Cartier Collection Mixes Innovation and Heritage


Awards season is prime time for brands to reveal showstopping creations, and the British Academy Film Awards last month certainly provided a stage for the new Cartier Libre Polymorph collection, jeweled timepieces and accessories themed around movement and transformability.

Paul Mescal, a supporting actor nominee for “All of Us Strangers,” accented his look with a black-and-white lapel gem in white gold, garnets, onyx and diamonds, paired with matching cuff links.

And Emma Corrin, one of the evening’s presenters, also embraced the graphic black-and-white scheme — a Cartier signature since 1910 — wearing a ring crafted from four rotating discs of white gold, diamonds and onyx that were engineered to fully stretch or fold. The piece was complemented with a matching ear cuff set.

Cartier Libre Polymorph “is a collection where we constantly push innovation and elevate the outstanding Cartier savoir-faire,” Marie-Laure Cérède, the house’s creative director of jewelry and watchmaking, wrote in an email.

Fans of the brand will be familiar with Cartier Libre, a line that in recent years has been a canvas for Cartier to experiment with its popular watch models and to explore signature design codes. The oval Baignoire watch case, for example, was elongated or rotated onto its side; a Baignoire Turtle watch evoked a tortoise shell with geometric-shape diamonds and sapphires; and a Crash Radieuse timepiece featured concentric, wavelike lines that followed the distinct shape of the Crash, one of Cartier’s most emblematic watches.

Pierre Rainero, the house’s director of image, style and heritage, said Cartier Libre stemmed from an initiative called Paris Nouvelle Vague that began in 1999, inviting any member of Cartier’s design studio — from jewelers to clasp makers — to propose ideas.

“We now thought we had the material, enough different objects and directions, to really present all the objects as part of a process,” Mr. Rainero said.

The new collection includes a shoulder jewel-cum-watch: a quartz watch in the shape of a dog tag 11.5 millimeters wide and 29.7 millimeters long sits at one end and a bejeweled tassel at the other, all in the blue-green colorway for which Cartier is known. Mr. Rainero said the design combined the maison’s history of producing lapel watches and shoulder jewels from the early 20th century.

An onyx and diamond claw-style lapel clip comes lined with four large moonstones; pressing them reveals a quartz watch 10.10-millimeters wide and 11.46-millimeters long. “We thought it was more interesting — and more challenging” to add the watch, Mr. Rainero said. He described the piece as a “play on the ambiguity” between the abstract and figurative. “We like the different possibilities it gives to different people, to read what they want.”

And an off-the-wall carabiner creation showcases a whimsical approach to shape. The fully functional jeweled timepiece, which can be attached to a belt or bag, features a watch face flanked by colored beads in lapis lazuli, onyx, black spinel, turquoise and chrysoprase. Pressing a sapphire cabochon — the same detail that appears on the winding crowns of Cartier watches — opens the carabiner. “You see all the details,” Mr. Rainero said.

Ms. Cérède noted that a pair of bracelets with a nod to the Japanese art of kintsugi, in which broken pottery is mended with gold lacquer, was one of Polymorph’s most challenging creations. Requiring “absolute precision,” she wrote, “its exceptional complexity was more the cut and number of stones that needed to be adjusted and recut, one-by-one, by the lapidary.”

While Cartier has long been inspired by Japanese culture, this was the first time it had used kintsugi, Mr. Rainero said. Although, he noted, “We created our own kintsugi. We didn’t use broken parts of jewelry but instead suggested the accident.”

Jewelry experts said the collection’s unusual aspects might well catch consumers’ attention. “Cartier has a kind of openness to play, looking back and forward at the same time,” said Rachel Garrahan, a project curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

And as the creator of some of the world’s most popular jewels, like the screw-set Love bracelet or the Trinity ring of three intertwined gold bands, “Cartier is responding to the needs of the mass in order to retain its place and grow as a retailer — but in doing so, you might lose some creativity,” said Caroline Morrissey, head of jewelry at Bonhams New York.

“This re-emergence of creativity is something that I hope will propel Cartier forward,” she added, “so that in 50 or 100 years, they’re still creating, still being bold — and still with whimsical elements that at the end of the day all these big, old houses are really revered for.”



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