Etched in Gold: Brilliant Inscriptions

Etched in Gold: Brilliant Inscriptions

Personalized gifts were (and still are) a specialty of Cartier. The design house’s clientele often purchased cigarette cases, clocks, and other accessories to commemorate special events, notable achievements, or personal relationships. These unique objects served as official tributes and tokens of affection. You can see striking illustrations of these gifts in Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century.

Cartier perfected the art of commemoration, both public and private. Sometimes this personalization took the form of the owner’s monogram or family crest. Other times objects were personalized with engraved, hand-written inscriptions

Tribute to Heroes

Cartier objects often were commissioned to pay tribute to nautical or aerial feats, like Charles Lindbergh’s first solo transatlantic flight in 1927, or André Citroën’s automobile trek across the Sahara. The firm was even commissioned to create replicas of the Apollo 11 1969 lunar module by French newspaper Le Figaro as a tribute to the three astronauts.

Lunar Excursion Module (exact replica) owned by Michael Collins. Cartier Paris, 1969. Gold, lacquer, enamel; 15 x 10 x 25 cm. Cartier Collection. Photo: Nils Herrmann, Cartier Collection © Cartier.

One of the most moving commemorative objects is a desk clock presented by Pierre Cartier to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943, toward the end of the Second World War. The clock, set with five dials to simultaneously display the time in Washington, D.C., London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, San Francisco, and Tokyo, is inscribed: L’heure de la victoire dans le monde (“the hour of victory in the world”). This is an especially poignant message considering the great loss France and the United States endured during the war.

Personal Gifts

Cartier designed and inscribed personal gifts for countless other luminaries, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The famously romantic couple gave each other unique items to mark important occasions, and worked closely with Cartier throughout the design process. Sometimes, the inscriptions referenced quite prosaic events. For example, he commissioned a cross for her charm bracelet to mark the occasion of her appendectomy.

Grace Kelly, who became Princess of Monaco, had an elegant prism clock inscribed with this lovely phrase: “Je ne marque que des heures heureuses” [I mark only happy hours].

Image credit (top): Cigarette case Cartier Paris,1912 . Silver, gold, sapphire; sold to Willis McCormick, president of Queen Aviation and inscribed with the signatures of approximately thirty figures related to the birth of aviation. 8.86 x 8.48 cm. Cartier Collection. Photo: Nils Herrmann, Cartier Collection © Cartier.

Anna Estes is a former curatorial assistant at the Denver Art Museum.