By Eitaroh Arakawa
11 February 1998 - Cartier:
a word that evokes luxury, and also images of beautiful people
hurrying down the streets with classic handbags slung over their
shoulders, or burgundy wallets in their pockets. An exhibition of
Cartier designs at the British Museum - which has already been shown
in New York, Paris and Tokyo - goes back to the early part of this
century (1900-1939). The list of exquisite jewelry is endless: small,
well-formed necklaces encrusted with diamonds and emeralds on a base
of platinum; cigarette holders and cases so sophisticated that giving
up smoking is no longer an option; timepieces so detailed and compact
that you might even look forward to being asked the time. Particularly
striking is the solid, engraved and enamelled gold visiting card and
envelope that was postmarked after being sent through the U.S. mail on
Alfred Cartier's first visit to the U.S.A.
The exhibition covers the
work of Alfred Cartier and his three sons with their workshops in New
York, Paris and London. The myriad of influences channelled into these
objets d'art is astonishing. There are Egyptian, Persian,
Indian and oriental flavours. A Russian style evokes the opulence of
the Tsars, for example, while Japanese and Chinese flavours form an
original blend of distinctive jewelry. One mantlepiece clock, however,
is a bit worrisome, with its evocations of dodgy Disney films from the
seventies featuring "evil" Orientals played by dolled-up
sub-Madame Butterfly Westerners. Fortunately, this is more an
after-effect rather than a design shortcoming.
Although opulent is a word
that readily springs to mind when wandering around the exhibition,
ostentation is never present. The intricate detail of the works is
never "in your face", and so is very subtle. The effect is
maximised by the generally diminutive size of the pieces. Cartier's
meticulous archives have recorded the splendour of the design process
in all its glory, thus preserving the genius of these works for future
generations. This is the first time these life-size sketches and
plaster casts have been put on public display.
over-riding thought is the sense of proportion and balance embodied in
a way that makes geometry a beautiful proposition - for example,
interlinked Ls on vanity cases interspersed with diamonds,.
Other pieces include original colour combinations that make a mix of
jades, onyxes, diamonds and emeralds look like a visual treat.
Despite the varied
influences, the creators have retained a style that gently whispers "Cartier"
into your ear, and makes them the true "musts". It is
interesting to note that almost no logos are visible.
there were such a thing as a time machine, it would be tempting to go
back in time to hob-nob with the glitterati of the times
(European royalty, Indian Maharajas, American millionaires), solely,
of course, to be a consumer of these objets d'art. They are
perfectly well-formed artefacts that will, no doubt, remain a
significant contribution to the art of making haute joaillerie.
The creators are artists, without a shadow of a doubt.