Cartier in Russia and Not the Soviet Union
No one was more responsible for Cartier’s prominence in Russia than the Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna. Over the years she became Louis Cartier’s best client, commissioning numerous important pieces—including the Vladimir Tiara, which is now owned by England’s Queen Elizabeth II—and introducing the jeweler to her friends and family. She encouraged Louis Cartier and his brothers, Pierre and Jacques, to open the seasonal store, in 1907, at the Grand Hotel, where it thrived for several years.
By the early years of the last century, toward the end of the Romanovs’ regime, Pavlovna had amassed a treasure trove of Cartier jewelry that included a six-row pearl choker adorned with two diamond-encrusted imperial eagles, an intricate diamond tiara with a 5.22-carat Beauharnais ruby, and an elaborate diamond-and-onyx bow-shaped brooch with a lorgnette. Her collection so impressed her nephew Tsar Nicholas II that in 1907, shortly after the opening of the Cartier boutique at the Grand Hotel, he appointed Cartier as the jeweler to the Imperial Court in St. Petersburg, which was the capital of Russia at the time.
The onset of World War I gave way for its closure and the Russian Revolution then followed, leaving no place for a luxury jeweler in the Soviet Union. The target customers of Cartier were affluent upper class citizens and nobles, and during the revolution and the multiple campaigns by the Soviet Union, these people were wiped out, meaning killed or imprisoned, leaving the jewelers no chance of staying in Russia. The jewelers themselves ran the risk of being killed or imprisoned had they stayed there.
When the Russian Revolution began, 10 years later, the grand duchess was forced to hide her jewels in a vault in the Vladimir Palace, her home in St. Petersburg, and fled to the Caucasus. She refused to leave her country and remained in the Caucasus until 1920. Meanwhile, Albert Stopford, a member of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, and a family friend who was sympathetic to the Romanovs, retrieved the jewels from the vault and smuggled them out of Russia. He eventually brought them back to the grand duchess who was residing in Venice, Italy, after she finally had left Russia.
The Influence of Ancient Egypt
The influence of ancient Egypt had been a huge factor in the world of art and design since the eighteenth century. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 furthered this interest as did the 1911 Franco–Egyptian Exhibition at the Louvre. People flocked to see the ancient art and relics and as such were influenced by the ancient egyptian style
Cartier’s early Egyptian inspired pieces used scarab motifs, lotus blooms and other recognizable egyptian symbols wrought in lapis, turquoise and garnet, highlighted by pearls and diamonds. Pieces in the early 1900s include stylized motifs worked in the cartier style with platinum and diamonds with onyx and punctuated with designs made of calibre-cut emeralds, rubies and sapphires.
Following the groundbreaking and exciting discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb by Howard Carter in 1922, the interest in the Egyptian style greatly intensified and was picked up anew with more to be inspired by. Inspired by Louis Cartier’s long-standing personal interest in egyptian relics and his collection with items along those lines, Cartier began designing unique and imaginative pieces centered around ancient Egyptian faience beads and fragments.
The Mystery Clocks
The hands of a mystery clock seem to operate by themselves, keeping time around a transparent face, typically made of rock crystal, with no visible connection to movements of any sort.
Though the effect is mystical and simplistic, the truth is not nearly as simple as the effect. Each hand is in fact fixed onto a separate crystal disc set with a saw-toothed metal rim that is driven by gears disguised within the frame of the case. The crystal discs are transparent and do not reveal themselves to the naked eye.
Each part of the clock is completely hand-made and the production of a completed clock, even into the days of the 1980s, was a painstaking and laborious process requiring three to twelve months to complete. The first mystery clock created, called the ’Model A’ had a vertical frame and a heavy stone base, was sold to J.P.Morgan.
Subsequent models of the mystery clock incorporated many different shapes and motifs often with Oriental themes including the famous Portico models, which were designed as freestanding Oriental porticos featuring grand images of dragons or Buddhas.