‘It was 10 years ago that I discovered a trunk of long-lost family letters in the cellar of my grandfather, Jean-Jacques Cartier. It all started off with breakfast on his 90th birthday when we were sitting out with croissants and coffee when he asked me to go to the cellar and fetch a bottle of champagne with which to celebrate later. It was down there while I was rooting around that I came across this rather nondescript trunk which ended up being filled with this amazing treasure trove of history….’
Over 100 years ago, the three Cartier brothers shared a dream: to build the leading jewellery firm in the world. To do so they decided to split the world between them. The youngest, Jacques Cartier, was given control of the business in Britain and the British colonies. So it was that, in 1911, aged 27, he found himself on a ship bound for India, along with Cartier’s pearl expert and gem-laden bags to tempt the Maharajas. That trip was timed to coincide with the grand DelhiDurbar so he could meet as many of the rulers in one place at one time. It would take time to win trust but in the following decades, those rulers would give Cartier some of its largest-ever commissions. Meanwhile, Jacques, an artist and a gemstone connoisseur, came to truly love the country, becoming close friends with many Indian clients. And those Eastern voyages would inspire Cartier’s creations back in Paris, London and New York too. “Out there everything is flooded with the wonderful Indian sunlight” was Jacques’ overriding aesthetic impression. “One does not see as in the English light, he is only conscious that here is a blaze of red, and of green or yellow”.
It was this vibrant explosion of Indian life that led the Cartiers to combine carved rubies, emeralds and sapphires together in the exotic tuttifrutti style (and timeless as it has turned out – those Indian-inspired jewels still reach records at auction today). As part of my research into The Cartiers – the people and the places behind the jewels – I travelled to India to follow in the footsteps of my great-grandfather. Walking through the same temples, sapphire mines, palaces and crowded markets and meeting the descendants of those he had known was both humbling and inspiring. Today, with this glorious larger-than-life country struggling under lockdown, the idea of the bustling bazaars seems like a different world away. My heart goes out to those millions suffering through this crisis each day. As a tribute to magnificent India – and the impact it has had, not just on jewellery history but on the history of the world,