LUCCA, Italy — Entering the Villa Reale di Marlia here, one could easily have believed you had just stepped foot into the world of “Bridgerton.” The 17th century estate, complete with a lush park punctuated by sculptures, lemon gardens, a small lake and the sound of a quartet of violins filling the air, is a lesser-known Italian beauty that has eluded the attention of even many locals.
The picture-perfect spot and idyllic mood came second only to Cartier La Panthère de Cartier new high jewelry collection that was revealed in the villa’s frescoed halls on Wednesday.
After taking press and top clients to Lake Como two years ago, the company returned to Italy, opting for the Tuscan town of Lucca, a 90-minute drive from Florence, to showcase more than 80 never-before-seen pieces.
Talking with WWD, Arnaud Carrez, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Cartier International, offered several reasons that prompted the decision. He pointed to the long-lasting relationship Cartier has with the country and the pivotal role of the Italian market, both in terms of business and image building. As reported, the company’s ties here have been recently strengthened with a new plant in Turin, which added to frequent product launches as well as to Cartier’s involvement in the artistic and cultural tissue of the country via the sponsorship of the Venice Film Festival and the partnership between Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain and Triennale Milano.
More specifically, the history of Villa Reale di Marlia itself intertwines with the brand’s. After being purchased by Napoleon’s sister Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi in 1806 and being greatly renovated, the property passed to the Pecci-Blunt family in 1923. Through her social events, countess Mimì Pecci-Blunt started attracting artists, aristocracy and jet-set personalities to the location, ranging from Salvador Dalì and Jean Cocteau to Jacqueline Kennedy, to name a few.
“Many of our clients have spent a lot of time in this villa, especially in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The Pecci-Blunts used to be between Paris and Villa Reale and they hosted many parties with many of our clients attending it, so that’s a nice story for us,” said Carrez, crediting as further evidence a recently purchased book belonging to the family with pictures of such gatherings.
Dubbed “Le Voyage Recommencé,” Cartier La Panthère de Cartier high jewelry collection was meant to evoke this continuity as well, reinterpreting the brand’s own history through a contemporary filter for today’s customers.
Rather than choosing an overarching specific inspiration, Cartier’s director of high jewelry creation Jacqueline Karachi and the company’s craftsmen delved into the heritage and reinvented the core aesthetic codes of the house through unique pieces that hinged on interplays of geometries, volumes and new chromatic juxtapositions.
“It’s very consistent in terms of philosophy with what we’ve done in these decades in high jewelry and at the same time it has a new approach on the key themes,” said Carrez, mentioning architecture, nature and dialogue between different cultures as recurring references. “I think this collection pays tribute to this permanent quest for beauty and is again a true testimony of our ability to reinvent ourselves and being very true to our founding identity at the same time.”
Emblematic pieces in the Cartier La Panthère de Cartier collection were the Claustra platinum necklace covered in diamonds, including a remarkable 4.02-carat specimen standing at the center of its geometric and pointy structure. Onyx alternated diamonds and openwork further enhanced the game of perspective and volumes and nodded to Cartier’s signature black-and-white combinations that were first introduced at the beginning of the 20th century. Adding to the technical challenge, the piece was also transformable as the necklace could be split into two separate ones.
A similar transformable feat also defined the Girih necklace, whose central pendant showcasing an oval-shaped emerald could be detached and worn as a brooch. Nodding to Arab mosaics and palette through its geometries and charming color mix of green and turquoise, the piece was intended to celebrate one of the pillars of Cartier’s style — the Islamic art and architecture that Louis Cartier first discovered in 1903 through an exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
Ditto for the Panjara necklace in diamonds — including a rare brown type as centerpiece — and onyx, which was inspired by the light filtering through mashrabiya, a traditional Arab architectural element. Other Middle Eastern nods defined the Sama creation, evoking the dresses of whirling dervishes with its swirling structure in white gold and diamonds that converge around a 19.27-carat Ceylon sapphire.
Elsewhere, the Vespro necklace further built on the game of contrast between static structures and movement with its beaded tips, while the Panthère Givrée necklace celebrated the spirit animal of the jewelry house, introduced in 1914 by Louis Cartier. The realistic shape of the feline covered in diamonds with onyx spots and emerald eyes was flanked by a set of three aquamarines totaling 20.33 carats as well as lapis lazuli for a touch of color.
As usual, the design of each piece was determined by the features of the key precious stones. For example, a rare 0.92-carat gray-violet diamond stood out for sitting on the statement Ondule ring and inspired its bold appearance. Resembling the effect of throwing a stone in the water, concentric lines developed around the centerpiece, with the effect enhanced via diamonds cut in a half-moon shape.
With the appetite for Cartier La Panthère de Cartier high jewelry booming and Cartier’s commitment to improving ethical, environmental and social practices throughout the industry — as embodied by the partnership with Kering on the Watch & Jewelry Initiative 2030 — Carrez identified sourcing as the main challenge for the sector.
“It’s a constant challenge because we are obsessed about finding the nicest stones. We have some very strict guidelines criteria and we are committed to finding the most beautiful natural stones and at the same time to comply with principles not only in terms of quality, but also in terms of provenance,” said Carrez, mentioning decisions not to source from some countries, such as Afghanistan in the case of lapis lazuli. “Plus, with the market being vibrant there is a competition for sourcing precious stones, so the expertise of our buyers is so important… We have people from the stone purchasing department who have been with us for decades, so they have an extensive knowledge… and we’ve built some very strong and solid relationship with our partners. And the fact we have also this unique image in high jewelry, it helps.”
Without disclosing figures, Carrez underscored the dynamism and vitality of the high jewelry category impacts both Cartier’s key current markets — such as the U.S., China and Middle East — and new ones, mainly in Southeast Asia.
“We see new regions growing fast…A few months ago we organized an event in Bangkok and had clients coming from Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and also Australia,” said the executive. South Korea and Japan, where the company has been focusing with dedicated events for the past decade, are also becoming increasingly relevant for the brand’s high jewelry business.
Carrez also noted that especially in these countries the average age of customers is lower compared to the established ones. In general, he said that already half of the brand’s overall customers are Millennials and Gen Z-ers.
“The share is already high and it’s even higher in some regions. Especially in Asia, we are already perceived as an aspirational brand… for watches, jewelry and sometimes for fine jewelry and accessories. When we look at Cartier’s iconic collections, they are by essence transgenerational, so they do cater to multiple generations. We are not obsessed about [young generations]. We cater to multiple clienteles, including young clienteles, but we don’t have specific collections for them and this is not our intention,” said Carrez.
Cultural and social factors are affecting the geographies of the brand’s high jewelry customers, instead. The executive noted that these kinds of pieces are more challenging to wear in Europe due to a reduced number of special occasions as well as the overall social and economic context, “inducing some of our clients to be cautious and have a more subdued approach,” he noted. Conversely, social events in the U.S., Asia and Middle East spark the demand for such creations.
“That’s why events like this one [in Lucca] are very important for clients. It’s not only for commercial reasons but they are also an opportunity to wear their pieces, which is very important for them,” noted Carrez.
To further celebrate the high jewelry collection, the brand will host a special gala dinner at the Giardino Corsini location in Florence with some of its international ambassadors in attendance.
After hosting top clients in Lucca and Florence, the Italian experience of the brand will continue in Milan with events dedicated to its VICs. Other activities in the country will see Cartier returning for the third year as sponsor of the Venice Film Festival, running Aug. 30 to Sept. 9, and next year taking part in the Homo Faber cultural event celebrating craftsmanship.
Also next year, a new production site in Valenza will be ready. It will be just shy of 55,000 square feet, for up to 180 employees, up from around 40 in the existing one in Valenza.
The Compagnie Financière Richemont-controlled brand has been directly manufacturing in Italy since 2013, when it purchased one of its partners, which itself had absorbed Turin-based jewelry atelier Marchisio, open since 1860.
Cartier currently counts nine manufacturing sites, including Turin, Valenza, its Paris high jewelry ateliers, as well as its Swiss watchmaking plants in La-Chaux-de-Fond and a historical 40-year-old facility in Fribourg.