Jewelry

How Jeanne Toussaint Inspired and Popularized the Iconic Cartier Panthère

By Catherine Kim
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History of Cartier Panthère

When tracing the history of iconic Cartier jewelery designs, there is one name that continually emerges as the ultimate tastemaker: Jeanne Toussaint. Born in Belgium in 1887, Toussaint survived a challenging childhood and later found herself drawn to the intoxicating streets of Paris, where art, design and societal connections were currency. As a young woman Toussaint became known as a stylish and creative ingénue. It was this charisma that attracted infamous fashion designer, Coco Chanel, illustrator George Barbier, and most crucially, Louis Cartier, one of three brothers managing his late grandfather’s company, Cartier.

In 1913, Louis Cartier commissioned Barbier to draw an advertising campaign to reflect a modern, worldly and alluring woman. The resulting image – Dame à la Panthère – reflects the shift towards Art Deco styling, with an elegant model, adorned with long sautoir necklaces and pearls with a sleek black cat at her feet. It is this drawing that is thought to be the first connection between Cartier and its iconic animal: the panther.

Cartier Panthere Ring

According to some, Louis chose the panther in tribute to Toussaint, who he called his ‘Petite Pantheré (she also famously wore a full-length coat made of panther fur). By the close of 1913, Toussaint had been hired by Cartier to be its director of bags, accessories and objects.

The working relationship between Louis Cartier and Toussaint continued, with Cartier imparting his knowledge of gemstones, diamonds, settings and technique, and Toussaint bringing her joie de vivre, relentless creativity and eye for contemporary fashions, especially the graphic and geometric Art Deco movement. In 1933, Toussaint was named director of Cartier’s luxury jewelry department, signaling one of the most recognisable and collectible eras in the house’s history.

The First Cartier Pantheré

Toussaint stepped away from Art Deco and entered the 1940s with a passion for sculptural and three-dimensional panther creations, typically set with white and yellow diamonds, emeralds and onyx. The first Cartier Pantheré jewel was crafted for the Duchess of Windsor, Wallace Simpson in 1948. The Cartier Pantheré brooch was gold and enamel set with a cabochon emerald. The success of the first Cartier Pantheré ring set off a chain reaction with the creation of Cartier Pantheré bracelets, drop earrings and pendants which became hugely desirable among European and American elite.

When she wasn’t creating a menagerie of jewels, Toussaint pursued her fascination with India and revealed pieces evocative of Indian Mughal jewellery and ancient Maharajas. Artfully carved rubies, emeralds, diamonds and sapphires led to a revival of Cartier Tutti Frutti jewelry under Toussaint’s meticulous direction in the late 1950s.

Cartier Panthère Bangle

By the time she retired from Cartier in 1970, Toussaint had established her legacy as an artistic visionary; always experimenting, exploring and creating jewels for those with a worldly outlook and an eye on the future. Her professional fixation with exotic big cats, especially the panther, resulted in the animal becoming a recognizable symbol of Cartier.

Cartier Panthère Bangle

Cartier Pantheré Today

Modern and vintage Cartier Panthere pieces remain popular with collectors today. One of the most expensive Cartier Pantheré bracelets sold for over $500,000 in 2022 at Sotheby's. The diamond, onyx and emerald Cartier Pantheré bangle was designed with two contronting panthers. The Cartier bracelet has pavé-set brilliant-cut diamonds, highlighted with cabochon onyx spots and nose and pear-shaped emerald eyes and is mounted in platinum and 18 karat white gold. Cartier Pantheré jewelry is regaulr sold at Sotheby's in our auctions and buy now channel and remains very popular with collectors and new buyers of Cartier jewelry.

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