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Cartier at the NGA: shines bright like a…

Emma Macdonald

Incandescent jewels more valuable than money can buy have made their way amid tight security to the National Gallery of Australia.

From Kate Middleton’s wedding tiara to Princess Grace’s 10.48-carat engagement ring, some of the most iconic adornments in history will be displayed in Canberra next March.

The Gallery unveiled a preview of its upcoming sure-to-be-blockbuster, Cartier: The Exhibition, which will showcase some of the most famous jewels in all the world.

It is an Australian first, with Gallery Director Gerard Vaughan noting that in a job where he is dealing with heightened security around priceless works of art, this exhibition was taking things to the next level.

“Jewels of spectacular calibre and size, amongst the most important in the world, magnificently set by Cartier’s renowned craftsmen will be exhibited only in Canberra,” said Dr Vaughan.

“It is a collection of immeasurable quality and value, the likes of which have never been seen in this country before, and may never be again. Years of research and gentle persuasion will deliver an unforgettable experience for Australians.”

 Cartier London Halo tiara 1934 platinum, round old- and baguette-cut diamonds 4 cm (height) Collection Cartier © Cartier Photo: Nils Herrmann.

Cartier London, Halo tiara 1934, platinum, round old- and baguette-cut diamonds, 4 cm (height), Collection Cartier © Cartier. Photo: Nils Herrmann.

The collection features more than 300 examples of masterpieces by Cartier, charting the prestigious Paris jewellery house throughout 20th-century history. The exhibition will provide a window into the intimate world of Cartier’s famous international clients, including royalty, aristocrats and global socialites, to movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor whose platinum, gold and Burmese ruby necklace (1951) is synonymous with the iconic jeweller.

The exclusive exhibition features pieces from turn-of-the-century opera star Dame Nellie Melba—Australia’s first global superstar—who was a major client of the Maison Cartier, which supplied other incredibly intricate ‘garland-style’ jewellery popular with European aristocracy.

Art Deco swept the world in the 1920s and Cartier’s designs led the way with its innovative style, such as the Duchess of Windsor’s trend-setting Flamingo brooch (1940) and original ‘It Girl’ Daisy Fellowes’ Tutti Frutti necklace (1936). Their spectacular designs took cues from sources around the world: including East Asia, India and Ancient Egypt. Cartier combined these influences into some of their most exotic jewellery designs.

Cartier Paris. Necklace, bracelet and pair of earrings 1951, platinum, gold, brilliant-, baguette-, modified baguette- and fancy-cut diamonds, cushion-shaped and round faceted Burmese rubies 37 cm (l. necklace); 6.2 cm (l. bracelet at c.); 6 cm (l. earrings). Collection Cartier © Cartier. Photo: Marian Gérard.

Cartier Paris. Necklace, bracelet and pair of earrings 1951, platinum, gold, brilliant-, baguette-, modified baguette- and fancy-cut diamonds, cushion-shaped and round faceted Burmese rubies 37 cm (l. necklace); 6.2 cm (l. bracelet at c.); 6 cm (l. earrings). Collection Cartier © Cartier. Photo: Marian Gérard.

During the Age of Glamour of the 1930s to 1960s, the social, political and historic events demanded a new approach from the agile Cartier designers. That creativity continued with seminal femme fatale María Félix’s flamboyant Crocodile necklace (1975).

Central to the NGA’s Cartier exhibition is a group of beautiful items from the Royal collection, including a selection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s personal favourites. Even the Queen’s Halo Tiara which she leant to Kate Middleton for her wedding to HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, will be on display in Canberra.

The exhibition will also include many items that belonged to an array of European monarchs who were amongst Cartier’s most valued clients, including Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco whose 10.48-carat diamond engagement ring (1956) was made by Cartier Paris.

Cartier is credited with creating the modern wristwatch made popular by some of the world’s leading men. A variety of the Maison Cartier’s iconic watch designs are shown in the context of other ingenious items designed specifically for men. Insight into the inner workings of these intricate, ground-breaking designs is also explored through the workshop space.

Pierre Rainero

Pierre Rainero

Pierre Rainero, Image, Style and Heritage Director, Cartier, was in Canberra for the preview on Thursday and said Cartier had consistently pushed the boundaries of jewellery design through the ages and was a company where “curiosity and openness” are valued.

When asked what it was about glittering jewels that often brought people to a heightened state of emotion – Pierre said it was a basic human instinct to be drawn to “the earth’s most rare and extraordinary materials”.

“It is hard to describe – it is something you feel that makes a link with our universe.”

the essentials

What: Cartier: The Exhibition
When: 30 March until 22 July 2018
Where: The National Gallery of Australia
Tickets: Available here

Image: Cartier Paris. Two crocodile brooches 1975, gold, 1023 brilliant-cut fancy intense yellow diamonds, two navette-shaped emerald cabochons, 1060 emeralds, two ruby cabochons, 30 cm and 27 cm (l. each). Collection Cartier © Cartier. Photo: Nick Welsh

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

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