Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Jeanne Toussaint: Cartier's Formidable Panthère

Jeanne Toussaint

Cartier's Panthère, that instantly identifiable and enduring symbol of the world-renowned French jewellers and watchmakers - a brand often ascribed as "Joaillier des Rois et Roi des Joailliers" - has been the company's motif since its first appearance, in 1914, when it graced the face of a wristwatch decorated in onyx and diamonds in the unmistakable pattern of a jungle cat. (Source:, June 27, 2010)  

But the panther would, in time, become affiliated with more than just the name of Cartier, the brand; it would lend its image, fabled prowess and mysterious attributes to an indomitable woman - the firm's director of haute joaillerie: Jeanne Toussaint. Under her directional taste and guidance, Cartier gradually moved away from the hard, structured lines of Art Deco and into more figurative work, producing some of its most whimsical creations in the form of a zoological garden that ranged from flowers, birds and animals - particularly the elusive panther - using only the choicest, most beautiful and  finest-quality stones along with equally superior craftsmanship. (Legend has it that, while on a trip in Africa with Louis Cartier, Toussaint spotted a panther and excitedly exclaimed: “Onyx, diamonds, emeralds – a brooch!”)
(Quote: McCarthy, C.,, October 20, 2010)

Jeanne Toussaint ~ 1920
(Photograph by Baron Adolf de Meyer)
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A contemporary and friend of Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel, little is known of Jeanne Toussaint's early background, except for a few basic facts such as her birthplace, in 1887, in Charleroi, Belgium. Her family were apparently makers of and traders in Brussels lace - while her mother sewed and crocheted the lace, her father was responsible for loading his cart with the finished items and, in the morning, going around to the markets, selling his goods. By all accounts, business flourished and Jeanne, given a religious education, lived a happy childhood alongside her adored older sister, Charlotte.

That idyllic childhood in Belgium came to a sudden end when her father fell ill. Unable to continue his trade, Jeanne's mother was left with the responsibility of carrying on the business. At some point, a certain fellow met and befriended Jeanne's family and insinuated his way into the family's lace manufacturing business, to which he made some improvements. The man also managed to move in with the family, gradually replacing her father's position, and Jeanne's once-happy childhood turned into a difficult one. From what is known of this man is that he was abusive, first to Charlotte, then to Jeanne. At sixteen, Jeanne was seduced by Pierre Quinson, a son and scion of a French aristocratic family. Shirking military service in France and  other family responsibilities, the handsome Quinson fled to Belgium. Faced with disinheritance, Quinson, in spite of his carefree way of life, found himself pressured to return to France and to an honourable marriage.

Desperate to escape the oppressive environment of her home life, Jeanne, as her sister had done before her, left the family home and headed to the French capital to create a new life for herself - and to become Quinson's mistress. Barely seventeen, Jeanne found herself to be one of the coquettes or kept women that abounded in Paris during the Belle Epoque. It was also in Paris that Jeanne re-established contact with her sister, Charlotte. Housed in a magnificent mansion on the Boulevard Malesherbes, Charlotte was by then the mistress of a respected adviser to the Court of Auditors.

Abandoned by Quinson, Toussaint had affairs with several men, among them: a fashionable society painter, an industrialist, a senior public servant and then with a wealthy business tycoon, Pierre Hely Oissel. Oissel would eventually become president of Saint-Gobain and one of the great loves of Toussaint's life. (They eventually married in 1954 when Toussaint was sixty-seven years of age.) Oissel introduced Toussaint to the pleasures of fashionable Paris - restaurants, the opera, the theatre, et cetera. In these demimondaine venues, Toussaint met some of the city's other famous coquettes, including Germaine Nanteuil, Loulou Neris, Clara Drum, Charlotte Neusillet, Fozan, Emilienne Alençon, Liane of Pougy and Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel. Toussaint and Chanel struck up an immediate friendship and the two became inseparable; they remained friends throughout their lives. (Source: Breton, T. G.,, 2010)

Jeanne Toussaint painted by Paul Cesar Helleu ~ ca. 1920
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World War I cost the lives of millions of young men and devastated most of Europe. It was after the devastation of war that Toussaint met and fell in a love with Louis Cartier, forty-three years of age, and one of the three Cartier brothers of the jewellery empire.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Louis, along with brothers Jacques and Pierre, built and expanded upon an empire which originated in 1847 when Louis-François Cartier took over the jewellery workshop of his teacher Adolphe Picard at 29 Rue Montorgueil in Paris. A few years later, in 1853, he opened his first boutique in the neighborhood of the Palais Royal, in the vicinity of other luxury shops. In 1898, Alfred Cartier and his son, Louis, established a jewellery firm on the Rue de la Paix known for very fine platinum settings which were especially designed to set off the qualities and colours of the finest stones available. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the three brothers had endowed the Cartier name with international renown by opening branches in London and New York; they travelled to India, Russia, the Persian Gulf and the United States in search of exceptional jewels, making a name for themselves with royal courts around the world. (One of Louis Cartier's innovations was the wristwatch. In 1904, urged by his friend, the aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, who was unable to read the time on his pocket-watch during flights, Louis collaborated with Edmond Jaeger, the watchmaker, to create the first wristwatch. During World War I, Louis devised the 'Tank' watch, the wrist chain of which was inspired by the caterpillars of iron war tanks.)  (Sources:, 2011; Breton, T. G.,, 2010)

Although Toussaint loved Louis and would liked to have become his wife, Louis capitulated under the pressure applied by his brothers and father who feared the possible dire consequences such a marriage would have on the firm, and did not marry her. However, Toussaint remained Louis' mistress and, even though she could not draw or sketch, was hired by Louis Cartier in 1918. (Source: Breton, T. G.,, 2010)

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Assigned an office at Cartier's Rue de la Paix address, the two remained close until Louis' death in 1942 while on a trip in the United States. And it was Louis who taught Toussaint all she needed to know about fine jewellery, the identity of the highest-quality stones and about the importance of settings. Assisted by the designers of the house, Edmond Forêt, Charles Jacquot, Gérard Desouches and Pierre Lemarchand, she relied on her imagination to design watches and accessories. During her apprenticeship at Cartier's and even after her appointment to the directorship of the haute joaillerie department in 1933 (she headed the department until her retirement in 1968), Toussaint explored different motifs: animals, dragons, chimeras, flowers, and her favourite of all, birds (parrots and flamingos were a particular favourite) - all inspired by the exoticism of India, Persia, and the Far East - themes she would explore and re-visit throughout the decades of her tenure at Cartier. (Source: Breton, T. G.,, 2010)

Toussaint possessed a style as fiercely unique and inventive as Chanel's - she coupled turbans with silk evening pyjamas or a Chinese suit with long strands of pearls - that gained her entry into Paris's fashionable and artistic circles. Toussaint established for herself a reputation for chicness, a reputation she especially honed as one of Cartier's more imaginative jewellery designers - she revelled in the combination of different coloured stones, juxtaposing precious alongside semi-precious stones such as yellow sapphires and tourmalines, amethysts and corals, lapis-lazuli and diamonds.  But it was her identification with that mysterious jungle cat, the panther, that her name became synonymous: nicknamed 'The Panther' for her evidently forceful spirit, Toussaint also had a penchant for wearing coats made of the felines' skins and  her apartment, it was said, was strewn with panther skins. 
(Sources: McCarthy, C.,, October 20, 2010;, June 27, 2010)

In the 1940s, Jeanne Toussaint turned back to nature taking her inspiration from plants and animals. She revived the trend for yellow gold - for decades, platinum had been the favoured metal for settings - and designed remarkable jewellery for such prominent clients as Barbara Hutton, the Duchess of Windsor, Daisy Reginald Fellowes, and Nina Aga Khan, whose husband typically ordered a whole collection of panther-themed jewellery.
(Sources:, 2003;, June 27, 2010)

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June 14th, 1940, the German army entered Paris (Belgium had already fallen to the Germans, just over a month earlier, on May 10th); for the German occupiers, Paris was a plum of a prize. The cosmopolitan city offered a bevy of entertainments: movie houses, burlesque theatres, and dance halls - all available to them. Allied bombing struck in the industrialized suburbs, but not the city centre itself. After the Normandy invasion, Paris  poised anxiously for its long-awaited liberation. The resistance tracked the slow progress out of the Normandy coast and towards Paris. On August 19th, the Communist-led resistance cells rose up against the German garrison commanded by General Dietrich Choltitz. On August 23rd, Choltitz received orders from Hitler instructing him that “Paris is not to fall in the hands of the enemy, except as a heap of ruins,” instructions that Choltitz, for whatever reason, ignored. (After ordering the city destroyed, Hitler famously asked his staff, “Is Paris burning?”)

By August 25th, 1944, the resistance and the advancing Americans annihilated the few remaining collaborationist and German pockets, finally setting Paris free; General de Gaulle entered the city the next day. Snipers opened fire on him from a hotel, but he was not hit. He addressed Parisians and the world: “Paris! Paris outraged! Paris broken! Paris martyred! But Paris liberated!” (Sources & quotes:, 2007;, 2011;, 2004)

  “L'Oiseau Libéré” ~ 1944
Created by Toussaint and Pierre Lemarchand, the design of the singing bird in an open cage, a symbolic concept of France's newly restored freedom from the German occupation on August 25th, 1944, and the end of the war.
(Coral, diamonds, lapis-lazuli, platinum & yellow gold)
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Even though some of Paris's most notable luxury and fashion houses opted to close their doors for the duration of the war (some never re-opened again), others, Cartier's among them, did not and chose to remain open. Toussaint, with her irreverent wit and defiant spirit, chose to express her resistance to the German occupation through the one medium available to her and one she knew and loved intimately well: coloured stones. And she expressed her defiance via the one platform at her disposal: Cartier's exclusive boutique windows on the Rue de la Paix. (Left in charge of Cartier's during the turbulent war years, Toussaint, just prior to the occupation, organized the transfer to Biarritz, in the south of France, of a stock of jewellery valued at 50 million francs and deposited at Cartier's for safekeeping by some of the firm's clients, many of whom had fled Paris at the approach of the Germans.)

In 1940, Toussaint, with the assistance of  a colleague, Pierre Lemarchand, created a brooch of a bird imprisoned behind the golden bars of its golden cage. Using stones representative of the patriotic colours of France - white (diamonds), blue (lapis-lazuli) and red (coral) - the 'caged bird' brooch was symbolic of the occupation of Paris - and France - and was prominently displayed in Cartier's windows. It was an audacious maneuver but one which caused the jeweler to be summoned to the headquarters of the German Army in France and to be imprisoned for a few days; she gained her release only through the personal intervention of Gabrielle Chanel.

Days after the liberation of Paris, Toussaint and Lemarchand re-created the brooch; but this time, as the 'liberated bird' and displayed it once more, as they had  previously done, in the windows of the boutique. In the 'liberated' version of the pin - “L'Oiseau Libéré” - the little bird is seen perched outside of its opened cage, poised for flight and singing joyously. According to jewellery dealer Dianne Lewis-Batista, Toussaint “felt that jewelry needed to be based on joy; what better subject than birds?
(Quote & sources: McCarthy, C.,, October 20, 2010;, June 27, 2010; Breton, T. G.,, 2010)

Panthère clip-brooch, the Duchess of Windsor’s Collection ~ 1948
(In 1948 the panther motif went three-dimensional when The Duchess of Windsor commissioned a golden cat perched atop of a cabochon emerald)
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Toussaint is perhaps best remembered for the jewellery she designed for the Duchess of Windsor.

The course of the courtship between David, Prince of Wales - later, briefly known as Edward VIII - and the American divorcée, Wallis Warfield Simpson, was charted in jewellery: the important moments of their courtship and the momentous events of their lives together were set out, literally, in precious stones. During his brief period on the throne (from January 20th to December 11th, 1936), as well as before and during the whole of their married life together, the couple commissioned exquisite jewels from the great European jewellery houses; Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels foremost among them. With the Duke of Windsor’s encouragement, Jeanne Toussaint produced some of her most extraordinary work, among them an articulated onyx and diamond panther bracelet designed in 1952 - perhaps the finest among her three-dimensional “great cats” jewels. A further testament to the admiration of the Duke and the Duchess for Jeanne Toussaint’s avant-garde designs is found in a splendid flamingo brooch, ablaze with rubies, sapphires, emeralds, citrines and diamonds, produced in 1940, just before the start of World War II. (Source:, 2010)

The Duke & Duchess of Windsor

Cartier's Indian experience began in 1901 when Pierre Cartier was commissioned to create an Indian necklace for Queen Alexandra from various pieces of her jewelry. As queen consort of Edward VII and Empress of India, the necklace was to be worn with three Indian gowns sent to Queen Alexandra by Mary Curzon, Vicereine and wife of Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India at that time. Indian decorative influence was pronounced in London because of India's singular position as the 'jewel in the crown' of England's Empire and henceforth, it was Cartier's London branch, headed by Jacques Cartier, that handled the firm's Indian business.

Jacques Cartier made his first trip to India in 1911, the same year as the Delhi Durbar in celebration of the coronation of George V and Queen Mary. It was during this trip that he consolidated his contacts with India's maharajahs, spending time with them at their dynastic palaces. This was to result in not only a long and profitable patronage of the firm by India's royalty, but also a distinctive influence that would infuse as well as inspire Cartier to new heights of creativity in the art of jewellery design. Interestingly, while the Indian princes were interested in having their jewels reworked and re-set in more fashionable European styles – particularly following the celebration of George V's coronation at the Delhi Durbar in 1911 – it was the traditional use of carved coloured stones and enamel work that inspired the orientalist feeling which came to characterize Cartier's Art Deco designs in the 1920s popularly known as “Tutti Frutti” or “fruit salad.” The moniker is derived from the combination of carved and engraved sapphires, emeralds, diamonds and rubies - many of which were acquired in bulk from India and  used to assemble individual, commissioned pieces of jewellery; a limited number of “Tutti Frutti” designs were produced. Created between the early 1920s into the late 1930s, these jewels reflect the pursuit of the exotic 'chic' that so captivated the sophisticated European and American collectors of that period. (Source:, 2006)

It was on that tradition that Toussaint, who had also traveled to India and helped launch the mania for Mogul-style jewels - sometimes referred to as 'Hindu' jewellery with Indian coral and cabochon emeralds - had built upon. (McCarthy, C.,, October 20, 2010)

Toussaint revived Cartier's “Tutti Frutti” signature style, which had been inspired not only by India's princely caste but also by their treasure trove of engraved Moghul stones, creating unique pieces for such distinguished clients as the ultra-chic Mrs. Daisy R. Fellowes.

Mrs. Daisy R. Fellowes wearing the Tutti Frutti 'Hindu' necklace
(Photograph by Cecil Beaton)

Tutti Frutti 'Hindu' necklace designed for Mrs. Daisy R. Fellowes ~ 1936
(Altered in 1963)
Modeled after a 1935 Cartier design for an Indian maharajah—the necklace has over 1,000 stones—cut diamonds and sapphires and carved ruby, sapphire and emerald leaves imported from India.

Panther perched on a 152.35 carat cabochon sapphire
Brooch designed for the Duchess of Windsor ~ 1949
 (It was this very panther that launched the “big cat craze”)
The above two images are courtesy of:

A diamond, emerald and onyx panther bracelet
(Sold for $458,500 (est. $80-120k) at Christie's N.Y. in 2010)
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Tiger lorgnette made for the Duchess of Windsor ~ ca. 1954
This articulated yellow diamonds and onyx tiger brooch, reminiscent of the draped ram's skin suspended from the insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece, was created for Barbara Hutton ~ 1957
(Photograph by Nick Welsh)
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Tutti Frutti dress clips/brooch made for Linda Porter ~ 1935

It is no exaggeration to state that  the Duchess of Windsor’s most important - and extraordinary - jewellery was a result of a collaboration between herself, the Duke, and Jeanne Toussaint. At the end of November 2010, a sale was held at Sotheby's London of some twenty intimate gifts from the Duke to the Duchess, all made by Cartier. These historical pieces of jewellery had been auctioned once before.

The twenty-piece collection was sold on behalf of millionaire Wafiq Said, who had acquired it at the original sale of the Duchess of Windsor's jewellery back in 1987 in Geneva. At that sale, three-hundred pieces were auctioned, a year after the Duchess’s death on April 24th, 1986, in Paris. (The 1987 auction of the Duchess's jewellery collection fetched over $50 million, far higher than anyone could have predicted. It was one of the most successful sales in Sotheby's history.) At the time, film stars, tycoons and even royalty were said to be among the bidders vying for a piece of history.  
(Sources: Cohen, T.,, December 1, 2010; Anderson, G.,, February 13, 2010)

Custom-designed flamingo brooch with feathers of rubies, sapphires and emeralds, and a beak of citrine ~ 1940
 The brooch was delivered to the Windsors just days before the Germans invaded Paris in June, 1940
(It attained £1,721,250 at Sotheby's auction re-sale in November 2010, London)
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The famous onyx and diamond articulated panther bracelet which once belonged to the Duchess of Windsor
(Auctioned for £4.5million, the 1952 bracelet is the most expensive ever sold)
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Toussaint photographed in Paris by Cecil Beaton ~ 1962
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In 1955 and in tribute to Toussaint’s influence on jewellery and modern design, the French government awarded her the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor. (Source:, June 27, 2010)

Jeanne Toussaint died in Paris in 1978.

Suggested readings:

Cartier: The Legend (1983), by Gilberte Gautier: Arlington Books

Reflections Of Elegance: Cartier Jewels From The Lindemann Collection (1988), by Harry St. C. Fane, Hans Nadelhoffer, New Orleans Museum of Art & Eric Nussbaum: new Orleans Museum of Art

Made By Cartier: 150 Years Of Tradition And Innovation (1993), by Franco Cologni & Ettore Mocchetti: Abbeville Press

Platinum By Cartier: Triumphs Of The Jewelers' Art (1996), by Franco Cologni & Eric Nussbaum

Cartier: 1900-1939 (1997), by Judy Rudoe, Cartier (Firm), British Museum & Metropolitan Museum of Art: Harry N. Abrams

Cartier (1997), by Philippe Trétiack, Cartier (Firm): Universe Publications

Les Must de Cartier (2002), by Anne-Marie Clais: Assouline

Cartier (2005), by by Philippe Trétiack: Assouline

Cartier (2007), by Hans Nadelhoffer: Chronicle Books

Cartier: 1899-1949, The Journey Of A Style (2007), by Nuno Vassallo e Silva, João Carvalho Dias, Thierry Coudert & Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian: Skira

Cartier: Innovations Throught The 20th Century (2008), by Michel Aliaga & François Chaille: Flammarion

Cartier I Love You (2009), by Bruce Weber & Ingrid Sischy: Te Neues Pub Group

Amazing Cartier: Jewelry Design Since 1937 (2009), by Nadine Coleno: Flammarion

La Panthère: Le Fabuleux Roman de Jeanne Toussaint (2010), by Stéphanie des Horts: Jean-Claude Lattès

Cartier and America (2010), by Martin Chapman & Karen A. Levine: Prestel Pub

Cartier: The Power Of Style (2011), by Eva Eisler, Rony Plesl, Pierre Rainero & Pascale Lepeu: Rizzoli

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