Head to the Hong Kong Palace Museum this weekend in the West Kowloon District to have your eyeballs titillated by literally hundreds of carats of diamonds and precious stones. The sparkling affair is brought to you by Cartier, who have compiled approximately three hundred Cartier pieces from the archives and private collections in a sprawling exhibition titled Cartier and Women.
The relationship between women and their jewellery has evolved through the decades, going from markers of marital status or familial wealth to eventually telling the story of feminine autonomy, freedom and influence. Cartier and Women traces jewellery from the 19th century to present-day via famed (or infamous) pieces and cornerstone motifs, told through the lens of female icons and collectors.
The exhibition features jewellery, timepieces, precious objects, accessories, and archival records put together in a cohesive display of the female story as told by their Cartier jewels. Standout pieces include a display of royal tiaras and jewellery belonging to historical female figures such as Marie Bonaparte (yes, that Bonaparte) and the Duchess of Windsor. A large section was also dedicated to Cartier’s first female creative director Jeanne Toussaint, who helmed the label as Director of Fine Jewellery from 1933 to her retirement in 1970.
Visitors can find themselves face-to-face with gems owned by some of the most iconic beauties of old Hollywood yore such as Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly. Another section of the exhibition shows off Asia’s rich and powerful, with pieces from the queens of East Asian cinema Carina Lau and Brigitte Lin, along with Pansy Ho, daughter of billionaire casino magnate Stanley Ho.
Certainly, no mere mortal can boast of having an “affinity for Cartier [which] was established at the age of ten,” as the socialite and businesswoman Ho stated in her dedicated placard, which lay under a formidable tiara and necklace display featuring glowing emeralds the size of a child’s fists. Yet some approximation of such may still be enjoyed, at least for four glorious months, starting now until 14th August 2023 at the Hong Kong Palace Museum.
Track Cartier through the decades by their iconic pieces and silhouettes at the timeline below.
1907: Olive branch tiara owned by Napoleon’s great-grandniece
This platinum, diamond and pearl tiara was once a part of Marie Bonaparte’s trousseau when she wed Prince George of Greece and Denmark. The tiara features an olive branch motif to honour Prince George’s Greek heritage.
1926: Beginnings of the timeless tank model
One of the label’s most recognisable silhouettes, the first Tank Chinoise watch was launched in 1922. This particular watch dates back to 1926, and is rendered in gold and sapphire.
1927: Ancient Egypt meets Art Deco
Following the unearthing of King Tut’s tomb in 1922, the world became infatuated with ancient Egyptian design. Cartier’s Egyptian striking clock is a product of those years, blending Art Deco elements of the time with a design modelled after an Egyptian temple gate.
The clock was owned by Florence Blumenthal, avid art collector and patron of the arts. Her husband George Blumenthal served as the President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1934 to 1941.
1934: Wedding gift to American heiress, “Poor Little Rich Girl” Barbara Hutton
Multiple inheritances saw Hutton become one of the wealthiest women in the world at the ripe age of twenty-one, and since then, she would end up marrying and divorcing a total of seven times.
This jadeite necklace was one of the wedding gifts which she received upon her first marriage to Russian Prince Alexis Mdivani in 1933. Twenty-seven matching Jadeite beads make up the necklace, with a diamond and ruby clasp.
1944: Post-WWII free birds motif
The liberated bird motif was created by Cartier’s creative director Jeanne Toussaint during WWII, featuring birds in a cage which symbolised the Nazi occupation of France. After France was liberated, the designs were made to show the birds liberated from their cages.
1947: Windsor Amethyst Bib necklace
A special order gift from the Duke of Windsor to his Duchess, who wore the amethyst, diamond and turquoise necklace to attend a charity ball in Versailles in 1953.
1949: Cartier Panther motif
This panther brooch rendered in platinum, diamonds and sapphires was the second 3D panther piece created by Cartier, and was originally designed for the Duchess of Windsor. Under the house’s first female creative director, Cartier’s panther motif came to stand for a strong feminine presence and became symbolic of the rising status, power and influence of women.
1956: Grace Kelly’s iconic engagement ring
The 10.48 carat emerald-cut diamond flanked by two baguettes, was commissioned by Prince Rainier of Monaco for Hollywood icon Grace Kelly. The ring made an appearance in her last film, To Catch a Thief, before she retired from Hollywood for good to take up the reins as Princess Grace of Monaco.
2012: Emerald and diamond tiara made for Pansy Ho
Owned by Hong Kong’s own Pansy Ho, daughter of casino tycoon Stanley Ho and a businesswoman in her own right, the tiara features a knotted motif of diamonds and a carved emerald at its centre.
Cartier and Women is currently on view until 14th August, 2023 at the Hong Kong Palace Museum. Book tickets to view the exhibition here.
(All images c/o Cartier)