March 1998

From The Vault


Cartier's panther endures - symbolic of the jeweler and evocative of the untamed heart

The panther, lithe and mysterious, was introduced as a decorative motif in the early 20th century as society made the transition from the elegant and leisurely Edwardian era to the hard-edged fast-paced Art Deco years. The panther symbolized human nature as untamed and unpredictable, covered by a thin veneer of civilized culture. It was the leitmotif of the new generation - a metaphor for the time.

Few images are as evocative of a specific jeweler as the panther is for Cartier. Charles Jacqueau, principal designer at Cartier, first used the panther motif in jewelry designs in 1915. His interpretation was less a depiction of the animal than an abstract adaptation of the animal's spotted coat as a pattern to cover watch cases and other small objects. The staccato impact of a diamond surface peppered with black onyx perfectly suited the evolving style known as Art Deco. Jeanne Toussaint, known in jewelry circles for her exquisite taste, joined the company in 1910 and was later appointed head of the fine jewelry department. She was affectionately called "Panther" because of her affinity for the big cats. Her apartment in Paris was decorated with panther-skin carpets and what were probably the first Cartier panther vanity cases.

The realistic image of the panther in jewelry managed to elude capture, however, until 1948 when the Duke of Windsor commissioned Cartier to make a panther brooch for his duchess. Toussaint, working with designer Peter Lemarchand, came up with many variations of the panther. The first, a gold and black enamel panther lying on a 116.74-ct. cabochon emerald as a clip-brooch was soon followed by the celebrated diamond and sapphire panther brooch set in platinum and the panther guarding a cabochon sapphire of 152.35 carats. Subsequent works included an articulated panther bracelet and a clip-brooch similar to the one pictured here, both in sapphire and diamond. The Duchess of Windsor's panthers caused a sensation. Soon there were many celebrated owners of this feline jewelry; Princess Nina Aga Kahn had Cartier make panthers for her, while heiress Barbara Hutton commissioned a suite of tigers of yellow diamonds and black onyx. These big cats were articulated so their paws and tails move, giving them a smooth and supple line, like their living inspirations.

Ever a specialty at Cartier, the panther was revitalized in the 1980s when it appeared in a wide variety of jewelry, including watches, earrings, cuff links and new accessories such as pens, handbag clasps and perfume flasks. The panther is now a metaphor for the contemporary woman; sensual and self-assured with an underlying element of danger, hinting that care should be used in handling this exotic creature.

– by Elise B. Misiorowski

This circa 1950 clip-brooch depicts a platinum panther with emerald eyes and black onyx spots on a pavé diamond coat. This friendly looking example is comfortably stretched out with articulated paws, relaxed tail and a head that calmly observes the world - so lifelike you can practically hear it purr. Signed Cartier, Paris. Courtesy of Suzanne Tennenbaum Collection.

Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.


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