Painting the town red took a turn for the literal in October when Cartier chose Beijing to unveil an exhibition of high jewellery. With carpets, lights, drones and more, the Parisian house turned the Juyong Pass of the Great Wall of China and the Prince Jun Mansion its distinct shade of red. The exhibition in Beijing that Cartier had gathered its ambassadors, friends of the house, clients, guests and press for was twofold. First, to unveil the latest chapter of Le Voyage Recommencé, its high jewellery collection for 2023. And second, to display a curation of past pieces from the brand’s archives and the collections of private owners.
Le Voyage Recommencé—which translates to ‘the journey begins anew’—is a reexamination of Cartier’s closest-held design codes. It’s no small thing. The maison, which was founded in 1847, has such a vast and storied history that boiling it down is an immense challenge.
Jacqueline Karachi, the house’s director of high jewellery creation, settled ultimately on four guiding beacons: geometry, light, nature and world cultures. “We explore so many territories to push the boundaries of creation,” she explains in press notes. “Like a journey that is repeated over and over again, continually drawing on the inexhaustible sources of Cartier inspiration.” Below, a look at emblematic new creations from Le Voyage Recommencé that embody the house’s re-envisioning of its design principles.
A travelling eye
The whole point of taking its high jewellery show on the road to a city as far as Beijing is perhaps to highlight how Cartier has always taken inspiration from cultures around the world. There was a seminal period of the house’s creative history when the house exchanged ideas with clients from India. It started as early as 1911 when Jacques Cartier took his first trip to India, eventually forming close relationships with the fabulously wealthy maharajahs and maharanis, and culminated with an adoption of the colours and styles into the Parisian jeweller’s own repertoire. The vibrant mix of coloured gemstones would later develop into Cartier’s famous tutti-frutti style.
The Dohara necklace makes reference to Indian and Mughal jewellery, with boteh motifs that are lacquered in red, green and blue. The whole necklace is, in fact, completely reversible with an underside that reveals a full diamond pavé. The drop-shaped edges and the pavilions holding the three centrepiece diamonds are cut from rock crystal, which makes the burst of colour and light look as if they are floating.
The Bailong brooch in platinum, meanwhile, goes further East for inspiration, perfectly apt for a Parisian jewellery maison like Cartier putting on a show in Beijing. The dragon—imposing, regal and rendered as a protector and predator—rests on a 30.11-carat octagonal tourmaline, and clutches in a claw a yellow diamond. It’s a combination perhaps of how Chinese artists have made lifelike carvings of these mythical beasts for centuries out of stone, and the balanced geometry of Eastern architectural design.
Line and structure
Geometry is another house signature. Cartier took its place as a world leader of jewellery design between the 1910s and ’40s, and helped drive the creation of art deco style. The Miraggio necklace takes the principles of clean lines and symmetry into modern territory. It’s structured around a line of five Ceylon sapphires, with a gridded (pixel-like, even) design that’s almost a postmodern abstraction of a rivière. There are triangles of sapphires and emeralds (the blue-green combination is also called the peacock motif, a house signature inspired by India) set strategically to create a sense of an expanding grid, and graphic lines of onyx that produce a multi-level planar effect. The total result is a creation of hard, straight lines that nonetheless instils a kinetic, pulsing feel.
Larger than life
The natural world is a font of inspiration for just about everyone. But where Cartier differs is in its approach to the matter. The house has always opted for unusual plants and flowers such as cacti and thistles over common hothouses such as roses or orchids. There is also a tendency to eschew overt romanticism in favour of abstractions and stylisations that ratchet up creative tensions.
The Pineas necklace, for example, ambiguously straddles similarities to either pine cones or wisterias. Or perhaps both— the specificity of its source traded in for rose gold scales with pavé diamonds, decorated with coral and emerald details, that stack and overlap each other in an organic way. It’s shaped as two ever-so-slightly asymmetrical pendants, joined at the centre by an emerald bead. At the ends are cascading ‘vines’ of faceted beads, briolette-cut yellow diamonds and hexagonal Colombian emeralds. The tension inherent: taking on the vitality, movement and colour of nature, and taming it within precious materials.
Light, glorious light
What makes precious metals and gems so alluring is so often tricks of the light. Stones are cut and faceted to allow light to bounce around and create a dazzling twinkle. Metals are polished and shaped to reveal luminous reflectivity. This first principle of the craft of jewellery guides a tenet of purity at Cartier. Shapes, volumes and proportions ought to be in service of letting light shine its best.
A piece that embodies this principle is the Eximis ring, in which a series of triangular-cut white diamonds is arranged to accentuate and emphasise its centrepiece: a 4.15-carat yellowbrown fancy diamond with a proprietary cut. The boundary being pushed here is perhaps embodying the play of light itself. The triangular white diamonds are shaped into symmetrical fragments and placed in a fractal structure similar to diagrams of reflection and refraction—all to play up the rare yellow diamond that’s like the sun itself.