Cartier was founded in Paris in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier. His three grandsons, Louis, Pierre, and Jacques, built the house into a famous international jewelry empire serving royalty, Hollywood stars, and socialites. Cartier has created some of the most important jewelry and objects of art of the twentieth century with many iconic designs such as mystery clocks, Tutti Frutti jewelry and the Panthère line. In 1983, The Cartier Collection was established with the objective of acquiring important pieces that trace the firm’s artistic evolution. Today, Cartier has 200 stores in 125 countries.
The popularity of the object of virtu reached new heights in the early twentieth century. European interiors changed from classical to dark and lavishly decorated rooms with gas lighting and illuminating objects including picture frames, gemstone animals and plants, and many other jeweled treasures to catch the low light. At the time, Cartier and Fabergé fiercely rivaled each other and both were producing exquisite objects gracing the homes of European royalty, aristocracy, and the wealthy. By 1925, post-war requirements encouraged a more modern aesthetic and the delicate flowering objects of the recent years were replaced with small useful pieces such as boxes, clocks, vanity cases and cigarette cases, seen as functional yet sophisticated with bright colors and clean lines. Cartier focused on including these items in their repertoire and Louis Cartier believed, “We must make it our business to build up our inventory that responds to the mood of the public by producing articles which have a useful function but which are also decorated in the Cartier style.”
For this piece Cartier created a rectangular box composed of nephrite panels suspended by a polished gold frame. The way the nephrite is set en cage in gold is reminiscent of stained glass, allowing the light to illuminate the nuances of the stone. This box is similar in design to a box by Fabergé that was a Russian imperial acquisition, but Cartier added their own modern signature to the look with sleek polished surfaces broken into dynamic geometric shapes with sapphire and diamond accents.
Both Cartier and Fabergé sought to reveal the splendor of Siberian mineral deposits such as agate, lapis lazuli, and nephrite. Highly prized in Russia, nephrite could only be worked on by Hermitage approved lapidaries. Pierre Cartier began visiting Russia in 1904 and over time built excellent relationships with leading lapidary workshops both in St. Petersburg and Moscow resulting in stunning pieces like this box. Cartier, unlike Fabergé, was able to brilliantly adapt to the emerging aesthetic of Art Deco and with this piece incorporated the bold look of the 1930s with the lavish attitude of the imperial Russian.