Francesca Cartier Brickell on preserving Cartier's history of fine-jewellery making

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 May, 2015, 11:29pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 May, 2015, 12:30am

Francesca Cartier Brickell has spent the past 10 years researching and recording the story behind jewllers Cartier. 

48HOURS: What is your fondest memory of your grandfather Jean-Jacques Cartier?

Francesca Cartier Brickell: My grandfather was amazing — he was a real artist and he designed lots of wonderful Cartier pieces. But when we were children, what was great was he could draw the most amazing animals or anything we wanted. He entertained us like that. As we grew older, we heard about these wonderful stories of his life. But it was very much from a family perspective rather than from a jewellery perspective, although that's obviously intertwined. He sold the family business a few years before I was born and retired and moved to the south of France.

What inspired you to start Creating Cartier, a project to research and document your family's stories which has now evolved into articles, lectures, and ultimately a to-be-published book?

It's often the case: you need someone outside the family to tell you that what you were listening to was quite interesting. So when I first met my husband, he came to my grandfather's place in the south of France and was listening to all these stories. He was like 'you've got to be writing this down. This is crazy. This is amazing.' So then after that I asked my grandfather if I could record his memoirs and he said yes. It was about 10 years ago.

What were some of your more interesting finds?

I discovered a trunk of letters in his wine cellar six years ago. Those letters dated back over a hundred years and they told the story of the three brothers [including Jacques, my great-grandfather] building the business. The letters between them are really interesting because one had an office in London, one in New York, and one in Paris and they were always travelling and writing to each other about their clients, their stones, and what's going on in the world. The letters actually encompass more generations, but it's under the three brothers that Cartier was really interesting and that was also when some of its best pieces were produced.

How is that reflected in some of the pieces to be featured at Bonhams Hong Kong's Fine Jewellery and Jadeite Auction on June 3?

They created the art deco style, the tutti-frutti style, and so many of the innovative pieces like this art deco emerald and diamond cuff from 1925. There is also this art deco jadeite, diamond and onyx brooch, with which they were experimenting using old material but putting it in a modern setting.

What do you like about these lectures you're giving around the globe?

It's so nice to meet people who are really interested in the heritage side. I've tried to give it a slightly different angle in Hong Kong to show a bit more about the Chinese and Indian influence because Cartier took inspiration from all over the world. The brothers went to Asia with suitcases of jewellery to sell but they also brought back, very importantly, inspiration.

What fuelled their source of Asian inspiration?

My grandfather's library, which he inherited from his father, was absolutely incredible. There are so many beautiful old tapestry books, Chinese furniture books, Chinese porcelain books — everything you could imagine. Even if they weren't in China, they were studying them with notes on the margins and they've circled a dragon here or a couple of birds there to be used on a brooch or somewhere else.

Is there some artistic blood running in your veins?

I was in finance. I'm not a jewellery designer — I love looking at it, but there's definitely something in the family. My brother is very creative. My son, who was only seven, he and my grandfather adored each other. He is so creative and he just loves the jewellery catalogues. He's always doing some very abstract kind of sketches. He really wants my engagement ring and I was like 'No!' [laughs].

What's so special about the engagement ring you're wearing that even your son wants to get his hands on it?

My husband got the baguette but it was my grandfather who sketched the design on an envelope at his place. So although it's not a Cartier, it's designed by Cartier.