I unearthed this great (if rather pompous!) quote at the New York Public Library while on a research trip to America last year. It’s my great-great uncle, Louis Cartier, talking to the press in 1927 at the time of the Paris International Fair about how his idea to experiment with non-precious metals had transformed the whole jewellery industry.
“The thick settings of gold and silver known since time immemorial were like the armour of jewellery..” he explained, “..Platinum became its embroidery.”
It’s easy to take the use of platinum in jewelry for granted nowadays but back then it was an industrial metal used in machinery rather than tiaras!
Louis was attracted to the metal after seeing how light and shiny it looked on a vehicle (unlike silver, it didn’t tarnish). He wanted to try it out in his jewellery but there was a problem – he couldn’t work out how to convert it into a support for precious stones.
Refusing to give up on his idea, he experimented by mixing it with other metals (like iridium) until, in 1896, Cartier finally came up with a form of hard platinum. It was – crucially – strong enough to hold gemstones in place and light enough not to detract from them.
This garland-style tiara/bandeau is a perfect example of Cartier’s early use of platinum. It was made in 1912 for Queen Elisabeth of Belgium (who actually later became related to Cartier by marriage when her son married my grandmother’s sister!).
Louis loved how the lightness and strength of the metal allowed him to create an almost lace-like effect where the diamonds appeared to float in air. Magical.
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