From royal style to Hollywood glamour

Brooke Boland

Cartier: The Exhibition – a show full of history and style comes to Canberra.
From royal style to Hollywood glamour

Cartier Paris Crocodile necklace 1975, special order, gold, yellow diamonds, emeralds, rubies, 30 and 27.3 cm (length each), Photo: Nils Herrmann, Cartier Collection, © Cartier.

In 1975, Mexican film star and singer María Félix took her two pet crocodiles into the Rue de la Paix boutique in Paris, where she commissioned Cartier to make a necklace that represented them exactly.

Legend says Félix insisted the baby crocodiles stay there while the necklace was designed, but when employees became concerned about the size of these rapidly growing reptiles, they were removed from the premises.

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Still, Félix got her wish and the now infamous interlocking necklace, made of 1,023 yellow diamonds and 1,060 circular cut emeralds, is one of the most impressive examples of Cartier jewellery in the world.

Margaret Young-Sanchez, one of the curators behind Cartier: The Exhibition – now showing at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra – said the crocodiles are one of her favourite pieces in the exhibition. ‘They have tremendous personality,’ she said.

Featuring more than 300 works of art, the exhibition showcases outstanding necklaces, brooches,

tiaras, watches and ornaments alongside rarely seen archival drawings, photographs and ephemera. The exhibition showcases pieces from the Cartier Collection, as well as the collections of museums, institutions and private collectors.

The exhibition is organised chronologically, starting at the beginning of the 20th Century and ending in the 1970s. But there are several themed sections that stage small interruptions throughout.

They include a section on men’s jewellery and another holding valuable pieces owned by the Royal Family, including the tiara worn by Kate Middleton for her wedding to Prince William.

‘This tiara was given by George the Sixth to his wife right before he became king, which was during the abdication crisis when they obviously had a lot going on and a lot of turmoil in their lives. They then gave it to Elizabeth, the current Queen, when she turned 18,’ explained Young-Sanchez.

‘Queen Elizabeth still owns it, but she has successively loaned it to her sister and then to Kate Middleton. You can really see the history of the object and the people, in that case the whole family, who have owned and worn it.’

It is this combination of incredible jewellery and the stories of the people who wore them that draws people to the exhibition, said Young-Sanchez.

‘You can see a sapphire that is more than 400 carats and tiaras that have hundreds and hundreds of diamonds in them, so some of it is that, the stones and the incredible workmanship.

‘But I think for a lot of people it is the stories they tell of the people who owned them and who gave these to them, the circumstances. That personal element is really attractive to a lot of people,’ she continued.

‘As I understand it, there has never been an exhibition like this in Australia and so it’s sort of virgin territory where people will, for the very first time, have the chance to see such an extensive array of incredible jewellery.’

Cartier: The Exhibition is now showing at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, until 22 July. Visit nga.gov.au/cartier for more information.

About the author

Brooke Boland is a Melbourne-based freelance writer.