With the many undertakings of Cartier as a storied luxury house, elegance is intrinsically at its core. It's in the blend of heritage house codes with contemporary design stylings of its timepieces; the constant juxtaposition of timelessness with unexpected characteristics of its series of jewellery; down to the sculptural bottles of its fragrances and the scents they hold. What else should one expect of a luxury house that's made the panther its icon?
Yet, as much as it's inherently sophisticated in nature, Cartier isn't one to take itself too seriously. There's whimsy in the way the design process is approached; the ordinary becomes somewhat extraordinary at Cartier. A nail gets fashioned into a bracelet, while a rectangular-faced timepiece is updated with an asymmetric slant. And even the signature deep red Cartier boxes trimmed with gold guirlande have been transformed into functional fashion accessories. They may have simple origins but the results are a testament to Cartier's craftsmanship and ingenuity of creating luxurious expressions where there were none.
This idea of breathing new meaning to seemingly everyday objects—an elevation of value, if you will—isn't something that's new to Cartier. It was back in the '30s that the house's Department S was set up by Louis Cartier (the founder's grandson) together with chief designer Charles Jacqeau. 'S' was in reference to the silver that was largely the material used in the creation of luxury gifts and objects such as lighters, cased notepads and picture frames. Louis likened these objects to jewellery, stating in an interview back in the day: "Jewellery like ours is as capable of adorning a woman's shoulders with a dazzling necklace as it is of filling her handbag with a powder compact, a mirror, a small comb, and even business cards—all stamped with the same seal of originality and art."
Cartier is now ready to reintroduce this part of its heritage in a series of lifestyle objects spanning four design languages, each recontextualising Cartier's many emblems.
The first refers to its most revered icon: the panther. Its first-ever expression as part of Cartier's design lexicon was in the form of panther spots on a 1914 watch. That abstract form has turned into more realistic and, at times, graphic iterations over the decades. In the Panthère de Cartier series, the panther takes on a regal form—both visually and in the curation of the series—flanked by Art Deco motifs and etched in gold on white porcelain trinket trays, vases, a tea box and a solitaire game set as well as a collection of stationery.
While the panther is its chosen emblem, it's by no means the only animal that has been a Cartier fixture throughout its history. The house has often included various animals—both wild and domestic—in a multitude of decorative objects. Quite fittingly, the Cartier Baby series adopts the house's affection for animals by fashioning them into a menagerie of childhood trinkets.
The Entrelacés de Cartier series is complementary to that of the panther-laden one with a similar offering of trays and vases. Its name literally means intertwined and is distinguished by the motif of interlacing of Cartier red ribbons prevalent throughout the series, wrapping around hardcover notebooks, cards and envelopes. The motif also makes an appearance on lacquered jewellery and watch boxes crafted to store one's collection of Cartier luxuries.
Rounding off the collection of objects is the Diabolo de Cartier—a host of the house's whimsical signatures. Familiar icons including the Cartier bellboy, Jeanne Toussaint's L'oiseau libéré (freed bird) that was created to celebrate France's liberation, and the Cartier wax seal are translated as floating motifs. They appear on the collection's more playful offerings (a chest of beech tree wooden blocks, for instance) as equally lively illustrations.
This is a new Cartier collection. But more importantly, it's an official re-entry into the lifestyle space for the house. It's a reiteration of house codes that it has held onto for decades and now designed to be part of the every day.