From Luxury to Lifestyle: The Evolving Cartier Brand

What started as a single jewelry workshop has evolved into an iconic global brand that’s synonymous with the good life.

Cartier Automatic WatchIn April 2011, when Kate Middleton walked down the aisle of Westminster Abbey to become Catherine Mountbatten-Windsor, Duchess of Cambridge, the Cartier “halo” tiara she wore represented more than just an elegant royal accessory. The delicate diamond headpiece was loaned to her by Queen Elizabeth. The tiara had been passed down through the royal family since it was created in 1936 and purchased by the Duke of York, later King George VI. By opting to wear this particular tiara for her entry into nobility, the Duchess expressed both her refined taste and her commitment to tradition and heritage.

Both heritage and hereditary aristocracy are particularly important to the enduring identity of Cartier, as well. Since 1847, when jeweler Louis-François Cartier took over the unassuming workspace of his mentor in Paris, La Maison Cartier has produced intricately designed works of decorative art that are revered by the world’s elite. By 1856, Cartier’s creations had piqued the interest of Princess Mathilde of France, the cousin of Emperor Napoleon III. The princess’s affinity for the brand resulted in a flurry of attention from the global haut monde. When the first true Cartier boutique opened on Paris’ fashionable Rue de la Paix in 1899, crowned heads and aristocrats from around the world flocked to the boutique to procure neoclassical diamond jewelry mounted in platinum—an industry first. When then-Prince of Wales Edward VII declared Cartier to be “king of jewelers, jeweler of kings,” Cartier’s status as a standard of excellence was secured.

Cartier received its first royal warrant as the official purveyor to the King of England in 1904. The monarchs of Spain, Portugal, Russia, Siam, Serbia, and Belgium promptly followed suit; soon, Cartier began receiving commissions for larger pieces, including royal crowns, clocks, swords, and batons. More than eighty percent of Cartier’s pieces are one-off commissions that began with a single stone.

Cartier Rue Boutique

 Cartier opens a new boutique on busy Rue de la Paix in Paris.

Although the brand no longer refers solely to an exquisite jewelry collection designed for nobility, Cartier’s heritage of regal distinction continues to thrive. Over time, Cartier has grown into an esteemed international brand with more than 200 stores in 125 countries; it ranks fifth in the world’s most valuable luxury brands, with an estimated value of over $5.3 billion. Today, the brand’s impact transcends commercial activity, making it a historical and cultural institution, a globally revered icon. The brand’s steadfast dedication to excellence is apparent in everything the house produces—whether it’s a piece of high jewelry worth millions or a writing instrument priced in the hundreds—and it carries through all Cartier’s creative and business endeavors.

The enduring success results from Cartier’s trendsetting innovations, both in materials and designs. Since its inception, the house has used only the finest metals and minerals to craft its creations. A piece of Cartier jewelry is a work of art born from an impressive synergy between the designer, his craft, and the piece at hand.

It’s no accident that the word Ceylon is synonymous with the world’s finest tea. For the story of the exotic Asian island of Sri Lanka and the delicious drink are twined by time.In 1888, Cartier became the first jeweler to introduce a bracelet watch for women. The design served as a prototype for the luxurious, yet functional, jewelry the brand would produce. In 1904, Cartier debuted the first watch expressly designed to be worn on the wrist. It was created by Louis Cartier for his friend Alberto Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian aviator. Thus, the birth of the timeless Santos design. Two of Cartier’s most iconic designs, the Tank Cintrée wristwatch and the three-band-style rings and bracelets known as Trinity—created in 1919 and 1924, respectively—remain incredibly popular to this day.

Cartier Shop

1909. Cartier opens a boutique on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

By the time Cartier celebrated its centennial in 1947, it had secured its place among global aristocrats. When Marilyn Monroe declared “Cartier!” in the film version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the brand’s appeal reached an entirely new demographic.

To keep up with the growing interest, Cartier introduced Les Must de Cartier, a collection of Cartier products offered at a lower price point than the luxurious jewelry. The move granted an access pass for the desirable Cartier lifestyle to an even broader range of consumers. Les Must de Cartier included leather goods, pens, scarves, fragrances, sunglasses, tableware, and more.

As the Cartier name grew to be associated with the good life, the brand expanded beyond the retail sector. The first major retrospective, entitled “Louis Cartier: Art Deco Masterpieces,” opened in Monte Carlo in 1975. This effort gave the public the opportunity to appreciate Cartier’s pieces as if they were Picassos or Monets. It was a wise rite of passage for the brand. By associating itself with art sophisticates, Cartier extended its esteemed identity, while strengthening its brand reputation.

Cartier Family

1922. Alfred Cartier, the son of Louis-François Cartier, with his three sons.

Further advancing its evolution from a brand into a lifestyle, Cartier partnered with the International Polo Tournament in 1984. The event at Windsor Great Park in the United Kingdom allowed it to introduce itself to the highbrow society of polo players and other professional athletes. The company also began an in-house publication, Cartier Art magazine, with design themes to reinforce the brand’s unique relationship with the arts community.

Cartier’s global philanthropic endeavors expand the brand’s appeal and reach. In 2003, Cartier became an active member of the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society and subsequently presented a special award for female entrepreneurs. Later, the company spearheaded its LOVE campaign, integrating creativity and passion into its philanthropic endeavors. The LOVE bracelets, available for $995 each, come with an 18-karat white-gold ring intertwined with an 18-karat pink-gold ring looped through a different colored silk cord representing one of eight charities.

Cartier continues to stay relevant, even with today’s enlarged definition of luxury and luxury brands. In the past, luxury was clearly defined by its über-exclusive status and exorbitant prices—brands that were envied by many, attainable by few. With the influx of technology and social-media outlets, consumers can engage with a brand without actually making a purchase. In this way, the technological age and the innovation on the part of the brand have fortified its prestige by securing it a position as an expert on all things luxury. The homepage includes a section aptly entitled “Guide Me,” which offers advice on purchasing luxury products with topics that range from ring sizing and gift selection to information about watch movements. The site also offers an overview of the company’s illustrious history, which is showcased in the Cartier Collection and archives.

Cartier has also expanded its digital efforts with a YouTube channel and applications for iPhones and iPads—an app for watches, an app for brides, and an eMagazine for general consumers. These apps not only afford users the ability to purchase Cartier via their mobile devices but also offer a closer connection with the brand.

In today’s growing marketplace, and with the sheer volume of luxury brands in circulation, a name alone cannot keep a business running. The quality that any luxury brand is reputed to have must endure. Cartier has nothing to worry about on that score, as the degree of excellence to which it holds its merchandise remains the same as it did 160 years ago. The Duchess of Cambridge can attest to that fact.

[©All images courtesy of Cartier. All rights reserved.]

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