Cartier’s ardour for floral motifs has seen it venerate orchids, wild roses, narcissuses, poppies and parma violets in some of the finest floral jewels in history. But for the first time, a more unexpected plant, the resilient succulent, has inspired one of its jewellery collections — the Cactus de Cartier.
The 13-piece collection of rings, bracelets and necklaces captures the spikes and petals of cacti (that manage to blossom in spite of foreboding arid landscapes), as well the changing desert light as day moves into night, through its use of yellow gold and vibrant coloured gemstones. Emeralds, chrysoprase, carnelians and lapis lazuli stoke an exciting and slightly dangerous palette that evokes the Wild West.
In the same way that Cartier’s Paris Nouvelle Vague collection (2013) was conceived for bold women, so is the Cactus de Cartier. Think of eccentric Spanish actress Rossy de Palma and Italian bombshell Bianca Brandolini d’Adda. The former has been described as a Picasso come-to-life and is a muse of film director Pedro Almodóvar and designer Jean-Paul Gaultier; the latter, an Italian socialite with a supermodel body, who is often found on the front row of important fashion shows. Both women were guests at the collection’s launch at Paris’ Palais de Tokyo in early July, just before the Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week commenced.
There is also an irrefutable hint of the sartorial leanings of the late María Félix in the dynamic Cactus de Cartier creations. The Mexican actress, known for her formidable personal style and passion for jewellery, was the proud owner of a larger than life crocodile gold necklace (with 1,023 brilliant-cut yellow diamonds and 1,060 circular-cut emeralds; the necklace could also be worn separately as two bracelets). It was made to order for her by Cartier in 1975 after the exotic pet lover actually brought a baby crocodile in a jar with her into the Paris boutique as her design inspiration. Just as the Aztecs and Egyptians revered the crocodile, so did Félix, who regarded her necklace as a protective amulet.
Representative of different qualities, the cactus (be it a saguaro or squat barrel variety) also possesses its own unique symbolism. In the Japanese culture for example, the cactus flower implies lust and sensuality, while in other cultures it is regarded in a completely different light: As a sign of chastity. There are also associations of unconditional maternal love, protection, power and resilience. A dangerous and vibrant duality of unpredictable spikes and joyous flowers imbues the Cactus de Cartier collection with an irrepressible spirit.
There are three distinct design variants in this collection design, with all of them sharing the same confident applications of volume exemplified through the use of domes. The first line uses a combination of emeralds, chrysoprase and carnelians as its youthful colour scheme to capture twilight efflorescence, while the other one relies on lapis lazuli as a nod to the way cacti are inclined to close their flowers when day breaks. Lastly, there are several pieces solely expressed in gold and diamonds. The diamonds add a touch of sparkle to these statement pieces, akin to precious dewdrops in a desert, an inhospitable yet strangely beautiful environment.
The crown jewel of the collection is the stately 18k yellow gold necklace featuring emeralds and 204 brilliant-cut diamonds. However, a statement cuff with plant shapes dotted with zesty gemstone flowers comprising emeralds, chrysoprase and carnelian, along with diamonds, also leaves quite the free-spirited impression.
Cartier’s long tradition of celebrating flowers, which began in its Garland style of laurel wreaths and garlands during the late 19th century, has taken an audacious step with this latest collection. The unveiling of the Cactus de Cartier in the French capital, at a venue dedicated to contemporary art, saw sculptural orange sand dunes assembled as the event’s backdrop, while the green hues were observed in ottomans and even in the colour of the canapés envisioned by twice Michelin-starred Lisbon chef José Avillez. But despite the proximity to innovative, large-scale modern expression, it was the sensuous and startling prickly gems that rightfully stole the sun-drenched vista as summer broke.