This week I found myself in Paris, scouting for jewel inspiration (Actually, that’s wholly inaccurate; this was a trip planned for some weeks, with emphasis on all seeking out all things haute joaillerie…)
Paris is without a doubt, a long-standing epicentre of resplendent diamond and big gem jewellery, with some of the most illustrious jewellery houses supplying the world with jewels to salivate over.
Visit the Marias district today and you’ll find it romantic, charming and trendsetting, opening up to cobblestone streets, historic spots and quirky boutiques. This district offers a village feel and was built on marshland aka ‘Marais’ in French, hence its name. Wind the clock back some three generations and you’ll discover that this was the starting point for many fine jewellery makers, like Picard and Cartier.
Whilst we all know Cartier as a household name under the ownership of Richemont, you may not know that the family were responsible for dressing the jewel trays of some of the most notorious French folks in history, like Princesse Mathilde Bonaparte. They also helped to resell the collections of “grande cocotte” La Barucci and the French aristocracy to the British elite, giving them diamond liquidity in times of financial crisis. Less well known, the family accessed some of the world’s most stunning big gems, getting them ahead of other jewellers, primarily because of stones upfront, rather than on credit.
If you’re interested to read more about the captivating story of the family behind the Cartier empire and the three brothers who turned their grandfather’s Parisian jewellery store into a global luxury icon, I’d recommend the group biography The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewelry Empire as told by their great-granddaughter, Francesca Cartier Brickell.
French Crown Jewels
Take a tour of the Louvre and you can visit the Galerie d’Apollon where you’ll find the royal collection of Crown Jewels. The so-called ‘Côte de Bretagne’ spinel, which once belonged to Anne de Bretagne, is the oldest of the gems to have survived a tumultuous history involving theft, dispersal and sale.
Three historical diamonds – the Regent, the Sancy and the Hortensia – formerly adorned royal crowns or garments. The spectacular 19th-century jewellery sets in the collection include emerald and diamond pieces that once belonged to Empress Marie Louise.
There you’ll also find jewellery cases of the past and it’s easy to see where Cartier’s branding has developed from…