This month marks the opening of “Cartier Design: A Living Legacy,” a stunning retrospective of the maison’s most iconic creations that runs from March 15 through May 14 at Mexico City’s Museo Jumex. The strikingly spare David Chipperfield-designed museum is the perfect backdrop for the collection of 160 objects that were last exhibited at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in 1999 and offer unique insights into Cartier’s strong cultural ties to Mexico as well as its timeless savoir-faire.
Arranged across five themes—The Early Days and the Birth of a Style, Universal Curiosity, Jeanne Toussaint’s Taste, Wearing Beauty and Measuring Time and Maria Félix and Icons of Elegance—the show has been meticulously edited by local design curator, Ana Elena Mallet, with the guidance of Cartier’s Pierre Rainero. Drawing on the Maison’s extensive archives, the pieces selected for this decades-in-the-making exhibition include dazzling jewels, timepieces, accessories and decorative objects that were once worn by the likes of Mexican diva and Cartier devotee, Maria Felix, and the Brazilian aviator, Alberto Santos-Dumont, the famed namesake of the original Santos wristwatch.
“I wanted to bring attention to Cartier jewels as design,” says Mallet of her curatorial process that highlights “pieces reflective of aesthetics, technology, innovation, craftsmanship and style” across two centuries. The selection of a such contemporary setting—the Museo Jumex that opened in 2013—made perfect sense to Mallet who is supportive of bringing “different types of objects and materials into a traditional museum space to expand the field of art and to blur the boundaries between artistic disciplines and also see them in dialogue.”
With Pierre Rainero’s expert guidance from Paris, Mallet culled from more than 3,000 historical pieces to create a show that will resonate with Mexican and Latin American audiences. “Mexico City has been very inspirational to the house of Cartier for many reasons; the city’s rich history, the diversity of viewpoints and the notions of beauty here, as well as the natural beauty that surrounds,” explains Rainero. “From the flora—rich forests, jungles and flowers—to the fauna that includes snakes, reptiles and, of course, jaguars, Mexico has always been a rich field.”
Noted Mexican architect Frida Escobedo has been tapped to create the scenography for the exhibition, calling on her design experience for cultural institutions such as the Serpentine Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum. With the stage beautifully set, emblematic pieces designed for Maria Félix—including a 178.2 carat snake necklace from 1968 and a crocodile necklace comprised of 1,023 brilliant-cut fancy intense yellow diamonds with ruby and emerald cabochon eyes—are among the collection standouts. As with so many innovative Cartier designs, these necklaces were made to be worn separately, as brooches, or used as decorative table ornaments.
Equally impressive are the selection of ornate turn of the century tiaras, a 1920s Tutti Frutti bracelet once owned by Mrs. Cole Porter, bold platinum and diamond bangles circa 1934, and a unique scarab belt buckle with touches of gold and blue Egyptian faience. The accompanying sketches in graphite and gouache are exquisite, too, and provide a rare look at the creative process throughout the decades. “The main angle of this exhibition is the journey of Cartier style,” explains Rainero, “so beyond the pleasure of seeing these beautiful pieces, the show will illustrate the different design evolutions from the beginning of the Maison up to present day.”