Fashionable royal Queen Letizia of Spain got high marks this week when she appeared in Madrid with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden wearing an elegant body-hugging dress by local Spanish designer José Hidalgo. With Madrid hosting this week’s NATO Summit, the Queen and her husband King Felipe VI have welcomed heads of state at their palace, and her outfit choices have shown her continued support of Spanish fashion designers and brands. But when it comes to jewelry, the Spanish royal family has had a longstanding loyalty to Cartier.
The family’s love affair with Cartier began in 1904, when King Alfonso XIII named the French house the royal family’s official jeweler. It also marked the beginning of Louis Cartier’s fruitful relationship with Spain’s royals and aristocrats. Among his biggest fans was Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain (Queen Victoria of England’s granddaughter). During the 1920s, Victoria Eugenia commissioned numerous Cartier pieces, including a platinum and diamond tiara with seven large natural pearls. It’s a favorite of both Queen Letizia, and her mother-in-law Queen Sophia.
For decades, Louis Cartier returned often to Madrid and San Sebastien, where the Queen and King Alfonso XIII welcomed him and worked with him to add numerous pieces to their collection, including a Mystery Clock, a diamond garland tiara (which remains part of the royal family’s collection), and an Art Deco diamond Stomacher that was sold at Christie’s in 1977.
More than just business, the curious Louis Cartier found Spain to be a rich source on inspiration, with its mix of arts and civilizations. “Spain offered a mix of different cultures and periods of time in one place, and Louis Cartier came here to explore these points of reference and influences,” says Pierre Rainero, the house’s director of image, style and heritage, who was in Madrid earlier this month for the launch of Cartier’s high jewelry collection.
Cartier brought together international clients and press to celebrate Beautés du Monde, a new collection of more 200 unique pieces, and to experience Madrid’s rich history and culture. To showcase the collection, Cartier took over the former British embassy, which is an icon of 1960s-era Brutalist architecture, which the house restored just for this occasion. Equipped with a Cartier café, the minimalist architecture and interiors were the ideal backdrop for the elaborate jewelry. At the core of the collection are large, rare gemstones set in graphic yet remarkably flexible necklaces and earrings. It’s that articulation and sense of fluidity that is essential in high jewelry, explains Rainero. “High jewelry is about the stones and the metal is a support, which should remain invisible,” he says. “These pieces give the perception of something organic, like a living thing that has fluidity and movement.”
Nothing illustrates that better than the famous diamond snake necklace that Cartier crafted in 1968 for Maria Felix. Now part of Cartier’s archives, the stunning 22-inch-long jeweled serpent, set with 2,473 diamonds, was featured alongside the new collection in a moveable display that illustrated its distinctive flexibility.
That same sense of fluidity was recreated in the Iwana necklace, featuring three hexagonal-cut emeralds weighing 43 carats combined, and set in a highly flexible abstract diamond necklace. The snake theme evolved in the Water Aspis necklace, which boasts five cabochon-cut Ceylon sapphires in a diamond necklace that sinuously coils around the neck. Cartier’s signature use of beads in colorful coral, emeralds and sky-blue chalcedony gives even large-scale designs a sense of relaxed elegance.
Cartier’s iconic symbols appear in subtle new ways, like the Panthere Erindi necklace and earrings, which feature rock crystal with flecks of onyx that appear like floating abstract spots.
At Cartier’s gala black-tie celebration, which was hosted inside the Palacio de Liria, an 18th-century neoclassical palace which is still home today to the Duke of Alba, head of one of Spain’s most important historic families, guests were reminded of the house’s aristocratic ties to Madrid. Before dinner, we were given a tour of the home’s magnificent art collection, with works by Goya, Greco, Rubens, Titian, and Rembrandt. On display were Cartier desk clocks, and we were told that the family’s significant watch collection has numerous Cartier models. It’s easy to imagine Louis Cartier visiting the palace a century earlier to show his latest creations.
A pre-dinner fashion show highlighted the magnificent jewels on models dressed in gowns designed for the occasion by Alvarno, a new Madrid fashion brand founded by designers Arnaud Maillard and Alvaro Castejón. The dinner was set in the veranda of the home’s elaborate formal gardens, with food prepared by Spanish chef Jesús Sánchez, who holds three Michelin stars, and flamenco dancers, and ended with a performance by the Black Eyed Peas. And in true Cartier style, the mix of guests included young celebrities Emma Chamberlain, Blackpink’s Jisoo, Yara Shahidi and Vanessa Kirby. It seems that few things have changed at the Alba’s historic palace, but Cartier’s guests and wildly creative jewelry clearly speak to a new generation of high jewelry clients.
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