NEW YORK, United States — The most glittering associations in the history of jewellery belong to Cartier — jeweller to Kings, Queens and Russian Duchesses; and Grace Kelly, who married Prince Rainier III of Monaco with a Cartier ring. This month, in the biggest showcase of jewels Cartier has ever undertaken in the US, five hundred pieces of the Richemont-owned brand's high jewellery will go on public display at its recently renovated Fifth Avenue store in New York City.
From 84 carat tourmaline rings encrusted with sapphires to 143 carat emerald necklaces, the jewellery in the exhibit will serve as a journey through Cartier’s archives and its high jewellery collections. A diamond tiara from 1908 will sit alongside a Burmese ruby necklace made for Elizabeth Taylor in 1951. The French house has also been quietly reacquiring vintage pieces from private clients, which have since been restored and will also go on display.
“This exhibition is about penetrating the magical universe of Cartier,” Arnaud Carrez, Cartier’s international marketing and communications director, tells BoF. “Some people see high jewellery as being a bit static, a bit dusty and a bit institutional. This is exactly the contrary," he says. "We like the idea of sharing a big number of high jewellery pieces with people who would never otherwise be invited to see them because they are not invited to events or charity dinners — it’s about engaging people."
But this is not simply an exhibition. Every piece will also be available to purchase, although Carrez is quick to point out that these sales will take place during private events held for VIP clients — the public access to the exhibit is not designed to generate leads. “We like to dream at Cartier… but it’s not about generating more sales," he says. "It’s about more people being able to access the know-how and the craftsmanship that goes into Cartier pieces.”
Instead, the initiative is part of Cartier’s wider strategy to increase awareness about the brand and its 170-year history. While Cartier's sales are estimated to be in the region of $5.7 billion, Richemont — which also owns Montblanc and Vacheron Constantin — reported a four percent drop in sales to $12.4 billion in 2016. America is one of Cartier’s biggest markets and a “number one priority,” says Carrez. “It’s a strategic market for the maison,” The Fifth Avenue store underwent a two-and-a-half year refurbishment led by Thierry Despont last year.
The third floor will be turned into a working jewellery atelier, where four artisans — a jeweller, a setter, a stone expert and a lapidary — will be working on pieces of high jewellery from the Panther range as a means of demonstrating “the technical complexity of the design and the time it takes to make haute couture pieces,” says Carrez. “We are giving the customer the experience of talking directly with the person creating these pieces and also putting these creative people in direct relationship with clients and potential clients.”
The maison’s strategy to seek an audience outside its usual VIP client circles was established in 2015, with the exhibition — held between 21 and 29 October — set to be the biggest customer-facing project of its kind to date. The archive has never been open to the public before on this scale. “It’s about Cartier’s future,” says Carrez. “It’s very important to share this not just with our clients, but with a wider audience. It’s about the image, the reputation and the aura of the maison… it plays a bigger role.”