Louis-François Cartier (1819—1904) was a French jeweler and watchmaker who went from apprentice to master after purchasing a small Parisian boutique belonging to his mentor, Adolphe Picard, in 1847. From the initial humble beginnings, Cartier has evolved into a multinational luxury products business with over 250 boutiques across the world.
Louis-François Cartier was the father of Alfred Cartier (1841-1925), grandfather of Louis Joseph Cartier (1875-1942), Pierre-Camille Cartier (1878-1964) and Jacques-Théodule Cartier (1884-1941).
The name Cartier has long been associated with fine jewelry created earlier for royal families, as a result of which the phrase “Cartier is the jeweler of kings and the king of jewelers” gained popularity in those days. Over time, famous artists began to buy his elegant watches, trimmed with gold, enamels, precious stones, powder boxes, travel bags and perfume bottles.
After the opening of his first boutique, the work on the new jewelry creation started to pick up even more intensive pace, and Cartier increasingly experimented, creating not only jewelry, but also luxury home decor pieces.
Until the end of the 19th century, Cartier has been basically making all his jewelry in a single copy for the richest people in the world. The mass production started in 1874, when his son — Alfred Cartier — joined the business and headed the company. Soon after that, he presented several interesting art pieces designed for less wealthy buyers. Alfred managed to improve the company’s business, which had deteriorated during the Franco-Prussian war, when super-expensive products were not in demand, and restored the company’s reputation in Europe.
Towards the end of the 19th century, Alfred tried to revive the tradition of creating Cartier table clocks, and succeeded in doing that. His products were distinguished by perfection, and each subsequent one was completely different from the previous one. The first table clocks were created for the royal families of the East countries, as well as Greece and England.
In 1904, while pocket watches were standard wearable timepieces, Cartier got a request from his friend, a Brazilian aviation pioneer named Alberto Santos-Dumont, who asked for a hands-free possibility to check the time during his flights. Thus the grandson of Louis-Francois created the famous wrist watch later named for Alberto.
In 1919, Cartier creates a wristwatch named “Tank”, which actually owe its origins to a military tank Renault FT-17, that Louis Cartier saw out of his window during the World War I. The Tank watch became popular among the A-list celebrities, including Jacqueline Kennedy and Michelle Obama.
In 1902, Jacques, one of the sons of Alfred Cartier, took over the management of the business. Other directions were associated with the activities of his brothers Pierre and Louis. They opened branches of the brand in New York, Moscow and the East.
In 1904, Cartier visited Russia with an exhibition of his luxury jewelry pieces, where he attracted the attention of Emperor Nicholas II (Nikolai II Romanov), who was impressed by the quality of Cartier’s work and the incredible beauty of his precious gems. Soon after that, Cartier made a precious Easter egg for the Russian Tsar, the fate of which turned out to be mystical — after the death of Nicholas II, it was lost and then discovered only many years later in the collection of the The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Until the early 60s, Cartier had separate branches in Paris, London and New York. In 1962, the New York branch was sold, and in 1965, the Paris branch too. In 1979, the company was reorganized, and began to function as one global company. Today there are over 2000 of Cartier boutiques which can be found in New York, San Francisco, Paris, London and Hong Kong.