MADRID - I have just returned from Madrid where I had the chance to visit The Art of Cartier exhibition at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, which runs until the 17th February. What a treat to see, grouped together, some of the most fabulous jewels I have had the chance to handle in my 30 years at Sotheby’s: the diamond Fern Spray brooches sold to Sir Ernest Cassel; the striking Tutti Frutti necklace created for Daisy Fellowes; the sapphire and diamond panther broochmade for the Duchess of Windsor!

The Flamenco Brooch from the Duchess of Windsor’s collection, sold at Sotheby’s in 2010. Cartier Collection © Cartier, Nils Hermann, Courtesy of the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza.

With over 400 pieces from the collection of the legendary jeweller on show, this exhibition is a must. Largely focused on the first half of the 20th century, it charts the changing styles of Cartier, and is organized by themes such as: Head Ornaments, Art Deco and Iconic Clients.

Cartier’s onyx and diamond panther bracelet, once owned by the Duchess of Windsor, sold at Sotheby’s in 2010.

Highlights include early-20th century tiaras in the Garland Style. These lacy concoctions of platinum and diamonds gleam under the lights in enormous glass cases, while their magnified preparatory sketches are projected onto the dark surrounding walls.

Art Deco masterpieces often inspired by far-flung exotic corners of the globe, offer a striking contrast. We are treated to a virtual world tour through magnificent objects, such as the vanity case in the shape of an Egyptian coffin and the ‘Persian cigarette case’ inspired by Safavid inlaid metalwork.  

Daisy Fellowes’ Tutti Frutti Necklace, Cartier Paris, 1935, altered in 1963. Cartier Collection © Cartier, Nick Welsh, Courtesy of the Museo-Thyssen-Bornemisza.

The section dedicated to iconic clients includes the Flamingo brooch created for the Duchess of Windsor in 1940 and the ruby and diamond necklace given by Mike Todd to Elizabeth Taylor. But the most extraordinary jewel has to be the enormous, articulated naturalistic snake necklace created for the Mexican actress Maria Felix.  

A fantastic array of timepieces and decorative objects leads to the theme of Flora and Fauna, which concludes the exhibition with jewelled flowers, butterflies, birds, crocodiles, panthers and tigers, all encaged together.