Would you barter the very place you lay your head for the bauble of your dreams? One Mrs. Morton Plant did exactly that in an exchange now deeply embedded in the lore of Cartier’s presence in the United States. That shared history now dates back 100 years, a centennial the jeweler is celebrating through year’s end with various festivities, including the publication of an exuberant tome edited by Bruce Weber. Cartier I Love You is a stream-of-consciousness compilation of photos, anecdotes, historical tidbits and musings that relate to Cartier either obviously—a film-strip series of a gleeful Elizabeth Taylor romping on the French Riviera with Mike Todd as he presents her with a dazzling suite of rubies; or less so—the shirt-sleeved Joseph P. Kennedy in his wheelchair surrounded by his 24 grandchildren at the family enclave, nary a carat in sight. As for that unusual housing transaction, Cartier opened in the U.S. in 1909 at 712 Fifth Avenue, where Maisie Plant, the wife of a shipping scion, often admired a stunning two-strand pearl necklace worth $1 million which, despite her husband’s wealth, she insisted she could not afford. That is, until Pierre Cartier offered the exchange, throwing in $100 to close the deal. In 1917, Cartier took possession of the then Plant mansion at 653 Fifth on the corner of 52nd Street, where it has been ever since.
“We say, ‘Cartier, Paris, London and New York,’” says Pierre Rainero, Cartier International’s Heritage Director. “All three locations are very important to our soul.” So, too, was producing a book that would properly capture its essence. “Bruce has that talent as a photographer to be very modern and to show at the same time permanent feelings, so that’s one point. Second, Bruce is very much into American culture, and he knows how to express it in a very good way. I knew that he would understand what we were feeling [about] that specific link between America and Cartier.”
Still, the proposal surprised Weber, given his personal penchant for dressing down and his work’s decided lack of bling: “I don’t even put jewelry on my dogs,” he notes. Yet his photos are proudly, deliberately respectful and celebratory, rich with optimism and hope. After researching the Cartier family, Weber admired its members’ creative invention, their commitment to artists and engagement in the politics of the day. He then thrust himself and members of his Little Bear Studio—it’s run like a school newspaper, he delights in noting—into the house archives to learn about not only the spectacular merch, the glorious panthers, tutti fruttis, major statement pieces and occasional whimsy but also their raisons d’être. For example, the book includes a passage on Serge Gainsbourg, who, as a boy in Nazi-occupied France, affixed the mandated star marked with the word “Juif” to his clothes. Years later, he commissioned from the jeweler a big Jewish star in platinum. Also during the Occupation, Cartier worked the motif of a caged bird, its head lowered in sadness. After liberation came a joyful modification: the bird bursting forth from its cage, wings spread, ready to sing.