Olivier Bachet has deep knowledge of Cartier. During a fascinating talk held during the November edition of GemGenève, he spoke about the influence that Fabergé had on various jewellery designers – most notably, Cartier.
Various elements link Fabergé and Cartier between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.
Apart from the fact that, just before WWI, Cartier was already an internationally established jewellery Maison, Cartier et Fabergé shared the same clientele – the grand aristocratic families of the European courts and the ultra-wealthy American families such as the JP Morgans, the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts. Moreover, Cartier and Fabergé offered these clients similar objects: enamelled creations inspired by the French 18th century. These “objects de vertu” were delicately made, and Cartier and Fabergé would compete in this same domain for a few years.
Fabergé, as a Maison, was born in 1842 in Saint Petersburg, when Gustave Fabergé, the founder, opened the first boutique. Gustave Fabergé came from a family of Huguenots expelled from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. His son, Carl, continued the family activity from 1870, and he affirmed himself as a goldsmith without parallel.
In 1882, Carl received a golden medal during the Exhibition in Moscow, and Tzar Alexander III, noticing his exquisite work, granted him the royal warrant to serve the Imperial family. From this moment onwards, Fabergé became a leading name in Russia and worldwide.
Today, we remember Fabergé, especially for their Imperial Eggs and their refined enamelled objects inspired by the French 18th-century taste – so much so that the name of Fabergé and the art of enamelling became the same.
Cartier was born around the same years, in 1847, when Louis-François Cartier opened a boutique in Rue Montorgueil in Paris. After some time, Cartier moved closer to the Palais Royal – a clever move given that Paris organises the ateliers and workshops per neighbourhood according to their specialities: the area around the Palais Royal is dedicated to jewellers. Alfred Cartier and his son Louis decided on their last move in 1900 when Cartier relocated to 13 Rue de la Paix – today, the Maison’s iconic Parisian address.
1900 was a pivotal year for Cartier because this was the year of the Exposition Universelle. This event gathered many people to admire the latest and most significant advancements in various fields. It is in this energetic environment that Cartier and Fabergé “met” for the first time, as both were exhibitors at the event.
Fabergé displayed their notorious eggs, and Cartier at once recognised these precious objects’ superior craft and exquisite execution, deciding to take inspiration from them.
This should not be a surprise as, at the time, there was a mutual love between France and Russia, to the point that the Exposition Universelle in 1900 could be considered a French-Russian event. So, the French loved the Russian style, and the Russian aristocrats loved the 18th-century French style – for example, the palaces built in this period in Saint Petersburg mirrored the French architecture of Versailles and the Trianon.
Cartier was now willing and ready to win Fabergé’s clients, so they understood that they would have had to offer them creations close to those provided by Fabergé – this is a hypothesis. Still, it is proven by what Cartier would produce in the following years.
Being in Paris was, for Cartier, a great advantage. Paris is the centre of culture and fashion, and Cartier decided to show objects in its windows that looked like those proposed by the Russian Maison. At this time, Cartier was not the Maison we know today. Its style was not defined yet. Cartier was still a jewels reseller, and in 1904-1905 Pierre Cartier travelled to Russia to contact and meet with Fabergé’s leading suppliers (i.e., lapidaries, enamellers, and goldsmiths).
Following these meetings, Cartier began to commission typically Russian-style objects such as miniature lenses, matchboxes, and frames – all in coloured enamel with typically Russian colours, such as light green.
In 1909 Louis Cartier returned to Russia to negotiate the purchasing of stones. Still, there were problems: the journey from Paris to Moscow was a long one, the objects arrived damaged, the war between Russia and Japan called many goldsmiths to the front, thus lowering the work’s quality and, last but not least, there were also custom problems related to the payment of duties (so the objects were confiscated).
Following these problems and the granting of the royal warrant from the Russian Imperial court, Cartier understood that it was time for a change. Therefore, Cartier decided to “produce Cartier”: to define its style and produce in France to be recognised among all the others.
A typical example of this evolution was the clock.
Cartier streamlined shapes and colours. Four forms (round, square, cubic, and arch) and four primary colours (pink, blue, violet, and green). A significant difference with Fabergé, which counted more than 140 email colours!
Moreover, following their change in strategy, Cartier decided to produce in France – a clever idea since, in Paris, there were, at the time, circa 3.000 workshops. Finding suitable workshops to work the guilloche enamel was paramount, being translucent enamel exceedingly tricky to have.
Cartier also limited the “decorative vocabulary”, restricting the motifs to less than ten, while Fabergé listed them in the order of the hundreds.
A rationalisation of shapes, colours, and decorations (geometric, neoclassic, floral ones) helped to define a precise style and execution.
These elements were mixed in the table clocks, and these were recognised as specifically Cartier.
This was the moment when Cartier detached itself from the Fabergé’s inspiration – and there is another reason for this distancing: Cartier’s love for the Orient and its modernity.
Louis Cartier especially loved the Japanese Ikebana – a composition in which the flower and the whole setting are of primary importance.
It was around 1907 that Cartier stopped drawing inspiration from Fabergé (considered too much into the past) and started looking forward to what will become, during the Art Deco period, the so-called “Japonisme”.
The ultimate act of separation happened when, instead of opening a boutique in Saint Petersburg or Moscow, Cartier decided to move to New York.
This move propelled the French Maison to the highest levels, and it was a fortunate one if we consider what would have happened in Russia in 1917 with the Bolshevik Revolution.
Today, recognising the immense value of both Fabergé and Cartier’s creations, the biggest problem is counterfeiting. There are quite a few pieces out in the market that are thought to have a dubious provenance simply because, in the past, being so similar in style, artisans rebranded Fabergé pieces as Cartier, and vice versa.
For this reason, Olivier Bachet and fellow experts created the IAJA (International Antique Jewelers Association) Expertise Group: a team of six leading experts who can assess antique jewels’ authenticity based on scrupulous examination and research in support of buyers and collectors worldwide.