Pierre-Camille Cartier

After taking over the shop at 29, Rue Montorgueil in Paris from his master, Adolphe Picard, in 1847, the grandfather of Pierre Cartier, Louis-Francois Cartier (1819-1904), founded the Cartier jewellery business which was registered in the Trade Registry as follows; "Successor of Mr. Picard, manufactuer of jewels, imaginative jewellery, fashion and novelty items". He officially registered his master-craftsman's hallmark, a diamond with a heart between the letters L and C.

The creation of novelty items was undoubtedly the guiding principle of Louis-Francois Cartier. He was able to pass this on to his son Alfred Cartier (1841-1925) who in turn passed it down to his three sons, one of whom was Pierre Cartier, born March 10 1878. Pierre, the second son of Alfred Cartier, got on equally well with both Louis-Joseph (1875-1942), his elder brother, and Jacques-Theodule (1884-1941), the youngest of the three. Each had his own particular talents and skills. Thanks to this harmonious relationship, the complementary nature of their skills and their joint approach to business, they made the Cartier name the most prestigious in the world of French jewellery: Louis-Joseph in Paris, Jacques in London and Pierre in New York.

This perfect family relationship and deep affection extended also in their sister Suzanne, who married Jacques Worth, a member of the family of the famous couturier.

Pierre Cartier, at the very start of his exceptional career, was asked to go to Russia, both to study the political and economic sitiation under Nicolas II, and to penetrate and understand the secrets of the professional success of a famous colleague, Peter Carl Faberge.

After some exhibitions and sales, and the establishment of a temporary branch in Saint Petersburg, Alfred Cartier and his three sons unanimously concluded that it would be safer to set up business in the United States. The first signs of revolution were already in Russia.

After obtaining resounding success with King Edward VII and his aristocratic entourage in London, Pierre Cartier opened up at 712 Fifth Avenue, New York, in 1909. In 1902 Jacques had become manager of the first shop at 4 New Burlington Street, London before moving to 175-176 New Bond Street, also in 1909.

Pierre Cartier's success was immediate. In 1910, while Louis Cartier was in Russia to deliver a Kokoschnik tiara set with large cabochon sapphires and diamonds to the Grand Duchess Marie Feodorovna, wife of the Grand Duchess Marie Feodorovna, wife of the Grand Duke Vladimir, Pierre Cartier sent him a telegram announcing the sale of the "Hope" diamond -44.50 carats and sapphire-blue in colour- to Mrs Evelyn Walsh McLean, who had already bought another historic diamound in Paris, the "Star of the East", two years earlier.

His clients bore prestigious names, such as the Leeds family, Unzue, Blumenthal, Lydig, not fogetting the Vanderbilt, Morgan, Ford or Rockefeller families. In time, as their confidence increased, they also became friends of Pierre Cartier.

His private life was also a success, culminating in his marriage in 1908 to Elma Rumsey from Saint Louis, and the birth of his much-loved only daughter, Marion on April 14th 1911. In a letter to his friend and brother in law David Bryson Delavan, Pierre spoke of his love for his daughter: "The most precious jewel we have is our little Marion".

According to very recent research, it was in 1912 that Cartier Paris sold its first, mysterious Model A clock, a refined version of the one invented around 1850 by the watchmaker and manufacturer of automatic mechanisms, Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin. A second clock ordered by Pierre Cartier, set on a nephrite base, and dating from 1913, which for a long time was believed to be the original version, was bought by the famous banker J.P. Morgan, cousin of the Rumsey family.

During the first world war in France Pierre Cartier, a great patriot, offered to act as a chauffeur for Colonel Ponsard using his own Rolls Royce, and unwilling to keep a german car, donated his Mercedes to the army. Part of the garden of his house in Neuilly was opened up for doctors and nurses from the nearby American Hospital, to serve as a place of rest and relaxation. In the meantime, his daughter Marion was safe, with her nurse Margot, staying with her aunt Marion (the sister of Elma Rumsey) and her uncle, Doctor David Bryson Delavan, in New York. As for his wife, after spending some time with her father-in-law Alfred Cartier in Auvergne, she rejoined Pierre Cartier in Cherbourg where she began working for the Hôpital de la Gare Maritime. Both fell ill and after convalescing, returned to New York in 1917 to rejoin their daughter.

While his elder brother Louis Cartier was well-known in Paris for his creative genius, Pierre Cartier’s innate talent was for human contact and public relations. Immediately on returning to New York, while Europe was still at war, he carried off an almost unbelievable deal which, although it seems to us like an anecdote, is in fact perfectly true. Looking for a better location for his New York shop, Pierre Cartier had his eyes on the renaissance-style palace built between 1903 and 1905 by Robert W. Gibson at 653 Fifth Avenue, on the corner of 52nd street. This building belonged to Mr. And Mrs Morton F. Plant. At this point, her husband’s junior, was anxious to obtain the finest pearl necklace currently available at “Monsieur Pierre’s”, a necklace with two strings of 55 and 73 pearls respectively, worth a million dollars. She could hardly take her eyes off it. So why not do a swap? The plants moved out and Cartier moved in.

The aftermath of this story illustrates strikingly the collapse in the value of fine pearls which started at the end of the 1920s. The husband of Mrs Morton F. Plant died and she remarried Mr. John E Rovensky. In the intervening years, she had had built a copy of the palace which had been exchanged for the pearl necklace. On her death, the pearls were sold, on January 23rd 1957, by Parke Bernet for a mere 151 000 dollars, whilst Cartier building was declared “Landmark of the City of New York” and thus can never in the future undergo any major external alterations.

Pierre Cartier’s instinct for public relations went hand in hand with a special interest in marketing, a typically american approach which at the time was little known in Paris and London. Very early on he had the idea of opening boutiques in airports and famous department stores.

Feeling himself to be in some way personally responsible for good relations and co-operation between France and the United States, Pierre Cartier was, from 1920 on, President of the French Hospital in New York, Vice-President and council member of the French Chamber of Commerce in New York, Vice-President of the Alliance Française in New York, founder and President of the Franco-American Council for Trade and Industry, member of the Executive Committee of the Federationof the Alliance Française in the USA, as well as Director of the St Vincent de Paul Asylum.

His numerous merits were recognized. After having the joy of receiving the insignia of “Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur” in 1921, he was named “Officier” in 1929 by His Excellency Paul Claudel, French Ambassador to the United States (Marion’s future father-in-law), and finally the French Government elevated him to the rank of “Commandeur” in 1938.

As for many other people, the New York stock market of October 1929 was a terrible shock for him. It virtually put an end to the years of splendour at Cartier, where the beautiful creations of Art-Déco jewellery were coveted by the most select clientele. He had to find a way out of the problem, and he adopted a policy of reducing buying to a minimum and carrying a stock of items at affordable prices. There is an advertisement from the thirties stating that prices at Cartier New York start at 1 dollar!

At the Overseas International Colonial Exhibition in Paris, Pierre Cartier was again honored, this time receiving from Maréchal Lyautey the “Black Star of Benin”, the highest colonial decoration. He received it as thanks for the success of this event and for the advertising campaign he had waged through the French Chamber of Commerce in New York.

During the summer of 1932, Marion Cartier visited the Claudels at their property in Brangues in Dauphiné, where the countryside was an inspiration for her talent as a painter.

Although her father had been brought up as a Roman Catholic, Marion followed her mother as a member of the Episcopal Church. But during this stay in France, she felt the desire and need to convert to Catholicism, just as Paul Claudel had done eighteen years of age. She also fell in love with Pierre, the son of Paul Claudel. Their engagement took place on September 25th 1932, to be followed by the wedding in April 1933 in New York, an event that was widely reported in the press.

Although his original intention had been to enter the Diplomatic Corps, Pierre Claudel joined Cartier. This was the start of a long and fruitful co-operation between father-in-law and son-in-law which lasted twenty-five years.

In 1939 Pierre Cartier participated in the creation of the “Maison de Bijoux” for the world fair in New York. This event enabled a number of jewelers to present jewels to the public totaling a value of around 5 million dollars. Once more he was decorated and rewarded for having again cemented the bonds of friendship between France and the United States.

During the Second World War Pierre Cartier, still a committed patriot, organized a collection in New York to finance aid for the allied war effort. As for Pierre Claudel, he returned voluntarily to France in the spring of 1940 to join the army. He was captured by the Germans near Strasbourg and for some months remained a prisoner. Pierre Cartier did everything possible to obtain his liberation, just as he did to enable Claude, the son of Louis Cartier and Countess Almassy, of Hungarian origin, to leave Budapest where he was living at the time. Pierre and Marion Claudel, with their three daughters, returned to New York in the spring of 1941.

Jacques Cartier died in Dax the same year. Louis Cartier, who, during the occupation, had left the reins of Rue de La Paix in the hands of Jeanne Toussaint, manager of fine jewellery since 1933, also moved to New York. He died there in 1942. At the suggestion of Pierre Cartier, Marion and Pierre Claudel took over the Paris business while his nephew Claude moved to New York.

In 1947, Pierre and Elma Cartier moved to the shores of Lac Leman, near Geneva, to live out a calm and discreet retirement at the “Villa Elma”. Before being rebuilt, this villa had been a boathouse and was part of the estate of the Château de Penthes, former residence of the Empress Josephine. The couple entertained friends and cruised on the lake aboard their boat the “Elma”. Their five granddaughters, Violaine, Dominique, Marie-Pierre, Marie and Michèle often paid visits, after the death of their little brother Peter. They looked after them with great affection until their deaths. Elma died in 1959 and Pierre on 27th  October 1964.

The documents which were bequeathed, together with some jewellery, by Marion Cartier to the University of Saint Louis in memory of her beloved mother Elma Rumsey Cartier, tell us a lot about her father Pierre Cartier, especially as regards personal matters, while the archives kept at Cartier in New York tell us about his exceptional professional life.

Eric Nussbaum
Curator of the Art of Cartier Collection
Geneva, September 2001