We start, of course, in Paris. The story of Cartier begins with Louis-François Cartier in 1847, who took control of his master’s old watch shop where he had learnt the trade, but always dreamt of more. At this time, the likes of Breguet dominated the horological world in Paris, so Cartier wanted to expand his former employer’s business into jewellery. However, deciding to move into this field seemed like a rather perilous choice at the time, as France was very much a country of revolution, with an uprising in Paris in 1848 causing more than a simple headache for any high-end dealer in the city. This led to a few years of struggle, as the French upper-classes almost saw their very existence in jeopardy.
However, that never stopped Cartier, and as the business developed, his son Alfred prepared to take the reins. When the Paris Commune of 1870 came along, Alfred took the initiative to offer the aristocrats that were quickly fleeing the capital, the opportunity to sell their jewellery to him. They were in such a hurry to escape the violence that was plaguing the bourgeoisie and in such desperate need of finance, that they supposedly accepted far less for the gems than their true worth. This meant that Cartier was able to amass a rich collection of jewels on which to build the business. Luckily, the Commune only lasted a matter of months and once it lifted, Cartier was free to sell these gems in the new French Republic, as people were equally willing to buy.
The ascendancy of Cartier had properly begun. The company grew and moved to larger premises several times at the end of the 19th century until in 1899, they moved into their iconic Rue de La Paix location. What would go on to become known as the spiritual heart of Cartier is still their home today. Alfred had three sons, Pierre, Jacques and Louis, who would all take the Maison to new horizons. They essentially split the world between them, with Louis remaining in Paris, while Pierre ventured further afield to New York and Jacques driving the success of the jeweller in London. It was the belief that the Cartier vision could be sold around the world that drove this third generation of Cartiers to pursue global ambitions.