Largely dominated by centuries-old corporations that fiercely guarded the prerogatives of their members, the world of jewellery was almost exclusively an all-male domain. At least until the end of the 19th century. The Arts and Crafts movement in England subsequently allowed a handful of women to express themselves through jewellery — one only has to think of extraordinary talents such as Georgina Gaskin and Edith Dawson. This cultural revolution arguably had an influence on Louis Cartier, who, in 1933, made a radical decision for the Maison that was founded by his grandfather in 1847: entrusting the creative direction of haute joaillerie to a woman.
That woman was Jeanne Toussaint, a longtime friend and muse of Louis Cartier. Born in Charleroi, Belgium to lacemaker parents, Toussaint ran away from home at an early age to join her sister in Paris. Having captivated the aristocracy of that era with her innate charm and elegance, she met Louis Cartier one fateful evening at Maxim’s, before the war broke out. And the rest, as they say, is history. Former lovers whose relationship was strongly opposed by his family, Jeanne Toussaint and Louis Cartier remained close friends right up to his death in 1942.
In her years at the helm of the Maison, Toussaint did wonders. Her impeccable taste, flair for design, well-balanced sense of proportion, and eye for colour brought creations to life with free-spirited femininity. Over the course of her artistic journey, she rendered diamonds in flexible and fluid interpretations, and imagined new chromatic combinations. Louis Cartier gave her the affectionate and playful nickname of “La Panthère”. With good reason: Jeanne Toussaint was the true panther of Cartier, who brought an unparalleled creative impulse to the Maison. As Pierre Claudel, the son of dramatist and diplomat Paul Claudel, once said: “Jeanne Toussaint led the world of jewellery towards modernity without ever sacrificing elegance and good taste.”
The inauguration of a Cartier watch is always a momentous occasion. The Maison is unlike any other: the essence of its unmistakable style lies in the experimental philosophy that guides the design of each timepiece; a science that explores the unexpected, while remaining faithful to its Parisian heritage. As the Creative Director of Watchmaking at Cartier, Marie-Laure Cérède is the custodian of this rich legacy, which grows stronger with the passage of time.
“Watchmaking is a complex art because of its inherent duality: you have to be able to express creative freedom whilst working within the mechanical constraints of the movement, which is its heart. Intellectually speaking, I love the challenge,” says Cérède. “For Cartier, such an undertaking becomes even more audacious, since the aesthetic must take precedence over the technical, making it almost a second thought to emotion. Intuition has been a constant in designs throughout our history: the creative execution is the result of a controlled tension between the head and the heart, it is an alchemy that envelops the senses.”
Marie-Laure Cérède, for instance, spearheaded the creation of the brand-new Maillon de Cartier. “We were prompted by the desire to create a new concept for the bracelet. We restored a small bourgeois jewel from the mid-20th century, and revamped its construction.” The result is a design that combines, in one single piece, the characteristics of a watch and that of jewellery.
“In a departure from our usual approach, we started working on the bracelet first. We chose to sculpt a three-dimensional chain evocative of an animal claw, inspired by our traditional bestiary,” adds Cérède. “As with all Cartier watches, this design is neither conventional nor predictable… Everything we create reflects a precise aesthetic belief. Every watch has to tell a story that is innovative, distinctive, and unique.”