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Upcoming Events A Prominent Predator—The Cartier Panthère

The Panthère jewellery takes a new, modern turn in yellow gold and diamonds, with sharp corners, a streamlined profile and gaping jaw, as shown in this ring.

Natasha Sherling takes us on a one-hundred-year trip through the history of the instantly recognisable spotted feline collection.

Although black may be their most famous colour, it is a known fact that panthers also exist with spotted coats—just ask Cartier, for whom the spotted panther remains one of the brand’s most defining symbols. Its Panthère collection is instantly recognisable, and this big cat now prowls through high jewellery, ready to wear, watches and even its advertisements.

The very first panther was introduced in 1914, in the form of abstract black and white onyx-and-diamond spots on the face of a watch. Inspiration reputedly came from Jeanne Toussaint, the flamboyant then-head of accessories (she was promoted later to artistic director of jewellery), who was also known by her nickname “The Panther” due to her exotic style, strong will and a love of fur as both a fashion statement and interior decorating accessory.

Since then, the panther has remained, changing guises over the years but remaining forever Cartier. So many pieces remain in circulation, some vintage and very limited edition, others contemporary and still in production. Especially for WorthPoint UK, Cartier have shared with me a timeline of the Panthère .

Prowling through Time

In 1914, Cartier creates the first panther-spots motif on a wristwatch, introducing flecking in jewellery. Heradling the contrasts of the Art Deco style to come, that same year, Louis Cartier orders a “Woman with Panther” from George Barbier. The watercolour is used as an exhibition card and later for advertising purposes.

1914: Cartier creates the first panther-spots motif on a wristwatch, introducing flecking in jewellery. Heradling the contrasts of the Art Deco style to come, that same year, Louis Cartier orders a “Woman with Panther” from George Barbier. The watercolour is used as an exhibition card and later for advertising purposes.

1915: The Cartier Paris workshops produce a rectangular brooch-watch suspended from a ring, decorated with irregular black spots that suggest leopard skin. It is bought by Pierre Cartier, then director of Cartier New York, for his personal collection.

1919: This year saw the first appearance of a whole cat, on a vanity case belonging to Jeanne Toussaint.

1925: Cartier presents a sumptuous vanity case with a panther decoration in black enamel, echoing the drawings of George Barbier and Paul Jove, who illustrated Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.”

1927: Peter Lemarchand joins Cartier as a designer. His sketches, from hours spent at the zoo in Vincennes, together with the talent of the Cartier gem-setters and encouragement of Jeanne Toussaint, forges a path for the panther to become one of the great legends of Cartier creativity. This is also the year that the first figurative brooches appear, with a reclining panther in onyx and diamonds on platinum.

1948: The Duke of Windsor commissions a brooch featuring a golden cat with black enamel spots crouching on an emerald cabochon for his wife, Wallis Simpson. This is Cartier’s first three-dimensional panther. Known as one of the world’s most elegant women, the Duchess of Windsor makes the panther highly fashionable.

1949: The Windsors buy a second Panthère brooch in platinum, whose eyes glitter with yellow diamonds as it reclines on a sapphire cabochon weighing 152.35 carats. Mrs. Reginald Fellowes, born Daisy Decazes, the rich and influential head of the Harper’s Bazaar office in Paris, also acquires a Panthère brooch composed of diamonds and sapphires.

The Duchess of Windsor completes her collection of big-cat jewellery with the first entirely jointed, flexible bracelet.

1952: The Duchess of Windsor completes her collection of big-cat jewellery with the first entirely jointed, flexible bracelet that follows the curves of the feline body, dotted with onyx spots (and which would later go on to sell in 2010 for a record-breaking £4.5m at Sotheby’s).

1958: The princess Nina Aga Khan is the next to develop a passion for panthers. Her second husband, the prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, orders a huge collection: a blouse pin, an articulated panther brooch, a ring, an open bracelet with panther heads, and a gold fluted bracelet with panther heads that can be worn as earrings while it becomes the handle of one of Cartier’s convertible evening bags! Paved with brilliant-cut diamonds and spotted with sapphires, these pieces are among the most spectacular naturalist creations ever made in three dimensions.

1967: The actress María Félix, known as “the Mexican panther,” orders a solid bracelet with ends that represent the head and front paws of two panthers.

1983: The Panthère watch, a variant of the Santos de Cartier, is launched, becoming one of the most successful examples of watchmaking creativity in the 1980s.

1986: The panther appears surrounded by jewelled bamboo and eucalyptus foliage. The pieces created at this time include the Khana necklace whose articulated, diamond-paved shank features two tigers crouching in a “V.”

Cartier brought the panther motif into its adverts.

1987: The panther expands to fragrance, with the launch of the Panthère de Cartier perfume. Two big cats clasp the bottle in the form of a facetted diamond. It was also in this year that Cartier bought back two key pieces at a charity auction for its feline menagerie: the 1949 Panthère brooch featuring a sapphire cabochon and the 1954 tiger lorgnette, both of which belonged to the Duchess of Windsor. These two pieces now form part of the Cartier Collection.

1990s: Cartier develops the idea of collections in which the panther stars as one of the key themes, including bangles with two heads in yellow gold spotted with black lacquer, and rigid necklaces clipped with a panther in yellow diamonds.

2003: Launch of a black and white Panthère collection in platinum, diamonds and onyx. Cartier moves back to an abstract style and geometric lines, in a nod to their Art Deco heritage.

2005: The Panthère jewellery takes a new, modern turn in yellow gold and diamonds, with sharp corners, a streamlined profile and gaping jaw. New silhouettes continue with the introduction of an original and innovative geometric mesh, conveying the fluffy coat of the snow panther.

French actress Juliette Binoche wears a Cartier Panthère necklace.

One Hundred Years Young
As the story continues, the Panthère heads for its centenary celebrations. Fashionable modern-day fans include women as diverse as stylist Rachel Zoe, French actress Juliette Binoche and singer Jennfer Lopez. With new interest in the Duchess of Windsor piqued by the film chronicling her life, love and jewellery, the Panthère looks set to remains an icon beloved of aristocracy, socialites, fashion icons and celebrity. An enduring symbol of a luxury brand, it may change its silhouette—but will never change its spots, remaining instantly identifiable from auction houses to the wrists of those lucky enough to wear pieces characteristic of this always-fierce collection.

By Natasha Sherling

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