An extremely rare "orange tree" Art Deco brooch by CARTIER


The “Important Jewels” spring auction season is reaching its height this coming weeks with London, NY and Geneva sales. A few days ago we saw Bonhams NY selling a rare Art Deco brooch by Cartier at a record price multiple of more than twenty times the estimate.

The “Important Jewels” spring auction season is reaching its height this coming weeks with London, NY and Geneva sales. A few days ago we saw Bonhams NY selling a rare Art Deco brooch by Cartier at a record price multiple of more than twenty times the estimate. This coming week, the same house is featuring an even rarer Cartier design: a 1914 coloured “orange tree” brooch. Yet again, the estimate is £15,000 to £20,000, can’t wait to see where it ends!

A rock crystal and gem-set “Orange Tree” brooch, by Cartier, 1914

There are several reasons why this tiny piece is so rare and none of them have to do with the stones. This piece is all about daring design and convention challenging. The brooch was made in 1914, almost eleven years before the Paris Art Decoratives exhibition took place, so the use of bold colours itself is already very innovative for its time. A green foil behind the carve rock crystal, the use of citrine, emerald and rubies in the same piece are almost provocative in a piece signed by Cartier back then. There is no individual signature by the designer but everything points towards Charles Jacqueau, one of the most famous designers that has worked for the Maison, and chief responsible for its transition to Art Deco from the white jewellery of the Belle Epoque and the Garland Style. The other element that points towards Jacqueau is the black onix and white diamond geometrical combination, he was responsible for the groundbreaking “panther” watch design made in that same year of 1914 also by Cartier.

The piece will be auctioned by Bonham’s London next April 30th. We will be there!

Catalogue notes

  • Provenance
    Gifted to Elizabeth Corbett on her wedding day in 1941 by Lady Jean Ward, granddaughter of Darius Ogden Mills, US financier and philanthropist and once the richest man in California.
    Direct descent to the present owner.

This is a rare example of Cartier’s “Orange Tree” design and was created by Cartier Paris in 1914. Although it is difficult to attribute surviving Cartier jewels to individual designers due to the firm’s policy of anonymity, this small brooch, standing just 3.3cm high, incorporates a myriad of innovative design influences and technical innovations, all characteristic of Cartier’s pioneering designer Charles Jacqueau (1885-1968). After joining the firm in 1909, Jacqueau guided Cartier away from the Garland Style, advocating bold colours in inventive, contemporary designs that would set it apart from its competitors artistically. Jacqueau borrowed liberally from other cultures in his design repertoire; motifs from Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Indian, Islamic, Japanese, Greek and Chinese civilizations were all thrown into the melting pot. His sketches from nature in the Jardins des Plantes were translated into miniature gemstone plants, earning him the nickname “Jacqueau la Fleur”. Jacqueau regularly visited the Louvre and drew inspiration from the exhibits there; perhaps the painting “Madonna della Vittoria” (1495), depicting Saint Elizabeth and the little Saint John under lemon and orange trees on which birds perch, helped to inspire the “Orange Tree” line.

One of Cartier Paris’ earliest “Orange Tree” brooches was made in 1913; it is similar to this example in being of two-dimensional, highly stylised form incorporating birds’ head motifs, but here the similarity ends. Whereas the 1913 brooch is monochromatic, almost entirely set with white diamonds offset by a few onyx highlights, this brooch, made a year later, bursts with colour combinations and different shapes and cuts of gemstone. 1913 was a pivotal year for Cartier: Jacqueau’s obsession with the bright colours in Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes had reached its zenith – Nadelhoffer notes how his colleagues in the design studio playfully drew caricatures of him dressed as Isadora Duncan in billowing robes – allowing the firm to finally break free from the constraints of the Garland Style. In November 1913, Cartier showcased fifty new jewelled creations at their New York premises, which they described as “from the Hindoo, Persian, Arab, Russian and Chinese”. This “Orange Tree” brooch of 1914 clearly demonstrates the new influences at play in its use of gemstones of different shape, colour, cut and texture, from the carved rock crystal applied over a green foil, to the buff-top calibré-cut citrines, and the use of shaped onyx, which had been introduced into Cartier’s designs from 1910, and which lent structure and contrast to so many of its Art Deco pieces. In addition, the brooch displays the maker’s mark of Henri Picq, Cartier’s main workshop supplier between 1900 and 1918, renowned for their high-quality platinum and who would later execute many of the “Tutti Frutti” pieces of which the brooch is surely a very early forerunner.

See Hans Nadelhoffer “Cartier Extraordinary”, Thames & Hudson, 1984, black and white photograph No 109, a similar orange tree brooch, 1913, by Cartier Paris. See also plate 11, an “orange tree” hatpin in carved rock crystal with onyx and diamond fruits, dated 1926.

From: collecting fine jewels

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