would be present in Delhi to pay their respects to the new King George V and Queen Mary – and jewels would be centre stage. The Cartiers’ plan was that if Jacques was also there, he could meet multiple potential clients all in one place and hopefully also pick up the odd invitation to then visit them in their palaces.

But just to step back a moment, reading through the letters between the brothers, I discovered that surprisingly (to me at least) the main reason for Jacques taking that initial long boat trip East was not just to visit India but actually to investigate the pearl trade in the Arabian Gulf. At this stage, before the explosion of cultured pearls onto the market, natural pearls were extremely rare and valuable (to give an idea of the value: in 1917 Cartier exchanged a pearl necklace for its Fifth Avenue headquarters). No surprise then that pearls formed the lion’s share of Cartier’s income or that Cartier was keen to try and buy the pearls at source in order to ‘brand’ itself as a ‘Supplier of Pearls’ (a heading they proudly used on their invoices).

Natural pearls of Bahrain @Bahrain Institute for Pearls and Gemstones (DANAT)

Given that many of the most sought-after and expensive white pearls were fished in the Persian Gulf, Louis sent his younger brother there on a mission that Jacques explains in a December 1911 letter: “My dear Louis, if I have understood correctly, the most important mission bestowed on me during this trip to the East was to investigate the pearl market and to report back on the most effective way for us to purchase pearls.”

Historically, the most beautiful natural pearls in the world come from the Persian Gulf, and in particular from the island of Bahrain. Courtesy of Olivier Segura
Drilling of fine pearls. Courtesy of Olivier Segura
From Left to Right - Yusuf bin Ahmed Kanoo, Salman Mattar, Jacques Cartier, Mugbil Al-Tbukair and a pearl expert. Image courtesy of Mattar Jewelers

The Cartiers felt that if they could meet the Persian Gulf pearl sheikhs on their own ground and begin to forge professional relationships with them, then they might be able to cut out some of the middlemen involved in the pearl trade. Most significant among Cartier’s competitors when it came to pearls were the Parisian-based Rosenthal brothers who were unique in having gained the pearl sheikhs’ loyalty and trust - and therefore had the monopoly on the pearl trade in the West, much to Louis’ intense frustration!  So, on this first trip out to the East, Jacques’ traveling companion was the top Cartier pearl expert, Maurice Richard, because he needed a specialist with him who truly understood how to value pearls. After visiting the Delhi Durbar and meeting with clients in India, the pair of them - along with a translator they’d hired in Bombay - took the boat to Bahrain in March 1912. The adventure that awaited them is fascinating – meeting the pearl divers, trading with the sheikhs and the shock of eating meals sitting on the floor without cutlery! - but that’s a story for another time..

Jacques Cartier and Maurice Richard dining with dignitaries, Bahrain 1912.India. Image courtesy of the author

So visiting India wasn’t actually the main aim of that first trip?

I would say that, initially, it was more a by-product of that primary mission, but it became much more than that – and by the 1920s and 30s certainly, the Cartier Indian connection became absolutely fundamental to the wider business. That first trip to the Durbar though didn’t go as smoothly as planned. Much like a traveling salesman, Jacques had taken with him suitcases of jewels to tempt the Maharajas: delicate, garland-style necklaces, brooches and head ornaments. However, he soon discovered that in India it wasn’t the women who were buying the jewellery, it was the men. And they were not buying for their wives or their lovers, like they were in Europe. They were buying for themselves. So after going to all that effort of taking such valuable jewels out there – insuring them, declaring them on arrival in Indian  Customs, carrying them around the country with him and so on- to his dismay, Jacques found that the most orders he received were actually for the simple pocket watches that were all the rage in Paris at the time. Although the maharajas had some of the most splendid, exotic, envy-inducing gems on the planet, they were also – so Jacques discovered –simply keen to keep up with the fashions of the West.

Jacques Cartier at the Delhi Durbar. Image courtesy of the author
A very fine platinum and sapphire-set ultra slim keyless lever dress watch
Signed Cartier, Paris, circa 1910. @Christie's

So did the Durbar turn out to be a disappointment?

Well, the Durbar itself was a bit lackluster when it came to sales, but it did enable Jacques to meet many of the ruling princes in their majestic tents across the Durbar encampments, including the Maharaja of Nawanagar who became a great friend. And from those initial meetings, he received invitations to visit them in their palaces across the country: sometimes he stayed in opulent palaces but at other times he was simply a traveling salesman sleeping on rough matting on the floor in basic station houses. As he travelled through the country, Jacques wrote extensive travel diaries, some of which I have based my travels on as I wanted to revisit many of the places for myself.

Laxmi Vilas Palace, Baroda visited by Jacques Cartier in 1911. Courtesy of Royal Gaekwad Collection, Baroda.

In Baroda, for example, Jacques talked about meeting the Gaekwad and Maharani in 1911 and described how he was asked to come up with designs for the resetting of the crown jewels. He spent days furiously sketching in the palace before the local court jewellers grew jealous at his presence and made him leave without securing the commission! The Maharani, however, managed to quietly give him some of her jewels to remodel. For me, it was wonderful to visit Laxmi Vilas Palace a century later and share some of Jacques’ sketches with the current Maharani Radhikaraje. When I showed her this pencil sketch from Jacques’ diary for example, she was immediately able to identify it as the diamond aigrette pictured below. That was exciting – one of those moments when past and present collide.

Jacques' quick pencil sketch of a diamond aigrette in the palace of Baroda, 1911.
Photograph of the jewel. Images courtesy of the author and the Royal Gaekwad Collection, Baroda.

But Jacques was not just in India to sell jewels. As the family gemstone expert, he was always on the lookout for gems to buy as well and when he travelled, he would take his pouch of trusty “killer stones.” These were the most perfect examples of precious stones that he owned: a Burmese ruby, a Kashmir sapphire, a Colombian emerald, and a Golconda diamond. He would use them as comparison stones when buying from dealers in shaded crowded markets or from gemstone mine owners next to the sapphire pits under the bright sun or from royalty in palaces  - it meant he was assured of a perfect comparison stone whatever the light was like at the time. And as he never knew when the opportunity would arise on his travels to buy gems, those killer stones were a simple way of making sure he was always prepared. When he visited the palace of Patiala in 1911, for example, the Maharaja wanted to buy a special Cartier pearl but instead of paying for it with cash he proposed exchanging it with some of his own jewels so Jacques found himself unexpectedly valuing gems instead of simply selling them.

In time, thanks to Jacques’ buying expertise and his loyal links with the gem dealers and palaces, Cartier became renowned as the jeweller with the best coloured gemstones in the world.

An emerald and diamond pendant/brooch combination, created by Cartier in 1927 featuring extraordinary cabochon emeralds from Colombia. @ Sotheby's

Tell us about WWI – did Jacques fight?

Yes – he felt a strong sense of duty to his country: my grandfather explained to me that for his father it had been “Country, Family, Firm” in that order. When WWI broke out, Jacques was actually ill with tuberculosis and sent to a sanatorium in Switzerland - but instead of being relieved to be avoiding the fighting, he just wanted to receive the best treatment as fast as possible so he could rejoin his regiment and fight alongside his fellow countrymen. His brothers took safer jobs (Pierre as a chauffeur to a general, and Louis in several office posts) and they urged Jacques to do the same. He had the perfect excuse, they told him, it would be easy to have a doctor sign him off as unfit for service at the Front given his weak lungs. But Jacques refused: he saw no reason why he should be treated any differently from his fellow soldiers. After recovering from tuberculosis, he joined his cavalry regiment at the Front, only to be gassed and sent to another hospital – this time in Lucon - for several weeks. Once he had recovered for the second time, he re-joined his regiment at the front again – much to his brothers’ exasperation - leading them into battle. For services to his country, he received the Croix de Guerre but his lungs never really recovered from the gassing and in later years, he would describe himself as living a ‘half-life’ lacking energy and struggling for breath.

After the War, the world was a very different place. Years of fighting had taken their toll on Europe and the balance of wealth – and with it Cartier’s key clients - shifted across the Atlantic. Jacques went to help Pierre with the Fifth Avenue branch (they felt they needed two family members out there to really grow the business and meet demand) before moving to England a few years later. Together with his wife Nelly and their four children, he settled in Milton Heath, a large country house in Dorking, Surrey. Every morning, as his son took the horse and trap to school, Jacques would travel the thirty miles in his chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce up to Cartier London in Mayfair. He had moved the London headquarters to 175 New Bond Street in 1909 (previously it had been a much smaller showroom below the Worth shop around the corner on New Burlington Street) and it was an impressive building. Outside, a doorman stood to attention in front of the royal warrants on the pillars, while inside walls were draped in rose-pink moire, candelabras hung from the ceiling and mirrors reflected discreet touches of gilt. It was,  according to a designer who worked there in the 1920s:  a “near replica of Cartier in Paris, but perhaps even more upstage than the establishment in the rue de la Paix - having an added barrier of English reserve. Anyone would think twice before entering.”


This interview continues with "Cartier London : The roaring 20s"

Francesca Cartier Brickell’s book, “The Cartiers” is now available via Amazon or English language bookstores.

You can also follow her journey via Instagram (@creatingcartier) or on Youtube (@francescacartierbrickell).


Flower basket brooch, multicolored sapphire flowers, topaz vase, platinum and diamonds signed Cartier London, circa 1930. Courtesy of Olivier Bachet @Palais Royal Collection



Francesca Cartier Brickell, Photo Credit: Jonathan James Wilson


Les objets d'exception de Cartier : l'oeil d'Olivier Bachet. Entretien avec Marie-Laure Cassius-Duranton

« Un objet Cartier est reconnaissable au premier regard. C’est une signature qui affirme un certain style » Olivier Bachet

Vient de paraître un ouvrage exceptionnel en deux volumes consacré aux Objets d'exception de la Maison Cartier. Cette publication indépendante due à Olivier Bachet et Alain Cartier rassemble et présente plus de mille objets réalisés par la maison Cartier entre 1875 et 1965, pour la plupart inédits et provenant de différentes collections. Ils sont réunis dans un luxueux coffret reproduisant le décor émaillé d’un étui à cigarettes réalisé en 1930 par l’atelier Renault pour Cartier (vol. 2, p. 437).

Cet ouvrage est le fruit d’un travail de recherche de grande ampleur qui s’impose d’emblée comme une référence majeure dans la documentation écrite sur la maison. Le parcours est dense et relate sous plusieurs angles l'histoire des objets d'art Cartier. Le premier volume traite surtout des questions de style et des sources d’inspiration. Le second met en avant l’importance des ateliers de fabrication, des fournisseurs, des dessinateurs et analyse les processus de création et les inventions techniques mises en œuvre par la maison.

A l'occasion de cette publication, Marie-Laure Cassius-Duranton,  historienne d'art, gemmologue, professeur au Laboratoire Français de Gemmologie ainsi qu'à l'Ecole des Arts Joailliers, a longuement interviewé Olivier Bachet.


Suzanne Belperron, histoire d'une consécration. Entretien avec Olivier Baroin.

To read this article in English click here : The renaissance of Suzanne Belperron. An interview with Olivier Baroin.

« Suzanne Belperron est la créatrice de bijoux la plus talentueuse et la plus influente du XXe siècle » : c’est en ces termes que David Bennett, aujourd’hui Président mondial de la division joaillerie internationale chez Sotheby’s, ouvrait la vente-évènement du 14 mai 2012 à Genève qui présentait « la collection personnelle de l’un des plus grands joailliers du XXème siècle : Suzanne Belperron (1900‐1983) ».

Cette vente comportait soixante lots, qui tous ont été vendus - et pour la plupart à des prix exceptionnels, en moyenne trois fois plus que leur estimation.


BIJOUX DE LA COLLECTION PERSONNELLE DE SUZANNE BELPERRON. Sotheby's. Lot 59. Broche montée sur or gris et platine à décor d'enroulements, en cristal de roche et diamant, Suzanne Belperron, 1932 - 1955. Poinçon Groëne et Darde. Estimation 45 000 - 72 000 CHF (37 537 - 60 060 EUR). Prix de vente : 302 500 CHF (252 335 EUR). Une pièce au design emblématique, innovant et avant-gardiste, que la créatrice aimait à porter. Le prix de vente a quadruplé l'estimation haute.


BIJOUX DE LA COLLECTION PERSONNELLE DE SUZANNE BELPERRON/ Sotheby's. Lot 60. Bague en cristal de roche et diamant, circa 1935. Cette bague est ornée d’un diamant taille marquise (ou navette) d’environ 12 carats (sans poinçon). taille 45 1⁄2 Estimée entre 45,000 et 72,000 CHF, elle a été vendue 464,500 CHF (506,000$), soit plus de 6 fois son estimation haute. Ce fut la pièce la plus chère de la vente. Acquise par la prestigieuse maison Siegelson, cette pièce fut ensuite présentée à l’automne 2012 lors de la Biennale des Antiquaires à Paris au prix de 921.500 $. Le parcours de cette bague atteste la reconnaissance de sa valeur esthétique et de son caractère emblématique de l’art de Belperron.

Le 5 décembre dernier, lors de la vente Magnificent Jewels de Christie’s à New York, un bracelet « tube » en platine et or gris 18 carats orné de diamants taille ancienne s’est envolé pour 852 500 $, alors qu’il était estimé entre 200 000 et 300 000$. Ce bijou exceptionnel fut créé en 1935, ainsi qu'en témoigne un document contresigné de la main de la créatrice provenant des archives personnelles de Suzanne Belperron conservées par Olivier Baroin. La cote des créations de Suzanne Belperron la place aujourd’hui au rang des plus grands noms de la joaillerie - Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron, Chaumet ... et les collectionneurs de ses œuvres font monter les enchères à des prix records.

Vogue français, février 1948. Il s'agit d'une des premières annonces publiées après la création de la société Jean Herz - Suzanne Belperron dans les années d'après-guerre.
Un document précieux, issu des archives personnelles de la créatrice, sur lequel Suzanne Belperron a noté la date de création de ce bijou, 1935, et qu'elle a contresigné de ses initiales. Archives Olivier Baroin.

Cette consécration est le fruit d’un long parcours.

Reconnue, admirée et très sollicitée de son vivant, Suzanne Belperron est brièvement tombée dans l’oubli après sa mort. Son nom a ressurgi quelques années plus tard lors de deux ventes majeures :

  • celle de la collection de bijoux de la Duchesse de Windsor, chez Sotheby’s à Genève les 2 et 3 avril 1987, dans laquelle figuraient seize pièces Belperron.
La duchesse de Windsor portant son collier de deux rangs de boules de calcédoine bleues reliées par deux feuilles en calcédoine, saphirs cabochons et diamants. Par la suite la duchesse fera transformer ce collier en remplaçant les deux feuilles par un fermoir (transformable en broche) en forme de fleur dont le coeur est orné de saphirs cabochons et de diamants. Deux bracelets en calcédoine bleue complétaient cette parure. Photo archive Olivier Baroin.
Dessin original du projet de la parure en calcédoine la duchesse de Windsor. Archives Olivier Baroin.
Lors de la vente de Sotheby's en avril 1987, le collier, lot 104, fut adjugé 183,000 $. La paire de manchette, lot 103, s'envola pour 146,000$. Dix-sept ans plus tard, le collier et la paire de bracelets furent présentés à nouveau dans la vente Christie's "Magnificent Jewels & Jewels of Style, Personal Collection" qui eut lieu à New York le 12 October 2004. Les prix de vente furent alors inférieurs à ceux de 1987; le collier réalisa 119,500$ et les bracelets 117,110 $. Cet ensemble est apparu une troisième fois lors de la vente Sotheby's du 9 décembre 2015 durant laquelle la créatrice avait retrouvé une cote élevée. Le collier, lot 459, fut adjugé 430,000$ et la paire de bracelets, lot 458, 526,000$. Il est amusant de constater que la paire de manchette fut lors de cette dernière vente estimée, et vendue, plus chère que le collier. Probablement est-ce en raison de l'évolution du goût et des modes de l'époque. Les provenances indiquent pour propriétaires successifs lors de ces trois ventes : la duchesse de Windsor, Fred Leighton et Lee Siegelson. Aujourd'hui le collier est dans une collection privée. Photos Sotheby's 2015.
La duchesse de Windsor porte son clip Fleur en calcédoine, saphirs et diamants. Photo Cecil Beaton Studio 1937. Sotheby's. Livre Oliver Baroin page 278.
  • Puis, dans la très belle vente de Pierre Bergé & Associés du 17 mai 2004 à Genève qui présentait soixante-deux lots sous le titre « Créations de Suzanne Belperron ».
"Créations Suzanne Belperron". PB&A, Genève, 17 mai 2004. Lot 226. Clip de revers éventail en agate bleue sculptée en gradins bordés de saphirs calibrés. Au centre un cabochon de saphir en sertissure (égrisure). Monture en or et platine. Poinçon de Groëne & Darde.
"Créations Suzanne Belperron" . PB&A. Lot 279. Bracelet manchette portant un grand clip en forme d'ammonite amovible entièrement pavé de diamants brillantés et baguette. Tour de bras à deux corps à mouvement tournant. Poinçon de Groëne & Darde.

Mais c’est véritablement en décembre 2007, avec la découverte des archives personnelles de la créatrice par Olivier Baroin, puis avec la publication de son livre Suzanne Belperron co-écrit avec Sylvie Raulet et paru en août 2011, que le travail de la créatrice a retrouvé ses lettres de noblesse. Depuis quelques années, les maisons de vente aux enchères s’enorgueillissent de présenter des pièces Belperron ; car toutes soulignent le style unique, l’âme d’artiste, de cette grande dame de la joaillerie du XXème siècle.

Si la vie de Suzanne Belperron fut passionnante, sa postérité l’est tout autant. De la rocambolesque découverte de ses archives personnelles que l’on croyait brûlées, aux fortes tensions dans la réattribution de ses œuvres, des différends transatlantiques dans la succession de son héritage artistique, à sa cote qui enflamme les enchères, le nom de Suzanne Belperron n’est pas près d’être oublié une seconde fois.

Nous avons interviewé Olivier Baroin, expert de l’œuvre de Suzanne Belperron afin qu’il nous explique comment cette artiste célèbre en son temps puis oubliée est devenue une référence dans les salles de vente.

Trésors royaux de la collection Al Thani à Fontainebleau : entretiens avec Jean-François Hebert et Vincent Droguet

Les Rois du Monde à la cour de France

Venir au Château de Fontainebleau, gravir l'escalier en Fer-à-Cheval, pénétrer dans la salle de Bal, se fondre dans le décor Renaissance, s'imprégner de l'élégante scénographie de François-Joseph Graf... découvrir une soixantaine d'oeuvres d'art qui chacune reflètent l'imagerie du roi ou de la fonction royale à travers les civilisations, et ce depuis la plus Haute-Antiquité : voilà ce que nous propose le château de Fontainebleau en cette fin d'été.

Quelle émotion!

L'exposition "Rois du monde " présente une collection privée, celle de SA le Cheikh Al Thani, rassemblée avec goût, originalité, sans frontière de temps ni d'espace, et avec des moyens inimaginables. Certaines oeuvres paraissent familières, peut-être aperçues dans des musées nationaux ou des collections publiques européennes. La plupart sont étonnantes, surprenantes, dépaysantes, un véritable trésor de l'humanité présenté sous forme de cabinet de curiosité et qui aurait certainement passionné les rois qui ont vécu à Fontainebleau.

Tous ces chefs-d'oeuvre ne sont pas des pièces joaillières, mais tous sont précieux. Ce feu d’artifice royal s’achève avec une "vitrine" des joyaux.

Jean-François Hebert, Président du château de Fontainebleau, nous a accordé un entretien pour évoquer cette exposition éphémère mais aussi ce qui fait l’âme de Fontainebleau.

Vincent Droguet, commissaire de l'exposition, a accepté de nous présenter la philosophie qui a guidé son travail pour "Rois du monde".


L'audacieux pari de Gem Genève : interview de Ronny et Nadège Totah

Ronny Totah et Thomas Faerber comptent parmi les sommités du microcosme international des négociants en pierres précieuses et bijoux anciens. Ils sont les co-fondateurs et les co-organisateurs du salon Gem Genève dont la première édition s’est déroulée du 10 au 13 Mai 2018 à Genève.

Secondés tous deux par leurs filles, Nadège Totah et Ida Faerber, ils ont créé un Salon international de gemmes et de bijoux - anciens et plus contemporains - d’un esprit nouveau. Leur intention était de concilier l'excellence avec l’attention et le respect d’autrui, les gemmes et les bijoux avec un devoir de transparence et d’éthique, mais aussi de valoriser les exposants les uns par rapport aux autres.

Annoncé à grand renfort de médias, soutenu par Christie’s et Sotheby’s qui présentaient de façon concomitante les « viewing » de leurs « Magnificent Jewels », Gem Genève a-t-il été à la hauteur des espérances de ses organisateurs, de ses exposants, des visiteurs?

A l’heure où la première édition de ce Salon s’achève, c'est le moment des premières conclusions.

Rencontre avec Ronny Totah et son bras droit, sa fille Nadège Totah

Crédit photo : David Fraga

Quelles sont vos premières impressions à l'issue de Gem Genève ?

Ronny Totah : Je m’étais intimement dit à moi-même que je jugerais de la réussite du Salon le soir de sa fermeture, dimanche 13 mai, en sondant le degré de contentement des exposants. Dans les faits, les exposants sont venus me remercier une demi-heure après l’ouverture du Salon. Des marchands heureux, c’est une première ! Les visiteurs ont eux aussi l’air contents. Je pense qu’avec Thomas et Ida (Faerber), nous avons réussi à donner une âme à Gem Genève. Pour moi, c’est cela la réussite.

Nadège Totah : J’ajouterais que la qualité des exposants qui nous ont suivis dans ce projet est également le signe de ce succès.

Ce Salon s’inscrit-il d’emblée dans la lignée des grandes foires internationales ou bien est-il différent ?

Nadège Totah : Cela fait dix ans que je voyage dans tous les salons et foires internationales de gemmes et de joaillerie :  Miami, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Singapour et Bâle jusqu’à l’année passée. Je crois qu’avec Gem Genève nous avons réussi quelque chose d’inédit. Les gens s’y sentent bien, ils sont détendus. Les exposants ne sont pas confrontés aux mille et un problèmes matériels habituels. Nous-mêmes, en tant que marchands, nous avons bien souvent ressenti une profonde insatisfaction lors des salons auxquels nous participions. Un sentiment de solitude, d’incompréhension. L’impression d’être dans des Salons de professionnels mais qui n’étaient pas conçus pour nous, ni adaptés à nos besoins. C’est la raison pour laquelle, après quarante années de vie professionnelle dans l’univers de la joaillerie et des gemmes et forts de ce constat empirique, mon père et Thomas Faerber ont décidé de créer leur propre Salon.

Crédit photo : David Fraga

Ronny Totah : Marchands depuis plusieurs décennies, Thomas et moi connaissions précisément les besoins des négociants, diamantaires, experts, bijoutiers qui participent tout au long de l’année à ces épuisantes manifestations internationales. Alors, nous nous sommes improvisés organisateurs !

Et je crois que nous avons trouvé ce juste équilibre que nous recherchions comme marchands. Cette harmonie repose sur de nombreux détails aussi bien techniques (lumières, caméra de sécurité, prises multiples, aéroport, gare et hôtellerie à proximité) que sur des attentions (bouteilles d’eau déposées tous les matins sur les stands, petits déjeuners offerts aux exposants…). Les exposants ont été placés de façon à ce que le visiteur se promène le plus possible dans le salon. Gem Genève est organisé en quinconce, en labyrinthe et l’année prochaine il est prévu que tous les exposants changent de place. Ce n’est pas le premier arrivé qui a le meilleur emplacement, l’idée n’est pas celle-là.

Nadège Totah : Notre gestion des stands s'est davantage inspirée du plan de table d'un mariage que d'un business individualiste !

Ainsi, les différents métiers du secteur joaillier n’étaient pas regroupés, ni les experts les plus célèbres mis ensemble. Nous avons tenté de répartir le plus possible les différents et nombreux acteurs de ce Salon : négociants en pierres précieuses, diamants ou perles, experts en joaillerie ancienne, bijoutiers, fabricants.

A rebours des autres manifestations, nous avons offert le cœur du Salon à la nouvelle génération. HEAD, la Haute Ecole d’art et de design de Genève, une dizaine de designers internationaux et quatre nouveaux talents occupaient l’espace central de Gem Genève.

Ronny Totah : Sans oublier les cinq Laboratoires de gemmologie (GIA, Gübelin, SSEF, AGL, GGTL), les conférences, et l’incontournable librairie d’art de Bernard Letu. Ce genevois de renom avait pour l’occasion rassemblé une sélection extrêmement pointue de livres de joaillerie et de gemmologie.

Un mot sur la stratégie de Gem Genève de se tenir à cheval sur les Magnificent Jewels ?

Ronny et Nadège Totah : Dès les premiers préparatifs du Salon à l’automne dernier, nous nous sommes concertés avec Christie’s et Sotheby’s. Je dirais que c’est un rapport « gagnant-gagnant ». De nombreux marchands qui ne se déplaçaient plus tellement à Genève reviennent; et les clients des ventes eux viennent visiter le salon.

En effet, l’on retrouvait bien souvent de grands joailliers internationaux (dont la star des joailliers venue du pays de Golconde), aussi bien chez les marchands de pierres de Gem Genève, que dans les salons du Four Season’s ou du Mandarin Oriental où exposaient Christie’s et Sotheby’s… Gem Genève connaîtra donc un second volet ?

Nadège Totah : Les dates sont déjà fixées, du 9 au 12 Mai 2019. Pour cette première édition, nous espérions 80 exposants et nous sommes 147!

Nous ne sommes allés chercher personne. C’est uniquement grâce au respect inspiré par mon père et Thomas Faerber, à la confiance et aux amitiés de longue date qu’ils ont nouées dans le milieu que les exposants ont suivi. On connaissait 90 % d’entre eux…

Pour l’année prochaine nous avons déjà une liste d’attente. On ne veut cependant pas trop agrandir Gem Genève, même si matériellement on le pourrait car il reste de l’espace libre. Nous tenons à conserver cette idée de salon à échelle humaine, cet équilibre qui contribue à la réussite de cet événement.

... rendez-vous donc l'année prochaine : et gageons que le Salon lancé par les Totah et les Faerber fera école, tant il correspond aux aspirations du monde de la joaillerie qui a massivement souscrit à cette formule audacieuse

Place de la Fusterie 9-11
1204 Genève

29, rue du Rhône
1204 Genève

Route François-Peyrot 30,
1218 Le Grand-Saconnex

Ronny Totah : quelques trésors historiques de ma collection

Ronny Totah, co-fondateur de GemGenève, nous a confié ses coups de coeur joailliers et artistiques.

Des gemmes

J’ai deux passions dévorantes connues de tous  : les saphirs du Cachemire (non traités) à la couleur incomparable (bleu-bleuet). Et les perles fines.

Crédit photo : David Fraga

Dans les deux cas, ces passions s'enracinent dans le passé… Découverts en 1881, les gisements de Zaskar (à deux cents kilomètres au sud-est de Srinagar) produisant les fameux saphirs du Cachemire sont fermés depuis la fin des années soixante-dix.

Quant aux perles fines, elles sont devenues rarissimes. Le coût et les difficultés inhérentes à la pêche aux perles fines, ainsi que la pollution des mers rendent ces gemmes organiques très difficiles à trouver de nos jours. Les perles que je présente, en rang ou individuelles, sont pour la plupart des perles anciennes. Voire historiques.

Un bijou de provenance impériale

Crédit photo : David Fraga

Cette broche caractéristique de la moitié du XIXème siècle est composée de trois perles fines semi-baroques en forme de goutte d’un poids respectif de 39, 40 et 60 grains, de plusieurs rubis dont un birman de 1,8 ct, et de diamants (Rapport d’identification SSEF). C’est un bijou de provenance historique qui aurait appartenu à l’Impératrice Eugénie (1826-1920).

Lors de la chute du Second Empire, suite à la défaite de Sedan en septembre 1870, l'impératrice a pu s'échapper des Tuileries et s’est réfugiée en Angleterre où de proches amis lui ont fait parvenir clandestinement ses bijoux personnels. Afin d’améliorer les conditions matérielles de l’exil familial, Eugénie décide de mettre en vente certains bijoux de sa cassette personnelle dès janvier 1872. Elle remet alors les bijoux dont elle est prête à se séparer à M. Harry Emanuel (1831-1898), un joaillier renommé de Londres.

Il avait été honoré du titre d’« orfèvre de la Reine et du Prince de Galles » et était l’auteur d’un ouvrage de référence intitulé Diamonds and Precious Stones, 1865.

Crédit photo : Alembic rare books

Un article du New York Times en date du 21 janvier 1872 fournit quelques informations (page 6) sur cette première vente : “The jewels of the Empress Eugenie are for sale. Mr. Harry Emanuel has many of them at his establishment in New Bond-street, and is now offering them to his customers”. Vous pouvez consultez intégralement cet article instructif en cliquant ici.

La broche exposée ici dans l‘intimité d’une vitrine interne (stand Horovitz & Totah) proviendrait de cette première vente des bijoux personnels d’Eugénie par Harry Emanuel. L’écrin est d’ailleurs signé du joaillier londonien. Cette broche est caractéristique du goût personnel d’Eugénie pour les bijoux délicats, romantiques, avec ses perles et diamants qui ruissellent en gouttes. Les bijoux privés de l’Impératrice diffèrent de ceux qu’elle portait lors de représentations officielles. L’Impératrice devait alors apparaître parée des attributs du pouvoir impérial : les Diamants de la couronne de France, dont la facture était bien plus imposante que celle de ses bijoux personnels.

Six mois après la vente d’Harry Emanuel, l’Impératrice déchue se défait d’autres bijoux de sa cassette personnelle. La nouvelle vente est orchestrée par Christie, Manson & Wood le 24 juin 1872 à Londres. Elle est présentée en ces termes :  “A portion of the magnificent jewels, the property of a distinguished personage” et comprend cent-vingt-trois lots.

La vente la plus spectaculaire des joyaux d’Eugénie reste bien entendu celle de mai 1887, lorsque la IIIème République mit en vente publique les Diamant de la Couronne de France. Les plus belles parures d’Eugénie, chefs-d’œuvres de la joaillerie française du XIXème, furent alors dépecées pour la plupart et irrémédiablement dispersées.

La broche d’Eugénie fut ensuite portée par Madame Ernest Raphael. Cette dernière est représentée en 1905 sur un magnifique portrait de John Singer Sargent (1856-1925).  

Portrait of Mrs. Ernest G. Raphael (Flora Cecilia Sassoon) par John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). 1905.. Peinture à l'huile. 163.8 par 114.3 cm. Collection privée

Maître de l’art du portrait à cette époque, John Singer Sargent donne une valeur de document à ce tableau par la précision du décor et des accessoires qu’il dépeint. Notamment la broche. Madame Ernest Raphael, Flora Cecilia Sassoon de son nom de jeune fille, aurait reçu ce bijou de son père, David Reuben Sassoon, qui était un ami du roi Edouard VII. La broche est restée dans la famille jusqu’en 1983.

Ce tableau fut présenté chez Sotheby's le 22 mai 2002 lors de la vente "American paintings". Vous pouvez zoomer sur le bijou -entre autres- en cliquant sur ce lien. Ce portrait figure également dans le catalogue raisonné Sargent Abroad, Figures and Landscapes écrit par Warren Adelson, Donna Janis, Elaine Kilmurray, Richard Ormond, Elizabeth Oustinoff.

Un tableau

J’ai récemment acquis ce portrait de Miss Peggy Hopkins Joyce peint par Raymond Perry Rodgers Neilson (1881-1964). Ce tableau appartenait à mon ami Fred Leighton, le célèbre joaillier new-yorkais décédé en juillet dernier. Il figurait dans la vente de Sotheby's intitulée "The Jeweler’s Eye: The Personal Collection of Fred Leighton".

Peggy Hopkins Joyce (1893-1957) était une starlette des Années folles. Elle dansait au Ziegfeld Follies, et sa vie personnelle défraya la chronique plus d’une fois. Elle connut six mariages et autant de divorces. Peggy collectionnait les amants, les fourrures et les diamants. Avant Marilyn Monroe, elle aurait pu chanter « Diamonds are a girl's best friends » !

Sur le portrait, de R. Perry Rodgers Neilson  elle porte un diamant de 127,01 carats appelé le « Portuguese diamond ». Le nom de ce diamant provient du fait qu’il aurait été extrait au Brésil. Par la suite, il aurait appartenu à la Couronne du Portugal. En réalité, ce diamant provient fort probablement de la mine Premier à Kimberley en Afrique du Sud et aurait été trouvé au début du XXème siècle.

C’est d’ailleurs auprès de la société Joyce Black, Starr & Frost que Peggy Hopkins acquis en février 1928 le « Portuguese diamond ». Elle porte cet incroyable diamant monté sur un tour de cou en platine et serti de diamants. On remarque également ses bracelets et la monture de son solitaire tout aussi caractéristiques des bijoux Art Déco de cette époque.

En 1951, Harry Winston racheta  le « Portuguese diamond » de Peggy Hopkins Joyce. Et, en 1963, l’échangea au Smithsonian contre… 3 800 carats de petits diamants ! Ce diamant se trouve toujours exposé dans la galerie Gem du Musée national d'histoire naturelle de Washington.


Crédit photo du visuel de "une" : David Fraga

Patrick Dubuc : l'art lapidaire retrouvé

La beauté exceptionnelle des bijoux et des pierres légués par l’Histoire repose largement sur un art de la taille dont bien des secrets se sont aujourd’hui perdus. C’est ce qui rend l’art de Patrick Dubuc aussi rare : par passion, se formant lui-même, utilisant ses connaissances mathématiques et un œil affûté, il a su retrouver les arcanes de l’art lapidaire employé pour tailler quelques pièces emblématiques. Il a ainsi pu démontrer sa virtuosité avec les répliques des « Vingt plus beaux diamants du Roi-Soleil » présentées récemment à l’Ecole des Arts Joailliers et bientôt au Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle. Rencontre avec ce lapidaire au parcours inattendu.


Comment êtes-vous devenu maître-lapidaire ?


J’ai commencé en 2010 seulement, c’est donc très récent pour moi. J’ai commencé grâce à un voyage en famille aux Etats-Unis, dans le Montana. Nous avions cherché des petits saphirs sur un site géologique autorisé. Parmi les saphirs que nous avions trouvés, un était plus gros que les autres. J’ai pensé que cela serait plaisant de le tailler et c’est ainsi que l’aventure a commencé ! J’ai acheté une machine avant même d’avoir commencé à prendre des cours. J’ai cherché quelqu’un susceptible de m’enseigner à Québec et, comme je n’ai trouvé personne, j’ai appris à l’aide de tutoriels sur internet et par moi-même.


Un investissement de départ important pour une passion naissante !


J’ai été chanceux, j’ai trouvé une machine pas trop dispendieuse, mais il fallait que je la répare. Cela m’a obligé à comprendre comment elle fonctionnait, et à faire tous les ajustements possibles pour l’améliorer, la calibrer. Ces réparations m’ont permis de me familiariser pleinement avec les techniques de taille des pierres.


Quel métier faisiez-vous à ce moment ?


Le même qu’aujourd’hui :  depuis une vingtaine d’année je suis enseignant en physique au niveau collégial – ce qui est équivalent à la terminale ou au début d’université en France (mes élèves ont 17-18 ans). Aujourd’hui la taille des gemmes prend de plus en plus de place dans ma vie ; je passe plusieurs heures par semaine à l’atelier, je m’installe avec ma petite musique !

Les mathématiques sont consubstantielles à mon métier de lapidaire. On peut faire de la taille de façon classique, sans avoir besoin alors des calculs mathématiques : on suit une recette, des séquences et on peut faire de très belles pierres.

Mais pour faire des répliques de gemmes historiques, c’est-à-dire de tailles qui ne sont pas symétriques alors là j’ai besoin nécessairement de l’univers des calculs mathématiques. Je n’ai pas le choix !


Réplique n° 5 de la planche. crédit photo Patrick Dubuc


Des prix sont venus très rapidement récompenser votre travail...


Je me suis inscrit au concours annuel international de « The United States Faceters Guild (USFG) » dès 2013 afin que mon travail soit évalué par des professionnels. La précision est le mot-clef de ce concours. La réussite à ce concours repose sur la précision au niveau de la taille, du polissage et des dimensions de la gemme. Un modèle unique est imposé à tous les participants d’une même classe. On taille la pierre dans notre atelier, à notre rythme, puis on l’envoie par la poste. Le concours est basé sur la confiance, comme le veut la tradition diamantaire. Et dans l’ensemble, ce sont principalement des amateurs éclairés, des passionnés qui y participent.

J’ai été classé second au pré-master de l’USFG en 2013. En 2014 je ne voulais pas de la deuxième place, alors j’ai travaillé fort et suis arrivé 1er  au Master, et en 2015 nous étions 1er ex-aequo au Grand Master.

Gagnant de la 2e place PRE-MASTER USFG 2013
--> Ash-er Rond symétrie de 8 en step cut

Gagnant de la 1e place MASTER USFG 2014
--> Heart of nine

Gagnant de la 1e place GRAND MASTER USFG 2015
--> Tumbuka Fulu, sky blue topaz

J’avais fait une petite erreur et ça a baissé ma note à 99, 6352 %. Il y a des années où des tailleurs arrivent à 100% ; participer à ce concours relève d’une quête de la perfection en somme.


Racontez-nous votre rencontre avec le Professeur François Farges.


Je me suis intéressé rapidement au Diamant Bleu de la Couronne de France, chef d’œuvre lapidaire par excellence.

En cherchant des informations et des modèles, je suis tombé sur les travaux de François Farges.

J’ai osé lui écrire. J’avais alors déjà fait des recherches de symétrie et de modèles qui l’ont intéressé et il m’a répondu. Depuis, nous sommes restés en contact.

François Farges m’a envoyé le scan informatique du moulage en plomb du Diamant Bleu, celui-là même qu’il avait retrouvé dans les réserves du MNHN en 2007. Après avoir travaillé sur la modélisation du Diamant Bleu, je me suis intéressé au Tavernier bleu (c'est-à-dire le Diamant Bleu de 115,4 carats tel que Jean-Baptiste Tavernier l’avait rapporté à Louis XIV en 1668. Ce diamant avait alors une taille lasque d’époque Moghole. Par la suite, en 1672 et 1673 il fut retaillé sous la supervision du joaillier ordinaire du roi Jean Pittan en une pierre de 69 carats qu’on appelle aujourd’hui le Diamant Bleu du Roi-Soleil). Pendant plus d’un an je me suis attelé à faire un modèle en trois dimensions de cette pierre.


Tavernier, 1676. Crédit


Le modèle existant alors du Tavernier bleu n’était pas satisfaisant, ni en poids ni en dimension. En informatique, on peut insérer une pierre dans une autre, j’ai donc mis le Diamant Bleu dans le Tavernier bleu et cela ne fonctionnait pas. Jusqu’à ce que je trouve un modèle fidèle au dessin d’Abraham Bosse et qui puisse être logique en termes de masse, de poids et de dimension.

Après le Tavernier bleu, François Farges a voulu que nous passions aux dix-sept autres plus beaux diamants de Louis XIV rapportés d’Inde par Jean-Baptiste Tavernier : l'idée était là, le projet était lancé !

Planche d’Abraham Bosse (vers 1604-1676), vers 1670. Représentation de vingt des plus beaux diamants choisis entre tous ceux que Jean-Baptiste Tavernier a vendu au roi à son dernier retour des indes, qui a été le 6 décembre 1668. Estampe reprise dans Les Six Voyages de Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, Paris, 1676. Crédit

De façon informatique, j’ai commencé à faire chacun des modèles de la planche. Certains étaient relativement faciles et rapides à réaliser. Ils étaient aussi un peu moins intéressants, ainsi des pierres taillées du bas de la planche. D’autres étaient bien plus complexes, la troisième pierre (en haut à droite de la planche) était un véritable défi


Plan de Patrick Dubuc pour la taille de la pierre n°3 : sont inscrits sur chacune des facettes index et angles


J’échangeais par courriel avec le Professeur qui me faisait des retours quant à la plausibilité de la taille de ces diamants anciens moghols. Il faut noter que je n’ai pas accès à des diamants anciens ici !

Puis la grande nouvelle a été au printemps 2015 d’avoir trouvé un mécène : l’Ecole des Arts Joailliers qui permettait la création matérielle de ces reconstitutions.

Entre juin 2015 et Décembre 2016, nous avons fait deux séries de ces Vingt plus beaux diamants de Louis XIV : une pour le MNHN, l’autre pour l’Ecole des Arts Joailliers. J’ai ainsi reconstitué les dix-sept diamants taillés et le professeur Farges a reconstitué les trois diamants du bas de la planche, c’est-à-dire les diamants bruts.


Disparus au XIXe siècle, à l’exception du diamant bleu, ces vingt gemmes exceptionnelles ont été reconstituées grâce au travail de collaboration entre Patrick Dubuc, maître lapidaire, François Farges, professeur de minéralogie au Muséum national d’histoire naturelle et L’École des Arts Joailliers, avec le soutien de VC&A


Les vingt répliques restituées entre 2015 et 2017 et présentées dans l'esprit de l'estampe du XVIIème siècle. Photo François Farges © VC&A

Quel a été le principal défi dans la reconstitution de ces diamants historiques 


Réplique n°8. Photo Patrick Dubuc

Il y avait un important défi technique puisqu’il fallait faire des pierres asymétriques. J’ai développé une méthode mathématique pour arriver à faire les non-arrondis, ces ajustements manuels que je dois faire pour arriver à suivre les lignes courbes des gemmes. Je me suis fabriqué des petites réglettes en plastique qui me permettent de pouvoir mesurer les longueurs des arêtes. J’ai ainsi une précision et une construction logique de la pierre.

Ma machine avec pièce à main ressemble à celles utilisées pour tailler le diamant.

La grande difficulté dans mon travail de reconstitution de gemmes historiques, c’est d’arriver à reproduire quelque chose qui existe déjà. Si j’avais à construire une pierre nouvelle, j’aurais besoin de calculer, mais je ferai beaucoup d’ajustements à l’œil. J’aurais un modèle préétabli informatiquement ou en dessin, puis je dessinerais des lignes sur la pierre.

Pour ce qui est du Diamant Bleu, si j’avais été lapidaire à l’époque, je me serais sûrement fait des plans du Tavernier bleu (le cristal naturel du diamant sous sa taille moghole, principalement poli). J’aurais fait des essais avant de tailler ce diamant. J’aurais fait un moulage de la pierre, puis lors des premiers essais, j’aurais pris des notes sur les angles. J’aurais fait une première taille sur du plomb ou sur quartz. C’est une supposition d’artiste, de lapidaire qu’aucune donnée scientifique ne prouve aujourd’hui.

Mais cela me paraît logique, même à travers les siècles, de faire un moulage, de tailler ce moulage, avant de travailler le vrai diamant.

L’avantage après avoir relevé un tel défi, c’est que maintenant je peux dessiner ce que je veux ! Il n’y a plus de limitation dans les contours, dans les formes, dans les jeux de facettes d’une gemme à tailler.


Quels sont les qualités requises pour être lapidaire ?


photo Patrick Dubuc

Il faut une bonne dose de passion ! Quand je fais une pierre cela demande énormément de rigueur et de patience pour suivre étape par étape chacune des facettes.


Par où commencez-vous la taille ?


Pour les reproductions des diamants du Roi-Soleil, c’était différent pour chaque pierre. J’ai dû trouver une nouvelle stratégie à chacune d’elles.

Dans l’ensemble, je commence par le feuilletis et je monte vers la table ou la couronne.


La Smithsonian Institution était-elle aussi de cette aventure scientifique?


La trilogie (NB : Trois noms pour un même diamant : le Tavernier bleu tel qu’il fut rapporté par J-B Tavernier, le Diamant Bleu de Louis XIV et le Hope d’un poids de 45,52 carats tel qu’on peut le voir aujourd’hui à la Smithsonian après sa troisième retaille) était un projet de la Smithsonian Institution et nous avons entendu parler du processus de coloration développé par John Hatleberg, un lapidaire de New York. L’objectif de M. Hatleberg et de M. Jeffrey Post était de faire une trilogie ayant la couleur la plus fidèle possible aux pierres de l’époque. Pour ce faire, John Hatleberg a comparé les répliques taillées et colorées avec le diamant Hope à Washington, avec la permission de Jeffrey Post.


A gauche Patrick Dubuc, au centre Jeffrey Post et à droite le Professeur Farges


Plusieurs essais et erreurs furent nécessaires avant d’obtenir la bonne recette de coloration. Ayant un souci de rigueur et de perfection, nous avons collaboré pour produire de superbes Tavernier Bleu joliment colorés.


Ne pouviez-vous pas tailler directement une pierre colorée ?


Dans le travail de reconstitution des diamants du Roi-Soleil, j’ai remodelé chaque pierre sur un bloc incolore d’oxyde de zirconium (ou zircone cubique CZ). On ne trouve pas de bonne tonalité de « bleu » en oxyde de zirconium, c’est John Hatleberg qui s’est chargé de réaliser une coloration de surface sur la pierre taillée. C’est le meilleur procédé trouvé à ce jour. Il requiert une très grande minutie : une demi seconde de trop et la couche atomique s’épaissit changeant la coloration de la pierre !


D’autres projets dont vous pourriez nous dire un mot  ?


Je me lance sur le plus grand diamant vert naturel jamais trouvé à ce jour : le Vert de Dresde, d'un poids de 40,70 carats, pour un client au Qatar. Il s’agit d’un très grand collectionneur de pierres historiques, qui m’a commandé cette année de nombreuses pierres. La problématique provient cette fois-ci de la couleur. Je vais devoir faire concession d’un vert-jaune plus que vert-diamant !


Le diamant Vert de Dresde dans sa monture. Photo : Collections nationales de Dresde .


Je travaille aussi pour ce même client sur la réplique du Stuart, un magnifique saphir cabochon facetté de 104 carats qui appartient au Diamants de la Couronne d’Angleterre et se trouve sur le bandeau arrière de la couronne impériale d’apparat de la Reine Elizabeth II.

Il y a encore beaucoup à faire, les tailles anciennes sont magnifiques, elles m’inspirent beaucoup.


Réplique du Diamant Akbar Shah par Patrick Dubuc


Les lapidaires de l’époque avaient un souci d’esthétisme, un souci de beauté. En effectuant la taille de ces pierres anciennes, je tente de m’imprégner de cet esprit où les rondeurs et les courbes donnent un charme inégalé aux pierres. J’espère tailler dans l’avenir de jolis saphirs, rubis, grenats, etc. en lien avec ce que je viens d’expliquer.


Que vous souhaiter en ce début d’année ?


J’ai définitivement trouvé ma voie. Avec les gemmes, j’ai un contrôle total sur ce que je fais, une très grande liberté, et c’est une joie intense.

Tant qu’à faire quelque chose, pourquoi ne pas le faire le mieux possible au lieu de le faire rapidement ?

Ma philosophie est de prendre le temps afin de pouvoir être fier lorsque j’ai le résultat final entre les mains.




Patrick Dubuc

J.-B. Tavernier, Les Six Voyages de Jean-Baptiste Tavernier qu’il a fait en Turquie, en Perse et aux Indes, Paris, 1676, 2 vol.

F. Farges, P. Dubuc & M. Vallanet-Delhom, « Restitution des « vingt plus beaux diamants » de Tavernier vendus à Louis XIV in Revue de l’Association Française de Gemmologie, n° 200 et n°201

5è rue Cuvier. 75005 Paris.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW
20560 Washington


Visuel de "une" : L'Oeil de l'Idole. Photo Patrick Dubuc

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Coulisses de l'exposition Van Cleef & Arpels à Singapour avec François Farges

« The Art and Science of Gems »

Conversation entre la Haute Joaillerie et la Minéralogie.

Par Sarah Boidart.

Le 23 avril 2016, une exposition inédite a ouvert ses portes à l’ArtScience Museum de Singapour. Elle est née d’un partenariat entre la maison de joaillerie française Van Cleef & Arpels et le Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle. Les neuf salles du musée présentent plus de 400 bijoux de la Maison avec plus de 200 minéraux provenant des réserves du Muséum situées à Paris.

Van Cleef & Arperls The Art and Science of Gems Van Cleef & Arpels Photography by Edward Hendricks
Van Cleef & Arpels, The Art and Science of Gems © Van Cleef & Arpels, Photography by Edward Hendricks.

La scénographie, signée par l’agence Jouin Manku, est double : les joyaux sont déclinés suivant six thèmes : Couture, Abstractions, Influences, Objets Précieux, Nature, Icônes : fées et ballerines. Quant à la minéralogie, elle est déclinée autour de huit thèmes majeurs de la gemmologie : la formation de la Terre et sept mécanismes majeurs de formation des minéraux : la pression, la température, le transport, l’eau, l’oxygène, la vie et l’enfouissement.

Les nombreux outils pédagogiques (films, activités interactives, application audio) mis à disposition des visiteurs permettent une immersion au cœur des joyaux et de la gemmologie. L’éducation se fait également grâce à la salle présentant la collection de gemmes de René-Just Haüy (1743-1822) qui est le fondateur de la gemmologie moderne au Muséum dès 1817 au sein du plus ancien laboratoire de gemmologie au monde. Chaque visiteur peut y admirer topaze, émeraudes et aigue-marine entre autres merveilles.

DSC_8606 aigue-marine Br+®sil Orthose Madagascar rubellite Californie
Aigue-marine du Brésil, Orthose de Madagascar et rubellite de Californie. © MNHN/F. Farges
Misc fancy diamonds (31 carats) Cullinan and Kimberley, South Africa Gifts of R.L. Bischoffsheim, 1889 and L. Taub, 1890 MNHN Collection, Paris © MNHN/F. Farges

Professeur au Museum et auteur du synopsis de la partie minéralogie de cette exposition, François Farges a la gentillesse de partager avec nous les coulisses de cette exposition extraordinaire. 

Sarah Boidart. :  Comment est venue l'idée d'une telle collaboration entre VC&A et le MNHN ? 

François Farges : C'est plus particulièrement l'Ecole Van Cleef & Arpels qui m'a contacté en 2014 dans le but de donner une conférence à deux appelée "Conversation". Le thème choisi fut alors l'une de mes grandes découvertes, l'histoire retrouvée du grand diamant bleu de Louis XIV et sa renaissance virtuelle grâce à diverses méthodes de la physique (optique, scanner) ainsi qu'une étude des archives inédites du XVII ème siècle. Cette combinaison d'histoire de l'art et de science constitue une thématique qui correspond aux buts didactiques de l'Ecole tout en valorisant les collections du Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle. D'ailleurs, je suis ravi que mon Président, Bruno David, ait de suite validé une convention cadre entre le Muséum et l’Ecole.

S.B. : Pourquoi avoir choisi Singapour ?  


François Farges : A Singapour, il existe une structure muséale étonnante : l'ArtScience Museum. Aussi intriguant que cela puisse paraître, ce musée fondé il y a une dizaine d'années est le premier au monde à offrir un programme combinant art et science. Alors qu'en Europe, ces deux domaines sont le plus souvent maintenus séparés voire immiscibles ... La gloire médiatique va le plus souvent aux musées d'art qui restent les structures muséales les plus valorisées en France : qui sait que le Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle est le musée le plus visité de France avec 8 à 9 millions de visiteurs par an, à quasi égalité avec le Louvre ?

S.B. : Quel a été votre rôle dans l'élaboration et la préparation de l'exposition ?

DSC_8759 emerald and pyrite on calcite Chivor Colombia
Emeraude et pyrite sur calcite, Chivor, Colombie. © MNHN/F. Farges

François Farges : Je me suis occupé de la partie minéralogie, c'est à dire un tiers des pièces présentées dans l'exposition. Le complément étant constitué par la collection patrimoniale de Van Cleef & Arpels, agrémentée de quelques pièces prêtées par des collectionneurs privés.

Sur sa demande, j’ai présenté en juin 2016, à Marie Vallanet-Delhom, présidente de l'Ecole Van Cleef & Arpels, un synopsis qui retrace l'évolution de la Terre depuis sa formation il y a 4,6 milliards d'années et comment les gemmes s'y sont formées. J'ai ensuite choisi les minéraux en réponse aux joyaux qui avaient été sélectionnés pour la partie minéralogie. Après une dizaine d'années au Muséum et ayant été conservateur des collections de 2007 à 2011, je connais les pièces fabuleuses qui sont conservées dans les réserves. Certains choix de minéraux ont été évidents. Par exemple, lorsque j’ai vu ce collier d'émeraudes dit "Muguet mystérieux" ou bien le collier d'or et diamant dit "Eucalyptus" : curieusement, nous avions une sorte de "pièce sœur" dans nos collections. Cet appariement - le temps de cette rétrospective - est basé sur ma sensibilité esthétique et mes goûts artistiques. Je crois que l'exposition respire, qu'elle a un souffle et qu'elle n'est pas une créature froide née d'un synopsis mécanique et d'une scénographie faussement scientifique. Il ne faut pas mettre la logique partout : il doit y avoir des zones de ressenti propre…

DSC_0249 colliers Baroda et XX
Colliers émeraudes et diamants. @Van Cleef & Arpels

S.B. : Quelles sont à vos yeux les pièces les plus remarquables de l'exposition ?

François Farges : Déjà, il y a les magnifiques pièces patrimoniales de la collection de Van Cleef & Arpels, pièces au passé historique, qui témoignent d'un savoir-faire exceptionnel et ayant appartenu à des personnalités qui ont marqué ce monde. Patiemment rachetées depuis des années, dont certaines exposées pour la première fois au sein de cette rétrospective comme le clip art déco de la cantatrice polonaise Ganna Walska orné d’une briolette fancy vivid yellow de 96 carats

Bird clip and pendant, 1971-1972. Gold, emeralds, sapphire, yellow and white diamonds and a 96.62-carat briolette-cut yellow diamond formerly owned by the famous Polish opera singer Ganna Walska Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Patrick Gries © Van Cleef & Arpels

ou l'inouï collier de diamants de la reine Nazli d'Egypte.

Collier de la Reine dEgypte @MNHN/F.Farges

Ensuite, il y a des pièces du Muséum : minéraux sur gangue, cristaux isolés, gemmes taillées, polies et sculptées pour illustrer le cycle géodynamique de la Terre qui a produit ces pierres d'exception mais aussi un hommage aux lapidaires anciens, le plus souvent oubliés. J'ai un faible pour l'émeraude de France, trouvées dans les environs de Nantes dans les années 1930 et que j'ai redécouverte il y a une année dans nos tiroirs. Il y a aussi un coussin en cristal de roche des collections royales (XVIIIème siècle), montrant une virtuosité du facettage dit "à la française" typique de la période baroque qui était passé inaperçu car il faut connaitre le travail des pierres pour l’apprécier. Et que dire de ces fragments mésopotamiens de lapis-lazuli afghans qu’un lapidaire local avait caché et qu’il ne retrouva plus ?

DSC_9263 quartz cushion, French cut, Parisiab Art, mid 18th century
Quartz taille coussin. @MNHN/François Farges

S.B. : Quel est votre coup de cœur et pourquoi ?

François Farges : J’ai assez milité, je crois, pour avoir en vitrine ce beau clip de péridots en forme d’arbre avec une balançoire en diamants. Je la trouve d’une poésie infinie. Pour la complémenter, je l’ai associée avec quatre péridots taillés de la collection de René-Just Haüy, fondateur de la gemmologie moderne avec son traité de 1817, dont une pierre de 25 carats, taille ancienne, des plus vibrantes. Et je fus heureux d’y rajouter une superbe forstérite gemme incolore et facettée de presque 10 carats que j’avais alors acheté à Tucson en 2009. Comme la vitrine parle de péridots, cette forstérite incolore est donc un péridot fancy !

DSC_9130b facetted green peridot (20 ct) from Egypt (18th century) and colorless forsterite (10 ct) from Tajikistan (21st century)
Facetted green peridot (20 ct) from Egypt (18th century) and colorless forsterite (10 ct) from Tajikistan (21st century) © F. Farges/MNHN

Par ailleurs, j’ai pu retrouver dans nos collections quelques pièces assez exceptionnelles qu’on avait un peu oubliées depuis : un diamant noir de 330 carats du Brésil, extrait dans les années 1820. Sachant que les archives du Muséum disent bien que ce dernier avait « cassé sa tirelire » pour l’acquérir !

Que dire aussi de la perle fine que tout le monde avait oubliée et dont j’ai retrouvé l’histoire. C’était la grande perle de Guillaume V d’Orange-Nassau, ce prince que les troupes révolutionnaires françaises avaient détrôné en 1794. Reconnaissant, le peuple hollandais offrit la perle à la France qui l’enferma derechef dans un tiroir du Muséum ! Elle n’attendait qu’une sorte de baiser magique pour renaître… Quelques archives retrouvées et le sortilège était levé ! Je crois que l’on pourrait écrire un livre sur tout cela… Ce sont de grands moments dans la vie d’un chercheur qui ne se contente pas de recopier ce qui a été déjà écrit, plus ou moins rigoureusement. Je tiens à remercier mes professeurs en histoire de l’art qui ont su me transmettre, il y a peu, le virus de la bonne recherche dans cette matière peu ouverte aux minéralogistes.

S.B. : Qu'est-ce qui a été le plus difficile pour réaliser cette exposition ? (partenariat, choix des pierres, scénographie, transport ….) 

François Farges : De loin, le climat à Singapour pendant le montage ! Heureusement le musée est climatisé. Dans l'ensemble, il fut extraordinaire de travailler avec les équipes des architectes de l'exposition.

Le choix des échantillons fut - parfois - cornélien. La logistique de la Maison fut extraordinaire, surtout pour nous, fonctionnaires, peu habitués à travailler dans des conditions aussi exceptionnelles. Nous avions les angoisses habituelles : cristaux endommagés par le transport, le soclage ou autres manipulations imprévues. Mais heureusement, tout se passa bien de ces points de vue. Mention spéciale pour les soclages conçus par la société Aïnu qui nous a formidablement bien aidés.

Amethyst gem crystals Las Vigas, Veracruz, Mexico Gift of the Total Foundation, 1998 MNHN Collection, Paris © MNHN/F. Farges

S.B. : Quel est le public principal de cette exposition ? Avez-vous des chiffres sur la fréquentation ?

François Farges : A ce jour, après seulement 4 mois d'exploitation, il y a déjà 50 000 visiteurs. Ce qui est, pour Singapour, un extraordinaire retentissement car les singapouriens ne sont pas habitués à aller au musée. Ce challenge était de taille. Il semble réussi d'autant que la fréquentation augmente de jour en jour. C'est une deuxième caractéristique du public singapourien que d'aller au musée en fonction du « bouche à oreille », à l'opposé de ce qui se passe en Europe ou la ferveur des visiteurs des premiers jours s'érode doucement ensuite. Ce public est donc essentiellement jeune et familial : jeunes « cadres dynamiques en costume de banquier Oxford ». Lui tout autant "stressé" qu'elle, de style « working girl Harvard », se donnant quelques heures de décontraction dans leur vie pour enseigner d'autres valeurs à leurs enfants-rois très exigeants depuis leur sortie du berceau et qu’il faut ébahir à tout prix.

Tourmaline de Californie. @MNHN/F.Farges

S.B. : Quel est votre plus beau souvenir lors de cette exposition ? 

François Farges : Quand j'ai vu les enfants jouer aux diverses animations prévues sur place, en relation avec les gemmes et les minéraux. Aussi simples soient elles (des pliages, des jeux de volume, etc), je ne résiste jamais à voir - peut être - de futures vocations naître. Mais aussi de voir pour la première fois et en vrai ces superbes vitrines, mi-orgues basaltiques semi-transparents, mi-cristaux géants de béryl qu’ont conçu Patrick Jouin et Sanjit Manku.

@MNHN/François Farges

S.B. : Est-ce que l'exposition voyagera et viendra-t-elle à Paris?

François Farges : Grande question ! Bruno David l'a dit, la chose est à l'étude. Ce serait mon plus grand souhait et j'espère même que la version parisienne aura une touche "géologique" encore plus affirmée qu’à Singapour. Et d'ici là, Van Cleef & Arpels aura assurément acquis de nouvelles pièces historiques majeures qui permettront de trouver de nouvelles idées de thématiques « joaillerie » à explorer qui « conversent » avec la minéralogie. Soyons clair : il y a déjà eu des dizaines d’exposition de joaillerie dans lesquelles les minéraux sont cantonnés au rôle d’accessoires, forcés de transcender les joyaux. Je ne veux pas de cela mais bien d’une conversation enrichissante, montrant la grande richesse de la créativité des ateliers de la Terre qui, en contrepoint de ceux de la Place Vendôme, inspire ses créateurs.

Peony clip, 1937 Platinum, gold, Mystery Set rubies, diamonds In the former collection of Her Royal Highness Princess Faiza of Egypt Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Patrick Gries © Van Cleef & Arpels

S.B. : Pensez-vous que d’autres expositions mêleront science et joaillerie ?

Ruby single crystal on marble Luc Yên, Yen Bai, Vietnam Gift of the Total Foundation, 1998 MNHN Collection, Paris © MNHN/F. Farges

François Farges : Je pense qu'en effet, le MNHN est une structure qui permet de valoriser un patrimoine - qu'il soit de haute joaillerie mais pas seulement - d'une manière plus riche qu'une simple exposition patrimoniale mono-thématique comme nous en voyons tellement en ce moment. Je crois que ces temps sont révolus. Le public veut du contenu, une information bien au delà des stars qui ont porté ces joyaux; quelque chose de nouveau, de frais, de moins suranné, de plus créatif. Et quoi de plus vrai, de plus authentique, de plus complémentaire que les sciences naturelles qui ne doivent pas servir de faire-valoir mais, tout au contraire, constituer un pendant qui nous propulse dans ce passé chaotique et mystérieux de la Terre de ses premiers instants ? Et ce, pour mieux nous propulser dans l'avenir avec une énergie qui est fondamentalement tellurique : cette puissance dégagée instille une force inouïe à la plus belle des mises en scène, au plus travaillé des joyaux ! Je remercie encore l'Ecole et son mécène, Van Cleef & Arpels d'avoir été pionniers dans cette vision ou les "bruts" - entendez mes chers minéraux - ne sont pas de simples cailloux bons à tailler pour servir l'unique discours du joyau. Ainsi, j’ose croire que nous pouvons offrir des visions rafraîchies et inédites de ce patrimoine global. Le gisement est énorme…


Tous mes remerciements les plus chaleureux à François Farges pour sa collaboration ainsi qu’à la Maison Van Cleef & Arpels.

Sarah Boidart, gemmologue, major du HRD.


Bouquet clip, 1940, gold, sapphires, rubies, diamonds Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Patrick Gries © Van Cleef & Arpels



Pour découvrir en vidéo l’exposition, rendez-vous sur le compte instagram de l’Ecole Van Cleef & Arpels.

Exposition The Art & Science of Gems à visiter jusqu'au 14 août 2016 à l’ArtScience Museum de Singapour. 

galerie photos
Prototype de la couronne de Farah Diba : © F. Farges/Van Cleef & Arpels. Vitrine de gemmes : © F. Farges/MNHN. Opale : White noble opal massive and two cabochons Queensland, Australia MNHN Collection, Paris © MNHN/F. Farges. Topaze : Blue topaz crystal, 21560 carats, one of the largest gem Crystals known Virgem da Lapa, Minas Gerais, Brazil Gift of the Maison Christofle, 1999 MNHN Collection, Paris © MNHN/F. Farges. Vue de l'exposition dans l'alcôve "Température" : © F. Farges. Vitrine de la thématique "eau" avec un collier en améthystes ayant appartenu à Elizabeth Taylor et des améthystes brutes et taillées: © F. Farges/Van Cleef & Arpels.

A lire :

Le diamant bleu de François Farges et Thierry Piantanida, Editions Michel Lafon

A visiter :

Le Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle
36 rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire
75005 Paris
Ouvert de 10 h à 18 h jusqu'au 30 septembre 2016.
Du 1er octobre 2016 au 31 mars 2017, ouvert de 10 h à 17 h.

Van Cleef & Arpels, The Art and Science of Gems © Van Cleef &Arpels, Photography by Edward Hendricks.