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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
around 5 million dollars. Once more he was decorated and rewarded for
having again cemented the bonds of friendship between France and the
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
Strasbourg and for some months remained a prisoner. Pierre Cartier
did everything possible to obtain his liberation, just as he did to
Claude, the son of Louis Cartier and Countess Almassy, of Hungarian
origin, to leave Budapest where he was living at the time. Pierre and
Claudel, with their three daughters, returned to New York in the spring
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
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.
Curator of the Art of Cartier Collection
Geneva, September 2001