While auction houses around the world remain closed, online sales have continued to go from strength to strength, with several initiatives, like the recent Andy Warhol photographic sale at Christie’s, bringing the experience straight into people’s homes. Now a Cartier bracelet from the brand’s iconic Tutti Frutti design of the Art Deco era has become the most expensive jewel ever sold in an online-only auction.
The jewel, which carried an estimate of $600-800,000 [£480,000 to £640,000], is a 1930s piece from a private American collection that perfectly encapsulates the nature of Cartier’s Tutti Frutti style, made up of diamonds, enamel and the range’s signature colourful gems. When Sotheby’s New York closed bidding on the bracelet in the single-lot auction on 28 April, it had reached a staggering $1.34 million [£1.07 million)
These brightly coloured Cartier jewels, which weren’t given the name Tutti Frutti until the 1970s, come with a fascinating history. The designs were first inspired by the carved coloured gemstones found in Indian jewellery, which were initially brought to the attention of the Parisian jewellery house in 1901 by Queen Alexandra, consort to the newly crowned Edward VII, after she commissioned Pierre Cartier to create a necklace to go with the three Indian dresses she had been given by Mary Curzon, wife of the Viceroy of India.
A decade later Jacques, the youngest of the Cartier brothers who ran Cartier London, travelled to India to meet with the country’s wealthy maharajas. It was here that he came across the carved gemstones that were to form the basis of the Tutti Frutti style, which emerged as part of a craze for Eastern-inspired designs in the 1920s. It was India’s overwhelming explosion of colour that the brothers were looking to capture in their jewels. “Out there everything is flooded with the wonderful Indian sunlight,” Jacques wrote. “It is all like an impressionist painting. Nothing is clearly defined, and there is but one vivid impression of undreamed gorgeousness and wealth.”
In terms of popularising the look in Paris and beyond, there is one stylish society figure who would prove pivotal: Daisy Fellowes, the American heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune. The embodiment of Thirties chic, the poet Jean Cocteau once said of her that she “launched more fashions than any other woman in the world.”
In 1936, the former Harper’s Bazaar fashion editor commissioned Cartier to create a “Collier Hindou” (as the jewels were then known) using her own collection of carved sapphires, emeralds, rubies and diamonds. The ingeniously flexible necklace design, which could also be worn as a brooch, went on to become the most expensive Art Deco jewel ever sold at auction, when it was acquired by Cartier at Sotheby’s Geneva in 1991 for $2,655,172 [£2,125,704].
It seems only fitting, therefore, that this enchanting jewellery collection continues to set records almost three decades later. As online auctions continue to rise in popularity, particularly amidst the current Coronavirus lockdown, we have no doubt that Cartier will keep blazing a trail with its iconic and timeless designs.