The art of Cartier: From timeless Trinity to modern-day Declaration in titanium

Selling a dream remains the core business of any luxury house and at Cartier it comes at a certain price. From pens and fragrances to high jewelry, however, the house suggests a series of pieces with a range of price tags. «In the last few years, we have focused on what we call our ‘initiated’ clientele and our private collections for the watches,» said Frederic de Narp, general manager of Cartier, Italy, to Kathimerini English Edition. «Today we wish to dynamize the accessories, which give access to the brand.» De Narp came to Athens for the opening of the annual «Very Important Watches» show, during which the venerable luxury house invested in a stand for the first time, displaying a series of watches as well as rare Cartier pieces never exhibited in this country before. While enjoying a strong following in Greece for many years, it was only in June 2001 that the company established its local headquarters. Cartier Greece is currently operating under the umbrella of Richemont Hellas, a subsidiary of Swiss-based Richemont SA, the luxury giant which bought Cartier in the 1980s. Today, the group owns various brands such as Piaget, Van Cleef & Arpels, Baume & Mercier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Vacheron Constantin, Lancel, Montblanc, Alfred Dunhill and Chloe. «The capital may no longer be French, but Cartier is managed by the French, with a French aesthetic and French designers – all the high jewelry and one-of-a-kind pieces are made in France,» said de Narp. «At the same time, and for a very long time, more than being a French brand, Cartier has been an international brand. We are not developing the brand with a French spirit aiming at French clients. This French aesthetic is aiming at a global audience.» This has always been the case. Established in France in 1847, Cartier’s first outlet opened in Paris’s rue de la Paix in 1853, followed by a boutique in London in 1902 and one in New York in 1907. Meanwhile, Louis Cartier traveled the world, visiting India, for instance, where the maharajahs placed their orders. Cartier was also the first to use platinum in jewelry while introducing styles such as the «garland,» inspired by Art Nouveau. In the watch department, the Santos – the first wristwatch with a leather strap – was created in 1904. «In its vaults, Cartier stores more than 350,000 archives – all sketches of products,» said de Narp. «This why Cartier has the power to come up with timeless, yet contemporary pieces. Take the Divan watch, for instance [a highly successful watch launched last year]; a very modern, fashionable design, it is based on an old design, the Tank, which stems from 1917, with very few modifications. Cartier has the creative capacity to take past designs and project them into the future.» The rich archive material is further sustained by the Art de Cartier collection. Built on approximately 1,300 pieces, it traces Cartier’s history and heritage from the very beginning all the way to the 1980s, with pieces bought at auctions or from private clients and collectors. Keeping up this kind of creative tradition is a force, but could it be a limitation as well? «I think that when it comes to creativity, there are no limits,» said de Narp. «Up to a certain extent, I believe we do go beyond the existing limits. When it comes to our competitors, I don’t think that we really have any on the haute gamme level. We don’t really have any competition in the 300,000- to 500,000-euro department. Of course we do in the watch and jewelry fields.» This is not to mention that these days competition doesn’t always come from fellow jewelers and prestigious watchmakers. «There is a certain confusion today when it comes to fashion and luxury; Cartier is not a fashion, but a luxury brand,» said de Narp. «Today all fashion brands are venturing into jewelry and watches. So, there is competition there. Cartier’s approach has always been faithful to its standards, however, and so it enjoys a certain legitimacy in producing jewelry. In this context, while fashion leads the global creative path right now, Cartier has to be very creative in order to keep up.» Keeping up means coming up with exciting new models such as the Declaration, a women’s watch treading into the jewelry department. An innovative watch featuring a titanium case encircled by eight movable rings in gold, plus a second case set with a diamond, it was recently chosen in Switzerland as «Watch of the Year 2003,» signaling the first time a women’s watch with a quartz mechanism was elected by a Swiss jury of authoritative watchmakers. And while up to a few years ago, Cartier presented novel jewelry collections every two or three years, today, the house presents at least one major collection a year – in 2003 the core was the oriental Baiser du Dragon – while also developing other themes. Once the right product is conceived and developed, the next, crucial step is to find the appropriate image for its worldwide promotion. Acting as global ambassador for the house is Monica Bellucci – in the Greek capital recently, the Italian actress was spotted wearing items from the Baiser du Dragon collection. «You can never let your guard down,» said de Narp. «In order to continue selling the dream, what is beautiful and glamorous, you have to constantly invest in communication, while being very careful all along.» Is the house of Cartier looking at one singular communication strategy for its global client? Or do differences among countries and cultures point to a variety of campaigns when it comes to publicity? «There are certain collections developed in certain markets,» said de Narp. «In Asian countries, for instance, there are advertising campaigns aimed more at an entry level, while in Europe, we might be focusing more on the high end. In Japan, for example, we are looking at a mass audience, while in Greece we are dealing with an initiated, mature clientele, which loves important watches and jewelry – even high jewelry in a way – while there is also room for clients at an entry level. In the US, on the other hand, where we are going through a boom period, we have the complete gamut of clients.» Complementing the company’s image and advertising tactics are a series of events of both a promotional and charity nature: In Rome last October, the Villa Farnese (home to the French Embassy) became the stylish setting for a star-studded event, while in the same month, a two-day event was held in Athens with proceeds from the sale of Cartier watches and jewelry benefiting the Hellenic Society for Disabled Children (ELEPAP). Coming up in May, Cartier is organizing an exhibition in Shanghai. Cartier has also brought an innovative look into the world of corporate sponsorship, through the establishment of La Fondation Cartier Pour L’Art Contemporain in 1984. Based in a modern edifice in Paris’s Raspail avenue, the foundation showcases the work of contemporary artists. Yet for all the plethora of parallel activities, the brand’s power lies in its DNA – the timeless designs for which it has always been celebrated. One all-time best seller is the Trinity ring; Created in 1924 for Jean Cocteau, its basic core of pink, white and yellow gold bands is constantly renewed – with a fresh twist coming up soon. Throughout the years, the Trinity’s success has sparked countless similar rings being made and worn all around the world. Counterfeits remain a sore point for luxury brands – fake Cartier bags are always popular in New York’s Chinatown. «A real Cartier customer will never betray the brand in that way,» said de Narp. «As for us, fighting counterfeits has to do with defending the image. It’s not about losing business but about safeguarding the brand’s identity and creativity.»

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