Professional Jeweler Archive: Cartier Reopens Flagship Store

November 2001


Cartier Reopens Flagship Store

The former Fifth Avenue mansion is restored to its original glory, but with a lighter, modern touch

All jewelers grapple with the challenge of updating their stores, but when your store is an almost century-old New York City landmark, unique issues arise. Still, Cartier’s masterful refurbishing of its flagship store, which reopened in August, demonstrates the retailer was as mindful of current design as of the legacy it was preserving.

The Interior

Light and airy are the words that come to mind when you step into the new Cartier, a bow to the 21st century preferences of retail interior design. Dramatic two-story interior views replace the smaller, warren-like feel of the old layout. In the oval entrance room, reached from the new 52nd Street grand entrance, the architect created an opening in the ceiling to the second floor. In the front room facing Fifth Avenue, a partial mezzanine was removed to open the space to its full two-story height. Windows received new awnings that allow more light into the store.

Adding natural light and opening spaces are only the beginning. Cartier also lightened and restored the original rift-cut oak paneling in several rooms and matched it with new faux beige rift-cut oak paneling in other areas. Gray ribbed carpeting throughout coordinates with the muted palette of light oak, carved plaster ceilings and bronze trim. The store now has 1,600 square feet, a 77% increase.


The fixtures add to the new feel of the store. Display case and counter profiles are simplified; visible hardware is minimized for a lighter effect. Though the cases are wood, they sit on bronze legs and feature frameless glass covers that appear to float. Vertical wall vitrines have glass fronts and curved glass corners, with thin bronze vertical and horizontal separations.

Fiber-optic lighting in the cases runs from illuminators concealed behind the wood panels. Pin lights lodged in horizontal light bars shine brilliantly onto the jewelry.

As a contrast between modern and classic, molded plaster, carved wood and formal architectural details share space with materials such as faux slate and faux Pillaguri stone that alternate between polished and unfinished for an up-to-the minute textured look. The dramatic entrance hall, for example, features an impressive double curved staircase leading up to an oval room that was once the entrance hall to the mansion. Now its classic looks are complemented by the very modern cutout ceiling with its views of the floor above.

The restoration was overseen by French designer Jean-Michel Wilmotte, who is responsible for executing Cartier’s new design concept, already carried out in boutiques in Paris and Tokyo. Wilmotte also designed the new interior of the Louvre Museum’s Richelieu wing and the new street lamps, benches and traffic lights on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. Architectural work was completed by Butler, Rogers Baskett, New York City.

To underline the building’s historic significance and reinforce the idea of Cartier’s flagship as a museum and a retail store, the company included a permanent exhibition area on the second floor. A two-part exhibit titled “Cartier and New York: An Enduring Romance” is installed until Nov. 9. Then the Cartier archives will display greeting cards and stationery from its New York collection until Jan. 2.

– by Peggy Jo Donahue


Left: To call attention to its restoration, Cartier engraved a stainless steel Tank Basculante watch with the store’s new facade. Like Cartier’s restoration, the watch combines tradition and innovation. The classic Tank features a modern pivoting mechanism that reveals the engraving and also protects the bezel and dial from shocks.

Right: Cartier’s pavé diamond Apple pendant celebrates the restored mansion’s location in New York City. A single baguette diamond (lower right in photo) surrounded by round diamonds represents the store, while green tsavorites signify the city’s Central Park.

Exterior Delights

During the restoration of Cartier’s flagship, the Italian Renaissance-style limestone exterior was refurbished, including the bronze storefront windows with green verde marble surrounds. The windows themselves feature new tailored canvas awnings inspired by those Cartier used in the 1920s. The awnings are much shorter than previous ones to allow more light into the building. The vertical feel of each window is contrasted with a thin bronze and leather jewelry display shelf. The shelves appear to float in front of etched-glass screens.

The biggest exterior change was returning the main entrance to the original spot. When architect Robert W. Gibson designed the building between 1903 and 1905, the main entrance was on 52nd Street so the owners and their guests didn’t have to expose themselves to the passing crowds on busy Fifth Avenue, which was quickly becoming a commercial thoroughfare.

When Pierre Cartier transformed the building into a commercial establishment in 1917, he moved the door onto the corner of Fifth Avenue and enlarged the front windows.

The 2001 redesign restores the broad entrance on 52nd Street, which is situated under an ornately carved limestone balcony. Two new lanterns flank the doorway and match four existing 1917 fixtures. Entrance doors are bronze and glass, surmounted by a bronze and glass canopy inspired by the 1917 bronze storefront. The Fifth Avenue doorway was moved from the corner to the third bay on the right to lessen its significance.

– P.J.D.


Left: The Cartier store circa 1917 (note the “Buy Liberty Bonds” flags hanging from the second floor railing, a sign the United States had entered World War I). Pierre Cartier had just transformed the building into a commercial establishment, grilling off the old main entrance on 52nd Street and adding a corner doorway on Fifth Avenue, where the commercial trade would flow.

Right: The Cartier store in 2001, after its restoration reintroduced New Yorkers to the original 52nd Street entrance (left side of photo). Shorter awnings and windows that are more open to street views transform the mansion into an inviting retail emporium of the 21st century.

Pearls Before Mansions

It seems extraordinary now, but when industrialist Morton F. Plant traded his mansion to Pierre Cartier for a magnificent double strand of natural pearls worth $1 million in 1917, he was probably relieved. His beloved Fifth Avenue prime residential neighborhood was going commercial, and he wanted to follow his fellow millionaires, such as the Vanderbilts, as they skedaddled to loftier locations.

The uncomplicated transaction was soon completed and everyone was happy. Maisie Plant was thrilled with her lovely pearls and Pierre Cartier finally had the prime location he yearned for in the U.S. Within the refurbished now-retail space, he dedicated each showroom to a different gem: pearls, diamonds, emeralds and rubies. A fifth showroom held a chapel where clients could view religious jewelry. A salesperson sat a carved table in each room to receive customers, and tall, slim vitrines displayed very few jewels, in the style of Cartier’s Paris boutique. On the second floor, Pierre installed himself in an elegant office where he could look out onto Fifth Avenue. His office has been restored and is now a private viewing room.

– P.J.D.


Left: Maisie Cadwell Plant wears the natural pearl necklace she fell in love with. This jewelry bought Pierre Cartier his mansion showplace.

Right: Pierre Cartier was one of three third-generation Cartier brothers who transformed the company into a powerhouse. As overseer of the U.S. branch, he bought the Plant Mansion on Fifth Avenue in 1917 with a $1 million strand of pearls and $100.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications