To Paris this week as a guest of Cartier to tour the workshops above the original boutique on the Rue de la Paix and view the Al Thani Collection of Mughal to Maharaja jewels at the Grand Palais. As you know, my travel hasn’t extended much beyond Mayfair and St James’s in the past few years so it was an absolute treat to travel with Cartier and the British jewellery press.
Now I have had rough times in Paris but have come to the conclusion that you always take the weather – be it actual or psychological – wherever you go. On this occasion, the sunlight over Paris was like a Manet and the view of the gilded Opera Garnier set me thinking that the Emperor Napoleon III deserves a statue for his work beautifying Paris in the Second Empire.
As you can imagine, we saw diamonds as big as the Ritz in Cartier’s workshops but what impressed me most was watching one of the craftsmen painting a hand-carved maquette for a Panthère jewel and placing every pavé set diamond and sliver of onyx that will describe the big cat’s markings.
Cartier is preparing its 100-piece collection of Haute Joaillerie that will be shown only to private clients at a stupendous event in London later this year. One of my favourite Cartier designs of all-time is the Art Deco, Indian Maharaja-inspired Tutti Frutti that mixes a delicious palette of carved emeralds, rubies and sapphires peppered with white diamonds.
Cartier is making a Tutti Frutti bracelet for the new collection and it was fascinating to learn that – contrary to popular belief – the quality of the stones and the craftsmanship in Cartier’s workshops today is higher than it ever has been.
This gives the lie to all those nay-sayers who believe yesterday was inevitably better. It’s the same with Savile Row. If you look at pictures of Victorian and Edwardian gents you’ll see their suits look as if they’ve been cut with gardening shears. The make on the Row today is the best in the craft’s history. But back to Cartier.
You’ll recall that the V&A hosted the Al Thani collection a year or so ago. Well, London couldn’t hold a candle to the way Paris displayed over 200 magical pieces of Indian royal jewellery; much of it made for men hence my place on the trip and much with provenance to the 20th century Maharajas of Baroda, Indore and Patiala who feature in my Jewellery for Gentlemen book.
Life is sometimes rather spooky as Dame Edna would say. Only last week I found an Art Deco portrait of the dashing Maharaja of Indore in white tie and an opera cloak. I researched it and was disappointed to read it was in private hands. Well, what was the first exhibit that caught my eye in the Grand Palais? The portrait of Indore standing beside a cabinet containing his ruby ring displayed in another portrait.
The Grand Palais had been blacked-out then lit with pools of spotlight. A cascade of gold leaves hanging from skeins of thread created grottos and rooms within rooms. A walkway with windows displayed magnificent carved emeralds, pink diamonds and world famous whites belonging to the Al Thani family.
Though it is unusual for me to say so, I most enjoyed a collection of contemporary jewels made in the Indian fashion by the great JAR. You know my passion for diamonds is second only to my love for Liza Minnelli but my take-home-for-mother jewel was a festoon of natural pearls set so each row sat on the decolletage with immaculate precision.
Of course one wouldn’t say no to the fabled Maharaja of Patiala festoon diamond and ruby necklace that is arguably more extravagant than the diamond necklace that caused Queen Marie Antoinette one of many public scandals. Even Cartier must have seriously had metal tested balancing such heavy stones in a design to sit on the Maharaja’s chest rather than hanging like an albatross round Patiala’s neck.
Cartier made the audacious bib necklace to frame a yellow diamond roughly the size of Delhi. The Patiala necklace disappeared in the 1940s presumably broken for the most valuable stones. However, Cartier’s man found the platinum cage denuded of stones in a London antique shop. It was reset with a citrine replacing the yellow diamond and the major stones replaced by cubic zirconia.
The jewellery editors and I were pondering whether there was a larger privately owned collection of crown jewels and came to the conclusion that the Al Thani family probably had that one licked. We did concede that HM The Queen’s private jewellery collection minus the Crown Jewels would quite possibly constitute the most magnificent collection of diamonds in private hands.
There wasn’t an awful lot of time to maraud around Paris after hours but quite frankly when you have a dinner in Lafayette’s Hotel Particuliar in interesting company a trip to the Lido can wait until next time when H and I go to Paris. There is a new show at the Lido and I have to say my happiest memories of Paris usually involve a seat at the bar at the back of the auditorium drinking in the feathers, glitz, rhinestones and tits. Then of course there’s the Lido boy dancers. Woof!