Cartier and America Exhibit Extended Until May 9
You'd think with the nearly 40 pictures in the gallery below that you might have seen everything at the Cartier and America exhibit without ever having to trek to San Francisco. You'd be wrong or rather I was wrong and am very glad I made the journey. Tucked down on the lower level of the Legion of Honor Museum is what could be the most comprehensive collection of Cartier pieces ever gathered. The multi-room exhibit is a love letter to the Cartier brand and its legacy of quality and ingenuity.
The dazzling tiaras and gobstobber diamond rings are no surprise but this exhibit has other surprises in store. The displays go beyond just jewelry, there are also watches, cigarette cases (including one designed to look like an envelope complete with enamel stamp, a gift from Winston Churchill to his son), hairbrushes, tiny mignonette clocks and even a gold version of a lunar landing module. Pieces belonging to some of the women with the wherewithal to own custom Cartier pieces are shown. Doris Duke's diamonds, Elizabeth Taylor's ruby and diamond parure, Grace Kelly's ladylike pieces, Barbara Hutton's famous Cartier tiger pin and Maria Felix's articulated serpent necklace are just some of the showier treasures. In 1968 Felix commissioned the necklace from Cartier Paris. Felix's serpent necklace is truly amazing. It is thicker than a real snake and has a 178 carats of diamonds along the top and a colorful enameled underbelly meant to protect the wearer from the scratch of the stones. Felix also commissioned a detachable double crocodile necklace which is shown in the Cartier exhibit.
Gallery: Cartier and America
The exhibit also shows off mystery clocks that have large citrines and rock crystals with tiny diamond hands seemingly suspended in mid-air trapped in the middle. There's a certain whimsy to some of the Cartier pieces, particularly the animal pieces like the flamingo brooch and the tiny carved agate bulldogs and pink rhodocrosite pig with diamond eyes. For the jaded wealthy women and men who had seen everything, the brand had to both dazzle and delight.
The exhibit traces the Cartier brand chronologically, showcasing the ways that the jewelry shadowed the popular fashion trends. A geometric diamond-covered Art Deco bandeau looks like it was designed to sit atop a flapper's bob. A floral stomacher brooch was meant to rest neatly against an Edwardian ballgown.
Why must you see it in person? Two reasons, color and sparkle. The emerald brooch in the poster shown above for example, shines an incredibly deep otherwordly green in person. Look closely and you can trace the network of tiny inclusions in the stones including a smattering of what looks like dust on one stone but is actually deposits just under the surface. The exhibit is dimly lit, letting the stones do the magic of providing the brilliance. What pictures can't capture is the magic, the burnished sheen of gleaming gold, the icy refraction from diamond tiaras, the bright juxtaposition of the velvet purple of dark amethysts paired sky blue turquoise. The exhibit has been extended until May 9 and is definitely worth the $20 admission.