By Clive Kandel
No person ever forgets their first visit to Paris. Mine took place in June of 1965, on the way to school. I had one day to spare between arriving on an early flight from London and leaving later that evening on Le Train Bleu for Hyères. During that short day I went to Les Invalides to see Napoléon’s tomb, visited l’Opéra, had lunch at le Café de la Paix, then walked down la rue de la Paix and later on all around la place Vendôme, to see as many jewellery shops as possible. As you walk down la rue de la Paix from l’Opéra, the Hôtel Westminster seems to hug Cartier. Then suddenly you are in front of the largest of all the Cartier shops, with endless windows filled with colorful jewels.
It is impossible to describe the atmosphere and overwhelming sights that greet you as the doorman opens the glass-paned door when you entered the shop that revealed a long-gone world of beauty and luxury. I recall bustling salesmen in black jackets and striped pants, the large clear bulbs as in all Cartier shops throwing off brilliant reflecting light, the Louis XVI boiseries, the polished brightly-lit huge vitrines with elegantly displayed jewels. I stopped and stared at an enormous nephrite circular dish made into a clock with large coral numerals and wondered at its beauty, placed resting on the bottom of a large vitrine in order to accommodate its size. Next, in a simpler and smaller vitrine, were perhaps the most exquisite Art Deco vanity cases ever made. Even at this time I was curious how these seemed to be unsold or part of Cartier’s collection. The boxes are indeed in the Cartier Collection and are shown here with the relevant histories.
Several years later when I was training in Paris learning about French jewelry, a very well-known dealer on the rue Faubourg Ste. Honoré told me that whilst France was waiting to go to war, these precious boxes were the first jewels to be sold off by the public and dealers were buying them for practically nothing. He motioned with his hands how high the trunks of vanity and cigarette boxes reached. Stones were more portable than objects. These two necéssaires were saved and although it was 56 years ago, I still have that vivid memory in my mind of them sitting on the brown velvet display at Cartier Paris.
I have often said to the junior masters of the Universe, “I was there.”
Vanity Case with Peonies
Cartier Paris, 1927
Pink, gold, platinum, sapphire and emerald cabochons, old European- and rose-cut diamonds, coral, topaz, moonstone, black enamel.
The interior is fitted with a mirror, two lidded compartments and a lipstick holder. 10.4 x 6.0 x 2.2 cm.
Vanity Case Persian Style
Cartier Paris, 1924
Gold, platinum, parquetry of mother-of-pearl and turquoise, a leaf-shaped carved emerald weighing 8.82 carats, two engraved emeralds, emerald cabochons, pearls, rose- and old-cut diamonds, black and cream enamel, 2 x 10.85 x 5.85 cm.
The interior fitted with a mirror, a lipstick holder, a tortoiseshell comb, and two lidded powder compartment.
The design of this item was inspired by the bindings of Persian books between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. Originally, the center featured a Persian miniature taken from the firm’s stock of apprêts. It was replaced by the carved emerald in 1926.