Cartier – Inside the Diamond

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Photos: Malika Mokadem
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We don’t need to tell you much when we talk about Cartier, the name of this high jewelry brand talks for itself. The heritage, the stories and history, the art of their craft and the uncompromising approach to customers are just some of the qualities that made this house stay on top of the fine jewelry industry for 140 years (founded in 1847). In a very rare opportunity the doors of Cartier’s prestigious Parisian atelier and eyewear factory were open to non other than Moody Roza (hey, that’s me!!) and on this extremely exclusive peek inside where all the sparkly magic is happening I was accompanied by Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s Image, Style and Heritage Director, and with his knowledge and passion for the brand I was set to discover what it really takes to create world’s highest quality jewelry.

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“This atelier is the most important out of all the Cartier ateliers, there are several across France and one in Switzerland where the watches are made, others in Italy where the brand makes it’s newly added bag collections and the this is the eyewear factory about 30 min drive from Paris. Here is where it all stared over 100 years ago” says  Rainero. This iconic building on 13 Rue de la Paix (just off the legendary Place Vandome) is where the house designs and makes all their unique & custom made pieces, this building also functions as the biggest store and display of Cartier jewelry and watches in the world. On the 5th floor of this eye catching building typically Parisian building is the archive of the company, and some offices where big corporate decisions are made, so the importance of this location in the history of the brand is undebatable.
Most people think that this building was as big as it is today since it first opened in December 1899, but I learnt it was a lot smaller than what we know and see today. Only a small small part of this building functioned as the store and the rest of the building was added later on in 1912, the atelier was added to the top 3 floors, the office moved here and so did the designers and the rest the jewelers, today the archives of the company are here as well, so really this is Cartier’s official head quarters for over 100 years. Today there are around 100 people working here with several additional ateliers around France.

It’s 10:30 AM and we are walking through the shop that is still closed in order to enter the atelier, the shop opens at 11:00 and it takes the staff about an hour each morning to put the display back in the windows, as you can imagine the security is tight. We are entering though very secured doors and we are told that there are over 60 jewelers who work here in 10 different departments/stations (from drawers to polishers on 3 floors) these well trained craftsmen all have different skills and each one of them specializes in different technics and methods of making jewelry, all of them are working with such dedicated and have one very clear mission and that mission is to achieve a technically flawless and artistically perfect piece of jewel (that will later be sold for thousands or even in some cases millions of euros). I have to admit that the silence in the halls and the working stations was a little tense, I was afraid to distract the extremely focused staff, one wrong movement and the whole jewel can be damaged.

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The staff here seams so dedicated to the brand and this makes Cartier’s work ethic so high, like every good boss theCartier management knows that these are the people who bring the jewelry to life, they also know that without their talent, dedication and high morals they would not see these kind of results. By looking at Cartier’s history, years ago people as young 14 or 15 started their work in the company and continued to work here their entire life, and that is a very French approach for a work place, here in France the employees are totally devoted to their career whether it’s a waiter or a cashier or a banker, the French like in this case know that the way to earn a promotion is with hard work and patience and that is exactly Cartier’s philosophy and it hasn’t changed for 140 years. It takes 10 years of training to become a cartier jeweler, the trainees don’t get to work with precious materials at first, they train on other materials until they are ready to handle these expensive stones, all of the jewelers here are totally isolated, they cant be disturbed they are all getting the peace to really focus on their craft after all they are also kind of artists.

Cartier of course are well known for their figurative pieces, for example the famous leopard and crocodile these complex pieces are made here, not only they have to look perfect but I am reminded and shown by Pierre that they also have to function and sit on a body perfectly “The movement that comes with each piece such as a necklace or bracelet makes the jewel more complicated to engineer and execute, the final product is the perfect mix between artistic skills of our designers and the engineering skills of our jewelers, it’s a team work”

It all starts by sculpting the pieces first in wax and then the shape is made in plastic, and only after many technical tests these figures can be transformed into platinum shapes. So many tiny precious pieces are gathered together by different teams here and every person is responsible for a different part of each jewel that is made in cartier, every jeweler here has his speciality. Every piece is polished even before it is set in it’s final position on the jewel unlike in other non “high jewelry” brands the jewel is only polished as a finished product but here we polish each piece separately, during, before and after it’s creation, I noticed that the polishing here in the atelier is done only by women, perhaps it’s that gentle final touch that gives the Cartier jewelry that final spark.

By going around the atelier and seeing all these elements that will eventually become one grand piece I wondered how long does it take to put it all together until it’s ready to spark on the red carpet or at a gala and I was told that It all depends on the piece, the techniques used to create the piece can help to create the final effect and it’s function, it’s all about the sophistication of the finish so it has to be done perfectly, in other words it takes in average about 500 hours for a unique piece to be ready. The prototypes are made by 4 people around the table working on the same piece, most of the pieces made here are very confidential, the employers here are like secret agents they can not talk about the job and we can not reveal the identity of our clients. The quality of the final product is measured by the degree of refinement in all the details and it can take a long time to achieve this kind of perfection. The quality of the stones here at Cartier is crucial it can define the design of the jewel, the importance of the material and the stones at Cartier is a top priority, we mustn’t forget that first of all the brand must to obey the strict rules of The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS- The process was set up to ensure that diamond purchases were not financing violence by rebel movements).

The process of ordering a custom made piece by Cartier

Such orders are taken at our shop where there are special sitting areas accommodating the clients, where they can feel discreet while placing such an important order. A Cartier representative will discuss the order in full confidentiality, later on I wondered around the store and even sat in one of those booths dreaming of ordering my own custom made Cartier piece.

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“There are so many different kinds of orders, some clients will have an exact idea of what they want to make, some have no clue and others will want to re create something of the house or a piece that was in their family for generations, so each case is unique and the work put into it is different every time. For each request made we present 3 different options to the client and then we will agree on one, we propose an estimate and if it’s excepted by the client the piece goes into production”

Just before my visit to this Atelier I received some information about the latest Etourdissant-cartier collection, a special gem stone collection that is inspired by the French Reviera, and like most fashion houses and apparel brands I realized that Cartier also design by season, besides the classic and iconic pieces (like the love bracelet, the nail collection,the trinity and many of the other classic pieces) you may find in the stores all year round the brand often comes out with themed or limited addition collections, so how does it work? Are there trends in the high jewelry business?

“We always start the process two years before the product will be on our shelves, the most important thing for us are the stones. Our ideas for a collection usually come from the pallet of stones we have gathered. We have an original intention or a rough idea of what we are going to base our collection on and then we make a decision with our creative team. For about 3 months from deciding the direction of the next collection we are presented with 100 drawings from which we will choose about 15-20 pieces from, then we will go to production, but unlike in fashion we do not have one artistic director who makes the final decision, we do it as a team designers, engineers, jewelers and corporate figures make the final choices together”

The iconic and extravagant pieces

This atelier is responsible for so many historical and unique pieces that were made here over the years I saw some extravagant choices around here, the archive pictures in this room indicate on some extreme designs such as a pocket watch for ladies in a shape of a leopard’s head, the mouth of the leopard opened and the watch was revealed, it is all covered in diamonds and precious stones inside and out. I also saw a photo of a well remembered phenix watch, it is made of white gold that weighs 18 carats and plated with rhodium, the eyes are made of emeralds and it also features pear-shaped and portrait-cut diamond that weighs 3.53 carats. The entire thing is covered by 3,010 brilliant-cut diamonds with a combined weight of 80.13 carats. (I later found out it is worth 2.7 million dollars) we are working on a pretty spectacular piece now, but I can reveal what it is. Cartier are very stricked about “recreations” and “inspirations” they never remake anything that doesn’t belong to their customers “We don’t believe in duplicating someone else’s ideas and personal taste, it might be “in the spirit of” but never the same.

On the way to the polishing room we pass by a corridor full of amazing photos of Cartier’s past creations I am starting to think of all the people who own these pieces, I start to wonder where they were or wore them to? what they wear them with? who inherited them? I am starting to understand what kind of bohemian and extravagant lives these jewelry must have seen, I start to wonder if people are as daring with jewelry today as they were in the past?

“We love the challenge of making jewelry we never done before. But yes, people are still very daring when it comes to custom made pieces, our customer wants to stand out in the crowd, he wants to live with this piece forever, and our customer wants to know that not everyone who will walk to our store can purchase what he has”

Working as a jeweler at Cartier

It’s clear that people who come to work here know that this is a commitment they will have to take seriously, every jeweler here knows that they would have to do the same job for many years in order to progress, there is always a step forward here but you have to be precipitant to follow it through, in Paris to work in Cartier is the ultimate thing to do, graduates from such degrees have an incredible opportunity to work on very complex and unique pieces at Cartier, just by looking at the work process and some of the pieces created here I am sure they wouldn’t experienced it in no other house. “Our level of craftsmanship is the highest in the world so the challenges are very high demanding for anyone who comes to work here. I think first of all it is based on the level of your motivation and dedication for the brand, we hire young people after they finish their studies and then they are evaluated on based on their skills”

Looking around the atelier today made me realize how today there are less and less people who chose to study craftsmanship, it seems a little old fashioned in 2015 to be a shoe maker or a jeweler and I begin to wonder who will do all this incredibly delicate artisan work in 20 50 or 100 years from now? But I am quickly reassured by Pierre who is very optimistic about the future of the brand and the high jewelry industry, “We work around a very strong artistic dimension there is a creative added value we are living through an artistic revolution, high jewelry was and always be a very specific field, every jewel is an extremely personal and symbolic statement of a person that wears it, this also passes to the next generation but keeps the energy and spirit of the person who passed it on. The jewel is a very intense object and people are obsessed and fascinated with for hounders of years, civilization and history proved it will not change any time soon and the demand for this type of product and it’s symbolic value won’t fade away so soon”

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Today’s fashion is moving so fast, the consumers are looking for trends, new designs and concepts all the time, a traditional house like Cartier has a big marketing challenge ahead of him, it can not stand still but can not commercialize it self too much in order to keep it’s prestige image, so how does a brand like this stays loyal to it’s rich heritage without loosing on commercial value and avoiding over exposure? I guess the answer in this case lays in the consumer, after all Cartier’s clients know that what they get from when they buy their piece they wouldn’t find anywhere else, someone who is choosing to buy a Cartier piece isn’t looking for a trendy item that would not be relevant in a season or in a year. The artistic value of the product stays with each jewel made here and instead of following fashion Cartier is creating it and opening the way to more and more unique designs, it’s clear that when clients buys here they are actually buying part of the history and the heritage of the house. The values and philosophy ofCartier is what makes this brand have the commercial success they have today, without naming a well known creative director or without too many glossy adds in magazines and billboards or endless press coverage, the brand is choosing to be more discreet and really focus on our authentic creations (in all of our products not just in high jewelry) just as they did 140 years ago.

I also keep wondering how does such a traditional house like Cartier is keeping up with the world of technology and social media. It seems to me that there is a huge gesture of respect towards the workers I saw in the atelier, Cartier are not in a rush to land jewelry to bloggers or celebrities to gain more followers on our social platforms, perhaps over exposure for them can do more damage then good, still as far as social media goes, the brand has very active platforms, their instagram for example has over 1 million followers so I think they must be doing something right in that department.

Cartier’s iconic women – The story of the free spirit

The house of Cartier was always linked to very powerful and iconic women and while walking though the iconic corridors of the building I saw framed photos of all the women who proudly represented the brand through the years, Elizabeth Tyler, Sophia Lauren, princess Diana and other royals, some prima ballerinas countless socialites and even Jeanne Toussaint herself, I thought to myself is there anything in common about these women, what does it take to be a Cartier wearer?

“We get many requests from many people, we only work with celebrities who understand the real value (not the commercial value) of what it is they wear, they have to represents all the hard work of the people who worked on the piece they are going to wear, we have a very selected amount of people who we work with on that.”

By the end of the tour in the atelier and the store I concluded that the greatness of Cartier is that they see all women as their muses, there are so many different types of women who appreciate the brand and judging by the pictures on the walls and the women walking in the store perhaps there isn’t one portrait that correspond with the “Cartier Woman” I think maybe the one common point between them is that they are all free spirited women in their own way, they can be very different in class, in taste and it their background but very particular personality, very strong and free and that is something I can deeply relate to.

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