Together with sixth generation Cartier, Francesca Cartier Brickell, we’ll be discussing what it was like growing up in this famous family, her taste in jewellery and how she came to write her book: The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewellery Empire.
Words: Luisa Kearney, Editor-in-Chief
Pictures: Francesca Cartier Brickell
Cartier has long been synonymous with Christmas. You know that Christmas has arrived when you see the Cartier stores on Oxford Street and Fifth Avenue wrapped up in red decorations. However, underneath the flawless jewels and upmost luxury, lies the true story of a family, who built up this empire, starting from the bottom. When the Cartier family gathered in France to celebrate the ninetieth birthday of Jean- Jacques Cartier back in 2009, his granddaughter Francesca made an interesting discovery. Instead of locating the bottle of vintage champagne her grandfather had asked her to fetch, she found a trunk full of letters and memorabilia, unlocking the true story of the Cartier dynasty. Through extensive research and dedication, Francesca Cartier Brickell brought to life the full story of how her great-great- great grandfather, Louis-François Cartier, founded this iconic jewellery company from a modest Parisian store back in 1847 which remained within the family until the 1970s. It took Francesca ten years to finally complete her book: The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewellery Empire – and it was definitely worth the wait!
“The catalyst for deciding to write The Cartiers was the discovery of a long-lost trunk of family letters in my grandfather’s cellar. Those dusty pages revealed the story behind the success of the Cartiers and brought to life the people behind the jewels – their struggles, ambitions, rivalries and passions.”
The book, The Cartiers, incorporates three of my favourite interests: history, business and of course, fine jewellery. The book has been very well researched and perhaps it’s because of this that you’re able to gain a genuine and detailed insight into what it was like living in those times.You’d be forgiven for hibernating for a few days just to read this book in full.It’s certainly gripping and very difficult to put down. WhileFrancesca provides us with a clear description of the family’s four-generation business journey, it’s the events that take place in between selling jewellery that are equally as significant.
Collectively, the four generations of Cartier store owners lived through some of history’s most fascinating eras including the Romanov Empire, World War 1, World War 2, the sinking of the Titanic, the abdication of Edward VIII, as well as possessing the notoriously cursed Hope Diamond for many years.
I was also interested to learn where and how the Cartiers sought inspiration for new designs. Way before social media and Pinterest boards, there were books and art. It’s always fascinated me how some of the most incredible creations in existence were designed during a time when there were very few resources available, especially in comparison with today. It was a family rule: ideas for new Cartier designs should not be inspired by other jewellery. Instead, the jewellers found originality through nature, architect and travel.
Quite often, when we delve into the life stories of key figures in history, we forget about the people who were also around at the same time and with whom they could have possibly crossed paths.
The Cartier family doesn’t disappoint in that respect, having counted King Edward II, Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia, Coco Chanel, the Duchess of Windsor, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and Queen Elizabeth as clients. Francesca’s telling of The Cartier story introduces us to a multitude of lesser known but equally brilliant characters, such as English designer – Charles Frederick Worth, who arrived in Paris with just £5 in his pocket and yet, became one of the most successful names in couture fashion.
Little did Francesca Cartier Brickell know when she discovered the contents of her grandfather’s old leather trunk back in 2009, that by uncovering her family’s legacy, she’d also be unearthing the same trials and tribulations that give the book an air of warmth and relatability.
Despite being one of the jewellery industry’s most prestigious families, the story is amusingly relatable at times. While juggling the task of growing a business and raising children, the Cartiers battled various obstacles in life and business, including issues with late payments, attempting to balance work and family life, as well as learning to bounce back whenever times got rough. What’s even more admirable is how the Cartier brand was passed on through four generations of male descendants, flourishing with every new generation.
Cartier would go on to survive financial crises, world wars, political upset and illness, proving to be as timeless and robust as the diamonds for which they’re celebrated.
Quest Magazine: Francesca, it’s lovely to have the opportunity to interview you. Growing up, when did you realise that your family, the Cartiers, had created one of the biggest names in the jewellery business and what prompted you to write The Cartiers?
FRANCESCA CARTIER BRICKELL: Shortly before I was born, my late grandfather, Jean-Jacques Cartier, sold the London branch of Cartier and retired to the South of France so ever since I can remember, my family would spend magical summer holidays with him. He used to tell us the most wonderful stories of the past over the lunch table but at that stage, it was really fragments and anecdotes, I obviously didn’t understand the full history. The catalyst for deciding to write The Cartiers was the discovery of a long-lost trunk of family letters in his cellar.
Those dusty pages revealed the story behind the success of the Cartiers and brought to life the people behind the jewels – their struggles, ambitions, rivalries and passions. That discovery – combined with many conversations with my grandfather about our ancestors – prompted me to leave my finance job in the City and focus on researching and writing the untold family history. I travelled all over the world, meeting hundreds of people – from Maharajas to jewellery craftsmen to sapphire miners – connected with the past. I felt it was important to try to keep the history alive.
Quest Magazine: Tell us about your taste in jewellery. What styles/eras/gemstones do you like the most?
FRANCESCA CARTIER BRICKELL: Having spent so long diving into the lives of my ancestors I am – unsurprisingly – particularly drawn to the pieces they created… but as to which era, that is not easy as I love pieces from all eras –it’s too hard to choose between say, a 1910s feminine Belle Époque diamond tiara, a striking 1920s geometric Art Deco bandeau, a 1930s multi-gem colourful necklace, a 1950s chunky gold necklace or a rebellious 1960s/70s London Crash watch. One of the things that’s special about Cartier is the sheer breadth and extent of the creative output, so I get to change my favourite piece all the time!
Quest Magazine: Cartier stores are beautifully decorated at Christmas time and have featured in many films over the years. Do you have a favourite Cartier store?
FRANCESCA CARTIER BRICKELL: Perhaps unsurprisingly, I feel a particular affinity to the stores founded by my ancestors, the three flagship stores in London, Paris and New York. My great- grandfather Jacques Cartier moved the Cartier store to 175 New Bond St in 1909 and later opened the English Art Works workshop above the showroom –he hired incredibly skilled craftsmen who made the most fantastic jewels for everyone from the maharajas in India to the Queen of England. It’s been the centenary of the London workshop this year.
Quest Magazine: Anything you’d like to share about your recent projects?
FRANCESCA CARTIER BRICKELL: Well, the paperback edition of The Cartiers has just come out this summer (www.the-cartiers.com), and I spent a lot of time updating that for new discoveries made along the way.
I’ve also been working on various translated editions that are in progress, and also on a series of webinars – www.the-cartiers.com/webinars – that were inspired by the lockdown. They are with different experts on various in-depth topics linked to the story of the Cartiers like the Romanovs or the British Royal Family. I’m working on a new book too but I’m still very much lost in research phase. More to follow – I try to keep Instagram updated regularly @creatingcartier – but realistically, the book could take a while, the first one took me a decade so my aim is to be a lot quicker than that!
You can have a read of Francesca’s book: Creating Cartier: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewelry Empire here.