Cartier's Mystery Clocks Still Bewilder Even As They Bewitch
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The flow turned into a torrent after the king abdicated. Once Edward's brother was crowned as George VI, the couple were free to marry, which they did on June 3, 1937. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, as they then became known, had little else to do but get dressed in preparation for socializing. Most of the designs for the duchess were unique but soon became hallmarks of Cartier in the 1940s and 1950s. Prominent among these were the panther jewels that incorporated perfect miniatures of spotted cats that we know as leopards (panthers and leopards are the same species; panthers are black leopards).
The panther jewels were designed by Louis Cartier's intimate friend Jeanne Toussaint, whom he called "Panther." She joined the firm in 1907 and became director of the jewelry department in 1933. Although she did not sketch, she is credited with a major role in the Cartier look. According to chairman Destino, Toussaint brought her understanding and love of fashion and the artwork to their collaboration. "She was the first in our history to introduce a sense of fashion to real jewelry. She was a style setter and was famous for her taste, imagination and independence."
The House of Cartier under the three brothers essentially ended in the 1940s. Jacques and Louis died in 1942 and Pierre retired to Geneva in 1948, having turned the New York branch over to his nephew Claude, Louis's son. In 1962, the New York branch was sold, and the firm fragmented. In 1972, businessman Robert Hocq bought the three separate branches and united them as one company.
It was under Hocq's reign that the firm introduced Les Must de Cartier, a worldwide marketing concept, and the era of merchandising began in earnest. Hocq saw clearly that the merchandising stood on the shoulders of the great era of design, so he set out to buy back great Cartier pieces from the past. That's how Cartier's historic collection was born. There was, according to president Critchell, a desire to acquire "all the pieces that mark key moments in Cartier's history or the history of its customers."
Certainly the history of the mystery clock is still being written, and today's customers may very well be tomorrow's honored members in the Cartier collection. If you get a hankering, though, for one of those enigmatic timepieces, get in line. It still takes months to make one of these glorious creations. The wait, of course, is well worth it.
Ettagale Blauer is a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado and author of books on jewelry and wristwatches.