Armed with headphones for the girls to listen to the kids audio documentary we joined the rather long line to enter the gallery. The first few rooms were crowded and the pace was slow going as we gathered around each exhibit to read the story associated with each specific piece.
Ella bored of the kids audio tour quickly and preferred to take photos....hundreds of them. It reminded me of the time when we visited the Natural History Museum in London and entered the gems/ mineral hall where Ella took 500+ photos most of which were out of focus with the glass reflection obscuring the focal point. It didn't help that she was only 6 and wasn't tall enough to look into the cabinets. If I recall correctly, Andy and I retreated to relax on a nearby seat and left her to it!
Although (again) a large proportion of the photos were blurry thanks to the lighting and position of the jewellery, she did mange to capture a few good shots. Perhaps a photography course might be of interest and benefit to her in the future? And so here are a few items which caught our attention for one reason or another...
The girls were impressed (who wouldn't be) with this 478 carat sapphire one of the largest in the world made by Cartier in 1913. It was bought by the King Ferdinand of Romania for his wife, Queen Marie in 1921.
During the first half of the 20th century, India and Persia were seen as fairy-tale lands with India historically being the world's principal source of diamonds. The Maharaja of Patiala, Bupindher Singh, in 1920 requested Cartier create a ceremonial necklace worthy of a King depositing a treasure chest full of jewels. The necklace known as the Patiala Necklace was the single largest commission ever made by Cartier. The centrepiece of the necklace was the world's 7th largest diamond the 'De Beers' which was surrounded by 2,930 diamonds, as well as several Burmese rubies and seven other large diamonds. Completed in 1928, the Maharaja regularly wore the necklace over the next 10 years until his death. It was then locked in the Royal Treasury of Patiala coming out for special occasions and ceremonies. However it disappeared in 1948. The De Beers diamond reappeared in 1982 and was sold at a Sotheby's auction in Geneva for $3.1 million. Then in 1998, 50 years after it went missing, a Cartier employee stumbled over the necklace (minus the largest stones) in an antiques shop in London. Cartier bought the necklace and took four years to restore it using synthetic stones.
Mystery clocks were conceived by Louis Cartier and the maison's clockmaker Maurice Couet after being inspired by the work of illusionist Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. This Elephant Mystery clock was made in 1928, featuring a jade carved elephant, rose cut diamonds, pearls, coral and mother-of-pearl.
Cartier has created many tiaras and many were on show. Possibly the most famous, the Halo tiara, given to Her Majesty the Queen on her 18th birthday. However it seems that it is not the Queen's favourite piece of jewellery as she has rarely wore it herself and prefers to lends it to other to wear. Most recently Catherine Middleton wore it for her wedding to Prince William in 2011.
Unfortunately the photos of the Halo tiara were a little too sparkling (maybe overexposed!) but we have others instead to show you. Inspired by the shape of Russian kokoshnik tiaras, this one made in 1914 has a stylised art deco tree set on a diamond backdrop with 15 natural petals studded on the top.
The scroll tiara created in 1902 for the Countess of Essex is inspired by Malaysian jewels. The next tiara made in 1937 has sparkling aquamarines and diamonds.
The exhibition was a history lesson too. Much of the jewellery was made in the early 20th century - a time known as the Roaring 20's which saw rapid industrial and economic growth, an increase in consumer demands and many changes in lifestyle and culture. Young women especially demanded greater freedom, equality and independence. This was reflected in the vanity case like this one which in an elegant and compact form allowed a lady to smoke, apply lipstick and powder her nose! Made in 1924, this particular vanity case was made from mother of pearl and turquoise inlay with a large centrally placed engraved emerald surrounded by rose and old cut diamonds.
We spotted several bird inspired brooches - a flamingo with diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds. It was another special order for the Duchess of Windsor in 1940 and in 2010 sold for £1.7m. The 20cm long bird of paradise, another postwar piece, has nearly 1000 diamonds sparkled in Ella's eyes.
Not all of the exhibition was designated to dazzling jewellery. One room represented the workshop, dedicated to outlining the journey from drawings to final piece. The jewellery making process involve men and women who would design, polish cut, set, jeweller and plaster cast for posterity.
The Cartier Exhibition was well worth the visit. We spent several hours admiring the jewels, their journeys and place in history as well as a greater appreciation of the craftsmanship of the House of Cartier. Our morning was completed with lunch at a nearby cafe.