There are few things in this world that are fit for a king. And arguably, some of them are from Cartier. Since 1904, the Parisian Maison has received royal warrants from 12 sovereignties, with the Kingdom of Siam being the only Asian one. Naturally, on the centenary celebrations of the Panther, undoubtedly the Maison's most enduring icon, Cartier chose Bangkok as the destination for its regional high jewellery event.
The start of this long-standing relationship with the Thai throne began in 1907, during an encounter at Cartier's historical flagship boutique at 13 Rue de la Paix, Paris, between King Paramindr Maha Chulalongkorn and a young salesman Jules Glaenzer. The king, accompanied by his entourage, had expressed an interest to view some of Cartier's gem-studded bracelets. After dismissing the precious contents on several trays, Glaenzer went to the safe and brought out a tray that contained the Maison's most prized bracelets. “His Majesty has chosen this one,” said one of the king's staff, as was dutifully recorded by Glaenzer in the sales ledger. “Which one?” Glaenzer replied. “The whole tray,” he said, disentranced.
The bracelets amounting to US$450,000 (in comparison, the famous Hope Diamond sold for $180,000 two years later) were not the only items the king left the boutique with. Another notable purchase was a ribbon necklace meant for his wife Queen Saovabha Phongsri, the queen regent.
Composed of a delicate fabric set with antique- and rose-cut diamonds, this necklace was telling of Cartier's mastery in balancing tradition and innovation. On one hand, the floret and foliage motifs hark back to the time of Louis XVI and on the other, the jeweller had elevated the ribbon from a necessary and functional accessory to an artistic and important part of the necklace's design.
In 1909, Glaenzer also embarked on a seven-month journey to Asia for the king's 40th Jubilee. Although his main objective was to be the custodian to a prized assortment of jewels, the trip would also take him to Colombo, Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Bombay, Agra and Calcutta. Just as he had meticulously recorded his travels in a journal, he also prepared an inventory of the jewels, both of which are carefully kept in the Maison's archives at its Rue de la Paix boutique.
Fast-forward a century and Cartier paid tribute to its relationship with the Thai kingdom by inviting 110 of its most important clients in the region to the event in Bangkok. Indeed, such a gathering called for an exceptional programme, one that appropriately reflected and reinforced its relationship with the Thai monarchy.
In a three-part journey of discovery, the evening began with champagne at the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok's Author's Lounge, where some important pieces from the Cartier Collection, produced in the early 20th century, were put on display. Leading the exhibits was Queen Saovabha Phongsri's ribbon necklace, which Cartier had acquired several years ago.
A fitting location, the Mandarin Oriental was once the premises of the famed Oriental Hotel, where Glaenzer resided during his time in the Land of a Thousand Smiles. Located along the banks of the Chao Phraya River, it was also here that Glaenzer was received before journeying by boat to the royal residence.
Recreating this experience, a private boat was arranged to shuttle guests to a secret location. But this was no ordinary river ferry — guests were invited on-board the Angsana royal barge (the same boat King Bhumibol Adulyadej travels in for his royal duties) that was manned for the evening by the Royal Thai Navy.
The dinner location that had been kept shrouded in secrecy was eventually revealed to be the original premises of the Siam Commercial Bank, which was established by King Chulalongkorn's half-brother Prince Mahisorn in 1904. Washed in the signature Cartier red hue and lit by lamps held by a bevy of Cartier bellboys, the venue, as it turned out, was playing host to a brand event for the first time in its august history.
The gala itself featured a sumptuous four-course, wine-paired dinner menu and culminated with a fashion show of the Maison's contemporary creations, including 10 new pieces that made their debut at the event. All in all, it was an unforgettable evening that showed off the jeweller's artisanal heritage and its lasting relationship with the Thai kingdom.
A Regal Affair
A secret location accessed via the ceremonial barge of a king? Cartier ensures that its double celebration — of the centennial celebrations of its panther and its long-standing relationship with the Thai monarchy — was unrivalled in splendour. Hosted by its CEO Stanislas de Quercize and Regional Managing Director for Southeast Asia and Australia, Gregoire Blanche, the dinner was graced by HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana, and attended by the region's most astute high jewellery clients.