Car-ti-er: the three syllables expressed with a slight tilt upward of the chin, softly accented if you’re French, un petit peu mangled if you’re American. A name inscribed on the signature red leather box, its Beaux-Arts swag of flowers traced in gold. It’s the color itself, that red—the color of kings, of the heart, of love. And since the 19th century, it’s Cartier whose jewels have shimmered against the skin of American heiresses, Russian czarinas, English queens, and French empresses. Even if you think you know Cartier jewelry, even if your library is filled with any of the more than two dozen books on the French maison, you should make room for one more book, and it’s a big one: The Cartiers, by Francesca Cartier Brickell. Yes, she is family. And her book is the only one that pulls back the curtain on the Cartier Wizard of Oz to tell you about the family you never knew.
There’s the penniless founder, Louis-François, who at the age of 27 somehow scrapes together 20,000 francs, in 1847, to buy out his mentor’s workshop and from that point forward makes jewelry under the Cartier name. There’s his son, Alfred, who heeds his father’s advice, “Be very kind,” while carefully establishing the firm, aiming to produce quality goods (success is swift) and attain respectability (that takes longer). And there’s Alfred’s three sons—Louis, Pierre, and Jacques—who form the heart of this book.