Cartier has never been shy of designs that hit you straight between the eyes. Its creations are so charged with the maison’s stylistic codes that they are often instantly recognisable at a distance of several meters. Playing with the house design codes, yet conjuring up a fresh new look, is a conundrum that Cartier’s designers have mastered since the Cartier brothers in the early 20th century extolled the motto: ‘never copy, only create’.
And the 2020 high jewellery collection (Sur)Naturel – parenthesis are de riguer - once again proves that Cartier is indeed capable of surprising us with bold jewels. Despite global lockdown, Cartier went ahead and launched 180 new one-of-a-kind jewels, 93 of which are from the (Sur)Naturel collection. Using a live video link to a studio, models were filmed with the jewels draped on their porcelain-smooth skin. Viewers were able to hear descriptions of the jewels and ask the models to try on different pieces or request a zoom-in to a particular piece of jewellery. Though not quite as good as seeing them in the flesh, having them on a model was only a few degrees less satisfying than peering at them through display cases, as is often the modus operandi at high jewellery presentations where six-figure plus price tags are the norm. The studio set-up was only slightly eerie in a voyeuristic way and the best solution to the near impossible situation of engaging with press and clients in the thick of the Covid pandemic. There was no chance to take any pictures for social media so apologies for the lack of original photography on Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube. But this is a year like no other and chapeau to Cartier for going ahead with the launch that was meant to take place in the Grand Palais in Paris.
Flowing lines, flexible mounts and drop dead awesome stones are the starting point of every Cartier high jewellery collection and (Sur)Naturel is no exception. This toppling of the mineralogical hierarchy gains momentum since we first witnessed it in 2019’s Magnitude collection. Magnitude brought us regal diamonds rubbing shoulders with more humble minerals such as rutilated quartz, tourmaline and lapis lazuli and this stone revolution continues in (Sur)Naturel.
The style of (Sur)Naturel sits somewhere between the abstract and figurative with varying degrees of naturalism. This comes as no surprise as Cartier is known for mixing up genres. The famous and highly realistic panther designed by Jeanne Toussaint under Louis Cartier in the early C19th century has evolved into more abstract forms, as seen in the onyx spots on Panthère Tropicale bracelet watch and ring. The bracelet of this jewellery watch is made up of pleasingly chunky cubes that one side are set with diamonds flecked with onyx dots and on the other rows of regimented red coral baguettes. The tops of the cubes are set with aquamarines and tourmalines offering a salty-sweet mix of materials that is very much in the spirit of of Jeanne Toussaint herself.
In the same vein, the Opheis necklace suggests the form of a serpent with a square, angled 53.94-carat Zambian emerald for a head and a geometric pattern of reptile scales in diamonds and white onyx. This elegant abstraction of a serpent to its elemental forms winds around the neck with a defiant grace that is true to Cartier's provocative approach to high jewellery.
The wild snow leopard from the Hemis region in India has inspired a loose interpretation of the feline’s sinuous form. Pebble-smooth black opals, a 71-carat kunzite and pink and white diamonds evoke the pelt of this majestic animal.
The vital forces of Nature are also expressed in novel forms. Less is more in the Sinopé set that employs diamonds, lapis lazuli and sapphires to capture the rippling of water in a simple style reminiscent of the Art Deco era. In the Sinopé necklace, the movement of water and its crystal-clear waves are brilliantly expressed in ripples of diamonds, drops of sapphires and a delicate border of lapis lazuli on the top edge of the piece. Bold yet sensitively expressed (Sur)Naturel shows a deep appreciation of Nature as told in the most precious materials Earth has to offer.