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
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
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
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.