The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewelry Empire

Francesca Cartier Brickell. Ballantine, $32.50 (688p) ISBN 978-0-525-62161-4
A French jewelry dynasty weathers war, financial collapse, and a trend toward casual fashions in this sparkling group biography. Brickell, great-great-great-granddaughter of Cartier’s founder, draws on family letters and records to recount the family-owned Cartier’s four-generation rise from a Paris jewelry shop to a global luxury brand that has outfitted movie stars, maharajas, princesses, and prostitutes. It’s a saga of heroic social climbing as the Cartier commoners edged into the aristocratic circles they catered to beginning in the late 19th century, featuring unhappy arranged marriages for money and a snub that almost precipitated a duel between scion Louis Cartier and a Rothschild in the 1920s. There is also adventure and peril, including gem-hunting expeditions to India in 1911, two German military occupations, and the Bolsheviks’ liquidation of Cartier’s prized Romanov clientele, but subtler forces posed graver threats: high post–WWII taxes that sapped heiresses’ disposable incomes, and the erosion of couture standards that once compelled fashionable women to wear diamonds to the opera. Brickell adds well-informed commentary on Cartier’s jewelry innovations, like the displacement of ponderous Victorian bling with lighter, elegant pieces in delicate platinum settings, and the pioneering of men’s watch designs. The result is an engrossing study of jewelry history and of high society at its flashiest, studded with entertaining anecdotes. Photos. (Nov.)
Reviewed on : 09/23/2019
Release date: 10/29/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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