Cartier Monde History

27 Nightsbridge
London SW1X 7WB

Telephone: (44) 171 838 8500
Fax: (44) 171 838 8555

Division of Vendome Luxury Group PLC
Founded: 1847
Sales: $2.38 billion (Vendome Luxury Group 1997)
NAIC: 33991 Jewelry (Except Costume) Manufacturing; 44831 Jewelry Stores

Company History:

One of the most revered names in jewelry, Cartier Monde (French for "World") is also the world's largest luxury jeweler, operating nearly 200 retail stores in more than 125 countries. The centerpiece of Vendome Luxury Group PLC--the London-based luxury goods subsidiary of Swiss-based, South African-controlled Compagnie Financière de Richemont AG, former owner of the Rothmans tobacco empire--Cartier accounts for the greatest share of the Vendome group's annual sales, which reached US $2.38 billion in 1997, Vendome's last reported yearly results as a public company. Joining Cartier in the Vendome stable are such luxury brands as Alfred Dunhill, Vacheron & Constantin, Lancel, Mont Blanc, Piaget, and Chloe. Through Cartier, Vendome has continued adding to its stable, with the acquisition of Italy's Van Cleef & Arpels in May 1999.

Cartier operates its own chain of nearly 200 retail stores, including the company's flagship locations in Paris, New York, and London; during the 1990s the company made strong expansion moves, opening in such mid-level markets as St. Louis and Seattle. Nonetheless, Cartier's retail growth remains purposefully restrained. The company has been well placed to capture a leading share of the luxury goods market, which boomed in the late 1990s, despite economic troubles in the Asian region.

Even though Cartier continues to be synonymous with fine jewelry and exclusive wristwatches, the company has developed a strong portfolio of so-called wholesale items, including cigarette lighters, scarves, and other relatively low-priced accessory items. These products, sold at the Cartier stores and through third party retails, account for more than two-thirds of total Cartier sales.

Cartier--through Vendome&mdash-ded a period as a public company in 1998, when main Vendome shareholder Richemont offered to buy out Vendome's minority shareholder. The offer, which paid some 26 percent above the stock price for a total of some US $1.7 billion, valued Vendome at US $5.7 billion.

Cartier is led by Allain Dominique Perrin, chief architect of the company's development for nearly 20 years. Another major Cartier figure is Micheline Kanoui, the company's lead designer and wife to Joseph Kanoui, chairman of the Vendome group.

Symbol of Elegance at the Turn of the Century

Born in 1819, Louis François Cartier entered the goldsmith and jewelry trade as an apprentice under the Parisian jeweler Adolphe Picard. When Picard retired, Cartier bought his master's business on consignment, establishing the house of Cartier in 1847 on Paris's Rue Montorgueil. Cartier's jewelry designs--which presented simplified versions of the era's ornate fashions--quickly made a mark on Parisian society. Cartier soon was adopted by royalty, finding his first notable champion and patron in Princess Mathilde, a cousin to Napoleon. Princess Mathilde was said to have been the arbiter of the Second Empire's sense of elegance and fashion.

Mathilde's patronage helped ensure Cartier's early success. By 1853, the young company could afford to move its quarters, to the Rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs. By the end of that decade, Cartier was once again on the move, now to the Boulevard des Italiens. It would not be until the end of the century, however, that Cartier moved to the exclusive Rue de la Paix. In the meantime, Cartier's list of nobles and notables continued to grow&mdash did the number of Cartier's private commissions.

From the beginning, Cartier's designs extended beyond jewelry to embrace a variety of objects--including early attempts at creating wristwatches&mdash′imarily in the neoclassic vein. Cartier also introduced a design theme that would remain a constant with the Cartier house throughout the 20th century, introducing jewelry and other objects inspired by animal motifs. These designs, which began to appear in the 1870s, were produced in part in collaboration with jewelry designer Alphonse Fouquet.

Such design collaborations would take on even more importance for the firm in succeeding generations. Louis François Cartier was joined by son Louis Alfred, born in 1841. In 1898, Alfred brought his own son, Louis Joseph into the firm, changing its name to Alfred Cartier & fils. The following year, Cartier took up residence on the prestigious Rue de la Paix, the center of Parisian elegance, a location the company would keep throughout the 20th century.

Under Louis Alfred, Cartier's fame spread farther and farther beyond Paris. Before long, Alfred's two other sons joined the jewelry house. Youngest son Jacques-Theodule was sent to London, to open the company's Cartier London branch. Pierre-Camille traveled to the United States, where he opened Cartier New York in 1908. The opening of the London branch office corresponded with an important commission, received from Queen Alexandra of England, for 27 tiaras in honor of the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902. Two years later, Edward appointed Cartier a royal warrant as supplier to the Royal Court of England.

The rest of European royalty quickly followed suit. By the end of the decade, Cartier had been named royal supplier of jewelry to most of Europe's royal houses, from Spain, Portugal, Russia, Greece, Serbia, Belgium, Romania, and Albania, as well as the principality of Monaco and the former French royal House of Orleans. Cartier's standing among royalty had become so secure that the Prince of Wales would refer to the Parisian jewelers as the "Jeweller to Kings, King to Jewellers." Cartier designs for the time were marked by an adherence to the Guirland style, tempering that style's ornate designs with the Cartier hallmark of simplicity, eschewing somewhat the Art Nouveau style then popular. Instead, Cartier would adopt--and help impose--a new artistic style that would have a strong impact on much of pre-World War II culture: Art Deco.

Jeweller to Kings, Kings to Jewellers in the 20th Century

Under the leadership of Louis in Paris, Jacques in London, and Pierre in New York, Cartier entered its period of greatest achievement, a period in which its influence came to be felt on the jewelry industry worldwide. As Jacques and Pierre built the firm's overseas branches, each pursuing their own passions--Jacques traveling frequently to India and the Persian Gulf in search of the finest pearls; Pierre courting the McLeans, to whom Cartier sold the famed Hope diamond, and the Rockefellers, Whitneys, Astors, Vanderbilts, and others of the U.S. powerful industrial elite--Louis Cartier was busy creating the Cartier legend from his Paris base.

Possessed of a fine artistic sense and a correspondingly shrewd aptitude for business, Louis Cartier would be credited with raising the Cartier name to the rank of the world's most prestigious jewelry house. Louis Cartier was among the first to use the rare metal platinum, which, lighter than gold, enabled the invention of the so-called "invisible" setting. Louis Cartier also continued his grandfather's interest in jeweled wristwatches. Teaming up with watchmaker Edmond Jaeger, Cartier introduced, in 1904, what would be considered the first modern wristwatch, the Santos, created in honor of Cartier's friend, the Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont. The Santos was followed by other wristwatch designs, including the Tonneau in 1906 and the famed Tank watch, in honor of the Allied victory to end World War I in 1918.

Cartier's interest in wristwatches led to the formation of the European Watch and Clock Company in 1919. By then, Cartier's Paris location also had grown, extending its facade from the original number 13 address to the number 11 in 1912. Five years later, in 1917, the company had installed its New York branch in its permanent Fifth Avenue location--having bought the building with a string of pearls worth $1 million. Another new division, the S (for silver) division, was created in 1923. The following year, the company would produce one of its greatest artistic triumphs, the Rolling Ring, developed by Jean Cocteau and Louis Cartier and made up of three interlocked bands of white gold, yellow gold, and pink gold, which would remain a worldwide bestseller for the company through the end of the century.

An important addition to Cartier arrived at the end of the 1920s as the company continued its tradition of design collaborations--the arrival of Jeanne Toussaint, who was named president of the company's "haute joaillerie" division in 1933, heralded Cartier's most exalted era. Unable to draw herself, Toussaint--considered the arbiter of taste of the era--instead guided a team of artists to create some of Cartier's most well-known designs and launch the world firmly into the Art Deco era.

After Louis and Jacques Cartier died in 1942, Pierre became the company's sole president. The company would continue to mark the fashion world with successes, such as the watches Baignoires in the 1950s and the Crash watch of the mid-1960s. When Pierre Cartier died in 1964, however, the company had been in slow financial (if not artistic) decline. By the end of the 1960s, Cartier's empire had become dissipated, bought up by a number of investors.

World Leader for the 1990s

In 1973 the industrialist Robert Hocq, assisted by financier Joseph Kanoui, led a group of investors--including South Africa's Rupert family, founders of the growing Rothman/Richemont dynasty&mdashø buy up Cartier's New York branch. By the end of the decade, the group had moved to buy up the rest of the Cartier divisions, reorganizing the company as Cartier World. At the start of the 1980s, the Kruger family bought out the rest of the Cartier investors, adding the company to its Richemont holdings, which already included Alfred Dunhill.

Hocq, Kanoui, and, especially, Allain Dominique Perrin, named CEO of Cartier World, were credited not merely with saving Cartier's dwindling fortunes, but with raising it to the ranks of the largest jewelry concerns in the world. This process originated in the early 1970s as the company introduced a series of nonjewelry items bearing the Cartier name--and the Cartier cachet. Hocq and company also dared to break beyond the traditionally closed circuit of high fashion jewelry to sell these new products, including the Cartier cigarette lighter, in certain retail stores, such as the Civette tobacco shops in Paris.

By the end of the 1970s, the company had developed its "wholesale" products concept under the trademarked name "Le Must de Cartier." The spinoff products, primarily accessories with modest prices, brought the Cartier name within reach of every consumer, without sacrificing the grandeur and reputation of the Cartier jewelry line. In the early 1980s, Cartier extended the Must line to include Cartier-branded perfumes. At the same time, the company moved aggressively to protect its brand against counterfeits.

The Must line of wholesale products, sold both in Cartier stores and in third-party stores, would grow to form more than 60 percent of the company's sales, which topped the US $1 billion mark in the mid-1980s. The company then looked toward expanding its empire, making a number of acquisitions--either under its own name or through parent Richemont&mdashø build a portfolio of some of the world's most exclusive names. These acquisitions, including Beaume et Mercier in 1988 and Piaget and Alderbert in 1989, joined the fashion house Chloe and world famous pen maker Mont Blanc, all owned by Richemont.

In 1993 the various luxury goods holdings of the Richemont holding group were reorganized as a new, publicly traded company, the Vendôme Luxury Group PLC. Cartier formed the centerpiece of that company, providing more than half of it sales. Perrin remained CEO of Cartier, continuing an expansion drive begun during the 1980s, but stepped up for the 1990s. Cartier began adding retail locations, building up a worldwide chain of nearly 175 stores by the late 1990s.

Despite the crushing economic climate during much of the 1990s, including an extended U.S. and European recession in the early part of the decade and the collapse of much of the Asian market in the latter half of the decade, Cartier maintained steady growth--in part because the Cartier name provided a cushion against the general decline in the luxury goods market. Nevertheless, the difficult economic climate was punishing Vendome's share price. In 1998 Vendome's parent and principal shareholder Richemont announced that it was willing to buy up all minority shares in Vendome.

The newly private Vendome continued to add to its luxury goods portfolio, buying the Lancel leather goods brand in 1998 and adding to the Cartier group with the acquisition of Van Cleef & Arpels in 1999. Cartier, which celebrated its 150-year anniversary in 1997, remained under the inspired leadership of Allain Dominique Perrin and chief designer Michelline Kanoui, certain to extend the Cartier legacy into the 21st century.

Further Reading:

  • "Fabulous Jewelry from the House of Cartier," USA Today Magazine, May 1, 1997.
  • Okun, Stacey, "The Legend and the Legacy: The House of Cartier Celebrates 150 Years of History and Romance," Town & Country Monthly, March 1, 1997, p. 122.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 29. St. James Press, 1999.