In Conversation with Francesca Cartier Brickell

How are ideas born and what does legacy mean for a family descendant? Francesca Cartier Brickell shares with us her personal story, carrying on her great-great-uncle Louis Cartier’s motto: “Never copy, only create”

As a schoolboy, Louis Cartier got more black marks than any of his classmates. “His head is in the clouds”, his teachers complained, reporting that he daydreamed too much and was disruptive in class. Ironically, it was this very criticism - Louis’ extraordinary powers of imagination and his refusal to follow the rules - that would prove a magic ingredient in the Cartiers’ success. So much so that even 100 years later, the jewels made under Louis’ demanding, unconventional and innovative eyes continue to break records at auction. 
My grandfather, Jean-Jacques Cartier, who was Louis’ nephew, told me how the whole family followed the same mantra: “never copy, only create”. The idea was that inspiration could and should come from everywhere, except from existing jewellery. To see evidence of this, we need only look at their libraries: instead of books on jewels, there are tomes on everything from Spanish architecture, Indian textiles, Chinese costumes and Japanese furniture. But it is when you open these books that it becomes exciting: century-old strips of tracing paper are bookmarks for annotated pages, revealing how unexpected objects or shapes or buildings inspired Cartier’s creations. You see for example how the plait pattern on an Egyptian vase formed the basis for a diamond plaited diadem, or how the cross-stitching on a fabric pattern became the gold markings on a cigarette box, or even how my grandfather’s favorite bedtime story as a child (Kipling’s The Jungle Book) inspired a running panther motif. 
Today, with the world in turmoil and businesses worried for the future, it’s perhaps enlightening to look at the past. That the Cartiers survived through terrible world-shaking events was down to a refusal to compromise on their core values. Yes they were financially prudent and pragmatic (semi-precious jewels replaced precious ones during the Depression, gold replaced platinum) but they also remained focused on innovation. A war machine inspired the Tank watch during WW1, while the frustration and fears of life in WW2 occupied Paris resulted in the famous ‘Caged Bird’ brooch. The ‘never copy, only create’ mantra was as fundamental to Cartier’s strategy in dark times as in bright ones because each situation – bad or good - presented endlessly new sources of inspiration. Just take that bird brooch: when Paris was freed at the end of WW2, it was reworked: this time, the bird was out of the cage, free, singing with joy.

  • The gold Bird brooch and sketches, by Cartier

    The gold Bird brooch and sketches, by Cartier

  • Clockwise, Tutti Frutti design collection by Cartier

    Clockwise, Tutti Frutti design collection by Cartier

  • Francesca Cartier Brickell looking at family photos

    Francesca Cartier Brickell looking at family photos

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