Why precious brooches brought the head of the Cartier jewelry house to the Gestapo: Jeanne Toussaint
Why precious brooches brought the head of the Cartier jewelry house to the Gestapo: Jeanne Toussaint

The Cartier jewelry house has a symbol - a flexible panther with predatory sparkling eyes. A wild cat, studded with precious stones, hugged Wallis Simpson's wrist, and now it clenches the fingers of modern fashionistas in its jaws. She dozed, turned into a brooch, and hid, wrapped in an earring. The appearance of the Cartier panther is associated with a woman who was once a lover, but did not become the wife of Louis Cartier, and then headed his jewelry house and led to new heights of success …

Modern re-release of panther jewelry

The first Cartier jewelry with a panther motif appeared in 1914-1915 under the influence of the outgoing Art Nouveau with its fatal beauties and dark eroticism. The eccentric wealthy of those years loved to surround themselves with exotic cats and associate themselves with wild animals, graceful and deadly. At the same time, it was the images of impetuous predators that the designers of the next chronologically “luxurious” style - Art Deco - were so fond of. The Cartier Panther was born at just the right time, becoming a nostalgic image for fans of modernity and anticipating the dynamism, passion and aggression of the younger generation. Along with the first jewelry watches decorated with figures of panthers, advertising posters of the fashionable illustrator Georges Barbier appeared in Cartier stores - a panther reclining at the feet of a young beauty. The House of Cartier owes the appearance of this image to Jeanne Toussaint, who, without undue modesty, called herself a panther. It is she who tames the wild beast in the drawing of her best friend Georges Barbier.

A panther studded with diamonds

The childhood story of Jeanne Toussaint could be titled like this: "The Lolita Who Lived." Jeanne was born in Belgium, in a small town famous for coal mining - this region was called the "black country". At a young age, she was forced to flee home due to the harassment of her stepfather. She is also related to Nabokov's heroine by another sad story: at the age of thirteen, Jeanne, barely recovering from her escape from home, was involved in a relationship by a forty-year-old man of aristocratic origin. Three years later, he left her in Paris - alone, without acquaintances, money and prospects. Fortunately, the girl was supported by her older sister. Over time, the Toussaint sisters entered the bohemian circles of the city, made friends with famous poets and artists …

Jeanne Toussaint

Jeanne started to create accessories and succeeded in it. Her handbags with graceful finishes were very popular with young actresses and singers. And while she was sewing lace and beads to the clasps, jeweler Louis Cartier looked at her face on an advertising poster and realized that he had fallen in love with this woman like never before. Their romance developed rapidly, but Cartier saw in her something more than just a daring and attractive young lady. He invited her to work in the accessories department - and he was right. Toussaint knew how and loved to work, was smart and inventive, and most importantly, she knew exactly what women wanted. Jeanne made several small fashion revolutions - she invented fasteners for a scarf, bags with long handles, enlarged - an unheard-of thing! - the volume of handbags. And here the panther reappears - Cartier not only called his beloved that, but also created a lock for a bag in the shape of a panther especially for her.

Handbag with a panther and a watch with an animalistic ornament

Jeanne and Louis were married … not to each other. Cartier married a Hungarian aristocrat, with whom his family brought him together, and left for Budapest, while Jeanne found a family (and title) with a baron - many years later. However, the creativity that united them, the work of their whole life, was more important than stamps, rings and church vows. In 1933, Louis Cartier handed over to Jeanne Toussaint the leadership of the Paris branch of the jewelry house - in this position Toussaint remained until the 1970s. Toussaint's real talent was revealed precisely in jewelry design. She loved experiments, introduced fashion to yellow gold and figurative, figurative design - the house of Cartier began to produce brooches in the shape of birds, dragonflies and ladybugs. One of these brooches nearly cost Jeanne Toussaint her life during the Nazi occupation. She came up with a bird in a cage brooch and put it on a shop window. A passing Gestapo officer saw the decoration and … understood everything. Jeanne was arrested. Coco Chanel was involved in the rescue of the "Panther Cartier" - and it is difficult to imagine what it cost her. In the spring of 1945, Jeanne changed the design of the brooch - now the bird was leaving the hated cage.

Necklace with a panther figurine

In the post-war years, many jewelry houses ceased to exist or significantly revised their approach to production. But not Cartier. And after the Second World War, precious panthers experienced a rebirth. Back in 1925, the artist Paul Jouvet, who illustrated "Mowgli", developed for Cartier the image of a panther, which now and then appeared in various accessories and jewelry, but rather as a flat decor.

Drawing by Paul Jouvet

Now there are voluminous, intricately designed rings, necklaces, brooches and bracelets in the shape of panthers.

Brooches in the shape of panthers

Toussaint made friends with many rich and noble women. During the years of her work, Cartier acquired many new, very wealthy fans. For example, the Duchess of Windsor, for whom a magnificent brooch in the shape of a panther with an emerald heart weighing 116 carats was created and a few more "cat" decorations. After that, the jewelry house was literally overwhelmed with orders of the same type - everyone wanted the exact same brooch. Just like the duchess - and nothing else! The Duchess, meanwhile, was admiring the elaborate panther-shaped bracelet wrapped around her arm …

Bracelet for the Duchess of Windsor Panther shaped bracelet

Another faithful admirer of the Cartier house, the millionaire Barbara Hutton, who adored precious stones of complex and rare shades, also collected a real jewelry "zoo". Her collection included not only panthers, but also tigers.

On the left - a decoration for Barbara Hutton with the image of a tiger

Jeanne Toussaint's wild cat remains a key symbol of the jewelry house. The most famous panther jewelry is regularly reissued with minimal changes. In 2007, at the presentation of the new collection of the jewelry house, Monica Bellucci paraded with a live panther on a leash. And in 2014, Cartier presented fifty-six pieces inspired by the elegant predator.

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