The luxury brand Cartier is revered across the globe for its quality, and prestige. Their items are
luxury status symbols that have endured for generations. Their vintage designs are still used
today from jewelry to watches. Louis-François Cartier, founded the company in 1847. The
jeweller thought that the brand should embezzle his own name. The brand would be responsible
for creating several trends. Little did he know that centuries later his name would be
synonymous with luxury and high quality craftsmanship.
The apprentice turns into a master
Louis-François Cartier was born in Paris, in 1819. His very humble beginnings, and desire to
learn about watchmaking led him to look for a position as an apprentice. His mentor, and
master was Adolphe Picard, who had a watchmaking workshop in 29 rue Montorgueil in Paris.
Adolphe Picard welcomed young Louis-François Cartier with the intention of teaching him
everything he knew about watchmaking. Louis-François Cartier was not only an extremely
interested apprentice, but also had the desire to excel at anything he did. This allowed him to
absorb all the teachings of Adolphe Picard as a sponge.
In 1847, Adolphe Picard was looking to move on from his shop. The business was not as
successful as he envisioned, and he decided that he should step aside. Louis-François Cartier
who was around 28 years old at the time, looked at this as an opportunity. He asked Adolphe
Picard if he would sell the simple watchmaking workshop at 29 rue Montorgueil to him. Adolphe
Picard accepted, and so Cartier was founded in 1847.
Louis-François Cartier ambitions were way beyond just watchmaking. His idea behind the
Cartier brand was “Never imitate, always innovate”. Louis-François Cartier’s first idea to improve
the Cartier business was to offer jewelry along with his watches. His idea was that Cartier
should be the best luxury brand both in watches and jewelry. So he only offered his clients the
highest quality products.
Soon after Louis-François Cartier took over the store, the French revolution hit in 1948. The
uprising would not be particularly good for business at first glance. As more wealthy people
feared their money, and belongings would be confiscated they turned to buying jewelry.
However, the following years business stalled, and although Cartier was able to retain some of
his more famous clients, it was difficult to attract new customers. Among his renowned
customers was Princess Mathilde Bonaparte.
Passing down Cartier’s heritage to the next generation
Louis-François Cartier’s son Alfred started helping his father around the store. Louis-François
Cartier passed onto his son the same teachings that Adolphe Picard taught him. Louis-François
Cartier would later pass the reins of the company to his son Alfred Cartier. During the early
years Cartier had a modest impact among its clients. His watches were good, but the design
was nothing transcendental. They would also repair watches frequently. Alfred Cartier continued
his father’s footsteps. He would soon follow his father’s footsteps and pass down the company
to his sons.
French society was highly controversial during the 19th century. In 1870 there was another
insurrection led by some of the population. What is now known as the Paris commune, as
revolted parisiennes took to the streets to show their discontentment with the political system at
The Paris commune: opportunity in crisis times
Alfred, who had learned from his father’s experience with the French revolution, tried to
capitalize on the situation. His wealthy customers who saw their bank accounts frozen, rushed
to Cartier to see if they could sell some of their watches and jewelry. Alfred took advantage of
the situation offering a very small amount relative to the value of the items he was buying. With
so many people trying to get rid of luxury items to raise cash, the market was inundated with
luxury items that nobody wanted to buy, apart from Cartier. As fear spread, most of his wealthy
customers were looking to leave Paris and even France altogether. They would sell just about
anything at whatever price, to raise money to pay for their travel. In a matter of months, Alfred
was able to amass one of the most rich collections of jewellery and watches in the whole world
and particularly in France.
The Paris commune would lead to the implementation of the French republic. Once things got
quiet, Alfred was able to sell most of the collection he had been amassing. Although the Paris
commune could have been terrible for Cartier’s business, it was a defining moment. It allowed
Alfred to stock his business for over 20 years. During that period, all of the high-class customers
rushed back to acquire watches and jewelry. Cartier would later open up a store in Rue de la
Paix in 1899. Alfred Cartier had three sons, Louis Cartier, Pierre Cartier and Jacques Cartier.
The three Cartier brothers
Alfred Cartier’s sons would be the main driving force behind the innovation of the Cartier brand.
Together the brothers would expand the company, and create its global presence. Most of what
Cartier is today is often attributed to the three Cartier brothers, who relentlessly continued to
innovate, and spread their name across the whole globe. The three brothers had an amazing
relationship between them. However Louis was certainly the most influential. As more, and
more wealthy customers kept buying from Cartier, Louis realized that the brand was recognized
even outside France.
Louis Cartier’s influence
Louis Cartier is known for its influence not only on the company, but also on the design of its
products. Most notably he is credited with the design of the “tutti frutti” jewelry that Cartier
offered. The tutti frutti collection was available in necklaces and bracelets. It was among the
most successful jewelry pieces ever offered by Cartier. So much so that its design is still used
Louis not only innovated, but he raised the stakes for Cartier as a brand. Combining extremely
good looking designs with excellent craftsmanship. His strive for perfection still lives on within
the company today. Cartier was also involved in creating custom pieces for even its most
demanding customers. At the request of the Maharaja of Patiala, Maharaja Sir Bhupinder Singh,
Cartier would design one of their most extravagant jewelry pieces. A necklace that had nearly
3,000 diamonds engraved on it. A symbol of what Cartier was able to do, and a landmark for
Louis was also responsible for changing watchmaking within Cartier. He decided that pocket
watches were not fashionable and useful anymore. He set out to create an alternative. A
wristwatch design that could withstand time. The Cartier Tank. He also experimented with new
materials, with the goal of continuously innovating.
Pierre Cartier’s influence
Although Louis Cartier was the creative force behind the brand, and his ability to innovate and
create timeless pieces was unique, Pierre was the business mind. With the 20th century, Pierre
saw the need for Cartier to expand, and create stores internationally. Increasing their brand
exposure, and showing their products to thousands and millions of people, and potential clients.
He set out a store in London and St. Petersburg. Soon Pierre Cartier found himself looking to
expand into the US. He chose New York as the most important place, and a city where Cartier
could further grow and expand. Pierre opened the store in 1909 on 5th Avenue. The store,
which was a luxurious American townhouse, cost at the time $100, and a pearl necklace that
was valued at $1 million.
The “hope diamond” and its curse
Soon after Pierre opened the store in New York, Pierre decided to buy one of the biggest and
most famous diamonds at the time. The diamond was commonly referred to as the “hope
diamond”. Although this was an extraordinary feat, some people believed the diamond was
cursed. The previous owners of the hope diamond had died in very controversial ways. Some
were beheaded, and some even killed by wild dogs. When Pierre found out about it, he quickly
sold the diamond.
The buyer of the hope diamond was the highly influential Evelyn Walsh McLean. Evelyn Walsh
McLean was aware of the supposed curse of the hope diamond. So she decided to buy the
diamond from Pierre on a condition. A contract would need to be drafted to protect her in case
the diamond was indeed cursed. The contract was drafted by their attorneys, and included the
“Should any fatality occur to the family of Edward B. McLean within six months, the said Hope
diamond is agreed to be exchanged for jewelry of equal value”
Although nothing happened to Miss Evelyn Walsh McLean, the Cartier brothers had to sue her
in order to get their payment complete.
Second world war and Cartier
With the beginning of the second half of the century, Cartier was able to avoid any downfalls that
could impact the company. It had previously managed to overcome the great depression, and it
was able to overcome the challenges created by the second world war. Pierre, who had lost his
two brothers, was able to continue to manage the company, and expand it. Louis’s and Jacque’s
sons helped their uncle Pierre to manage the offices in London, St. Petersburg and Paris.
Pierre would later pass in 1964. The Cartier family decided that the best thing would be to sell
the company. They initially wanted to sell each store separately, but the interested buyer only
wanted to buy the whole company. Robert Hocq saw immense value in the Cartier brand, and
set out to buy the company. Although Robert Hocq eventually bought the company with all its
branches he was fatally killed in 1979.
Cartier into the 21th century
Cartier remains until today one of the most iconic and timeless luxury brands. Their designs
have influenced generations, and will continue to do so for many years to come. With over 200
stores across the globe, the company is present in more than 125 different countries. Its history
shows how dedication, perseverance and love for what you do can create a global brand that
lives forever. I think there is another great lesson we can take from this lesson. Educating our
kids in the right way, can be extremely impactful in how they conduct their lives and business.
I hope you enjoyed Cartier’s history, and may it inspire you to create a timeless and iconic brand.