(guest post by Maple)
3.5 stars out of 5
Cut to the Chase
Francesca brings us along with her into the journey of how Cartier, a small family jewelry business transforms into what it is today-an extremely admired jewelry firm over the globe. She brings us through each generation, from Louis Francois Carter to Jean Jacques Cartier, her own grandfather. Through all of these generations, she emphasizes the importance of uniqueness, forward thinking, family, and hard work that Cartier truly represents. The work is textbook-like in its dedication to detail, and can be a bit overwhelming for those less interested in jewelry.
The short introduction on why Francesca Cartier Bickell wrote the book was quite touching. Francesca’s grandfather — Jean Jacques Cartier — was the last Cartier to run their once empire. Francesca worried the facts and legends surrounding her family business would be forgotten, and wanted to explain how their once-small, family business had grown into the worldwide renowned brand. Francesca visited Jean Jacques weekly, interviewing and transcribing her grandfather’s stories in meticulous detail.
Though thoroughly enjoyable and educational, this book is not for everyone. If you’ve no interest or prior curiosity about the Cartiers, you’ll likely have trouble getting through the family history. However, you’ll be fascinated by Louis Francois Cartier (the founder of Cartier), who was born into a poor family, was never given much education, and then sent off to apprentice as a jewelry maker (because at the time, it was considered a booming industry, with the Renaissance as its backdrop).
Louis learned every aspect of the jewelry industry: from the art of jewelry making and sketching designs to creating successful business models. When his boss moves away, Louis purchases the business, renames it Cartier, and spends the next 15 years paying off this debt.
Several chapters detail family details–that Louis married Antoinette Guermonprez and had a son (Alfred Cartier) and daughter (Camille Adrienne Cartier). Unlike their father, Alfred and Camille had education and financial stability. This does, however, come with a price: Alfred is married off to Alice Griffeuille for the benefit of the company.
As Alfred’s family expands (Louis Joseph Cartier, Pierre Camille Cartier, Jacques Theodule Cartier, and Suzanne Cartier), his wife Alice struggles to care for their children while Alfred devotes himself to the family business. The three sons each vow to take over the company, hoping to make Cartier a household name. Though Alice continues to suffer and is eventually hospitalized, all three of the sons are soon part of the family business.
Francesca makes it clear that Cartier is what it is today is because of this generation.
It’s this generation that sets up stores in New York and London, while sending ambassadors to “exotic” countries like India and Russia. Louis was a mastermind at creative, innovative, forward thinking, and modern designs, creating Indian inspired pieces, inventing watches for men, and even designed the still-admired Trinity Collection. Pierre was the talented manager and salesman in America. And Jacques was manager of the London headquarters and acted as the main ambassador for most India business trips, trading jewelry with Indian empresses and kings while purchasing some of the world’s largest pearls.
It’s a lot of detail, and those who are less interested in jewelry may find it a bit too dense. The families personal travails are nicely juxtaposed against World War I and the Great Depression, and it’s a nice read, but again, not for people who aren’t already curious about the Cartier empire.
Comparison to Other Authors
Short stories in this book reminded me how ubiquitous Cartier’s footprint is. The “cursed” jewel in All the Light We Cannot See seems based on the Hope Diamond. Francesca’s writing style felt similar to how Rebecca Skloot narrated The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The pace is methodical, but at times, a bit slow.