Cartier’s panther has been adorning the watch faces, bracelets, brooches, pins and bestial parures of this most luxurious of French jewellers since 1918. The sleek, feral aloofness of this most languid of beasts was perfectly in keeping with the shift from the foliate forms of Art Nouveau into the sexy wild, Jazz Age geometrics and exoticism of Art Deco. But the panther really took off with the arrival of Jeanne Toussaint at Cartier; über-chic, slinky and wild, she was appointed Director of Jewellery in 1933 and remained there until her retirement in 1968.
Notoriously ritzy, Jeanne’s apartment overflowed with animal print and exotica; she loved to dress in long strands of pearls, turbans and silk pyjamas. She was also the mistress of Louis Cartier, one of the three brothers who inherited the luxury house from their father Louis-François who founded the company in 1847. Louis would never marry Jeanne, bowing to pressure from family and the conformity of the era, instead they remained close all their lives; Jeanne learning the business of haute joallerie from her lover and applying everything she learned to a succession of spectacular and highly acclaimed collections for Cartier.
Jeanne Toussaint’s nickname (from Louis) was La Panthère and she designed imaginative and exquisitely constructed pieces showcasing her namesake in gold, diamonds, sapphires and emeralds. Arguably the piece that put the panther on the map as it were was the 1948 brooch for Wallis Simpson, a very striking and relatively simple golden panther atop a square cut cabochon emerald. This was the first of many pieces bought by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, often designed in collaboration with Jeanne. The famous panther & cabochon sapphire brooch is a dazzling piece of jewellery. The sapphire is 152.44 carats and found its way home to Cartier as they bought it back at the extraordinary auction of her jewels in 1987. My favourite piece is the flexible panther bracelet that wraps around the wrist as if the little silver beast is asleep or guarding your bones.