Taken From Issue Two of 10+: Culture Clash de Cartier
Down into the Conciergerie we went, to a room that’s seen its fair share of drama. During the French Revolution this vast medieval hall on Île de la Cité in Paris was where aristocratic prisoners were kept before execution. Marie Antoinette stayed here. So did Robespierre. When I arrived, the dungeon was decked out with three 300ft-long banquet tables, groaning with flowers, and Christine and the Queens was working her way through her complex choreography on a stage. Billy Idol followed her, singing an acoustic set, as couture-clad ladies shook glowsticks and mouthed along to Rebel Yell. It was the kind of strange juxtaposition that the folks from Cartier, who threw this lavish event, would appreciate.
Clash de Cartier, the latest fine jewellery launch from the storied French house, is founded on principles of opposites and surprising dualities. Spiky but rounded, studded yet supremely tactile, the 18-karat rose-gold pieces play with house codes such as picots, beads and clous carrés, or rounded studs. They’re designed to be worn every day, but they are not passive pieces. The spiky design is striking and each piece features mobile elements to play with, creating a unique bond between the jewellery and its wearer. Clash plugs into body language and makes for new gestures. Not only are these mobile pieces technically difficult to achieve (and therefore hard to copy), but Cartier hope these playful designs will be addictive to the touch.
“Probably, for the past 10 years, there has been nothing so striking and strikingly different,” says Cyrille Vigneron, Cartier’s CEO. Clash is the first major jewellery pillar from Cartier since he took up the post in 2016. It follows on from the relaunches of the Panthère watch in 2017 and the Santos de Cartier timepiece in 2018, but just like its starry launch party at the Conciergerie, the significance of Clash cannot be understated. It is the biggest new debut for Cartier for a generation.
Fashion is frenetic, but jewellery is more stately. Fashion brands launch new ranges every payday, shamelessly pushing new for the sake of new, but in the hallowed world of fine jewellery the pace is different. This is a metier that marks its own time. It won’t be rushed. So it is with Cartier. The most haute of all the Bond Street jewellers keeps its own schedule. Indeed, a Cartier high jewellery collection cannot simply be conjured. The craftspeople must wait for the right stones to become available, and this can take years. Specialist stone hunters scour the globe for unique rocks or sets of stones of matching size and quality. Only then can the design work on each one-off piece begin.
Back in the fine jewellery sphere, waiting for stones isn’t the only issue. When Cartier want to launch a new fine jewellery pillar, they must wait instead for the zeitgeist. The new pillar must reflect the times. It must thrill with modernity and tell a story of now, but if Clash has any hope of following the Love bracelet or Trinity ring into the pantheon of modern classics, it must also do much more than hold a mirror up to today. Cartier do not create throwaway pieces. Everything they make is produced with longevity in mind. Clash de Cartier has to be more than just a new jewellery range. It must reflect the times back at us in a timeless way. The concepts of duality and opposites speak to our chaotic, provocative times, yet the strong design brings a sense of harmony (itself a much sought-after concept in these troubled times). Rounded spikes, solid yet movable, warm but tough, neither male nor female, Clash is multi-regional, trans-generational and priced for broad appeal (necklaces start at £2,030; the most expensive piece is a coral bracelet at £44,900).
Looking back at Cartier’s history, you can see this icon- making strategy deployed at key moments. Its famous Trinity ring was designed by Louis Cartier in 1924 at the request of the French artist, novelist, poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau. The simple design was made up of three intertwined bands of yellow, white and rose gold, representing fidelity, friendship and love. It also contrasted with Cartier’s exotic and colourful jazz-age designs, but that pared-back bravura has made it a classic.
Fast forward to New York, in 1969, when Aldo Cipullo designed Cartier’s coveted Love bracelet. Inspired by the medieval chastity belt, the wearer was fastened in by two screws (which mirror the screws on Cartier’s Santos watch). It chimed with the zeitgeist on many levels, coming in the “make love not war” era but also at a time of unprecedented sexual freedom. The simple romantic gesture of being “locked in” struck a chord. “Love,” said Cipullo at the time, “has become too commercial, yet life without love is nothing – a fat zero. What modern people want are love symbols that look semi-permanent – or, at least, require a trick to remove. After all, love symbols should suggest an everlasting quality.” Its beautifully simple design stood for commitment and staying power – the only way out of the bracelet is to use the special screwdriver provided.
To launch the bracelet, Cartier presented it to the most glamorous couples of the day, including Ali MacGraw and her then husband Robert Evans, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Sophia Loren and Carlo Ponti, and held a party at their New York store. Today, in the age of social and multimedia, jewellery-launch tactics have evolved. For Clash de Cartier, Oscar winner Rami Malek and girlfriend Lucy Bonyton, Troye Sivan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Letitia Wright and Skins actress Kaya Scodelario (who is the face of collection) joined clients, influencers and journalists in Paris for a three-day celebration.
This much I do know: going to Paris with Cartier seems even more exotic when you travel via Manchester Airport. My other colleagues in the British press caught the Eurostar from London and had handsome, champagne-toting, Cartier- liveried bellboys to ease their transition from real life to magical jewel-house experience. As for me, passing through a mundane regional airport, with its noisy Easter-holiday queues, was no preparation for what was about to come. In the space of 24 hours, I went from dog walking with my mum in the Cheshire countryside to a suite at the Bristol with a bed big enough for Taylor and all her husbands to lie in. The shock of the fabulous was real. But these opposite extremes were fitting. Clash, as its name suggests, is all about paradoxical pleasures.
To underline that point, the day after the Conciergerie event, Cartier built two pop-up spaces on the Place Vendôme, where they staged clashing encounters with creative talents. La Galerie, a bookshop created in partnership with the iconic Galignani store, squared up to a temporary record shop curated by Michel Gaubert. We browsed the shelves of both stores, were given personality tests to determine what records we should take home, and then were treated to a double-handed live performance. Beth Ditto sang an acoustic version of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, filling the space with her powerful voice, and Marisa Berenson performed Maya Angelou’s And Still I Rise. The two divas couldn’t have been more different – one punky and powerful, the other elegant and poised – but the respect was mutual.
After that, we crossed the square for an extraordinary lunch, served at Bronx Brasserie, a pop-up restaurant by the New York culinary collective Ghetto Gastro, whose DJs spun a hip-hop soundtrack that had everyone dancing between courses, and whose loose-hipped waiters served endless delights (the corn breads were incredible). And then we adjourned to an upstairs room of a beautiful hôtel particulier on the square to finally try on the new collection. Wearable, stackable, verstatile, tactile and distinctive, the designs don’t overwhelm your existing jewellery but work with it. The thing that’s most striking is how easy they are to wear and how pleasing it is to run your fingers over all those movable, rounded spikes. These are the kind of pieces that anyone can wear – and they probably will.
Photographs by Rosi Di Stefano.
10+ Issue 2, EVERYONE, VOCAL, TOGETHER is available to order HERE.