Category Archives: Cartier

Elizabeth Taylor’s Taj Mahal Diamond

Press photo of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the film, The Sandpiper. This work is in the public domain in that it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1977 and without a copyright notice.
Press photo of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the film, The Sandpiper. This work is in the public domain in that it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1977 and without a copyright notice.


Elizabeth Taylor’s Taj Mahal Diamond* traveled a far distance before it was acquired by the celebrated Hollywood star. Its journey began on the workbench of a court jeweler of the Mughal Empire. Fashioned for the reigning Empress Nur Jahan in the year 1627, the diamond passed on to Empress Mumtaz-I-Mahal, the following year.

The Taj Mahal Diamond’s Early Features

At the time of its creation, Nur Jahan’s Diamond, as it is also called, featured a table-cut Indian diamond fashioned in the shape of a heart. This large diamond was set within a gray-white jadeite mount, which was also heart shaped. The splendor of the setting was completed with trimmings in gold, diamonds, and red gemstones.

The outer rim of the mount was decorated with six old-mine cut diamonds set bezel style in yellow gold. The red gemstones were set side by side in a bezel-style gold channel. They are believed by some to be spinels {2}. These red stones formed yet another heart-shaped frame around the central diamond. The striking red offered a beautiful contrast to the matte white Persian inscription on the diamond.

Engraved with the Islamic date 1037, the number 23, and the words Nur Jahan Baygum-e Padshah, the diamond jewel is testament to the skill achieved by Indian stone cutters in the 1600s. In a technique lost to modern-day craftsmen, these talented artisans managed to carve the world’s hardest material without the use of lasers {2}.

This beautiful diamond and jadeite jewel was originally suspended, without further embellishment, from a silk cord. It is unclear whether either Empress wore this beautiful jewel. However, given the splendor of Shah Jahan’s kingdom, it would be hard to imagine that such a display of beauty and wealth would have remained in a jewelry box for its whole life.

Richard Burton Buys the Taj Mahal Diamond

Writers Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, in their book Furious Love, tell the story of Richard Burton’s purchase of the Taj Mahal Diamond. According to their account, Richard and Liz were awaiting a flight at the Kennedy Airport. At their request, representatives from Cartier’s New York arrived to entertain them with a feast of jewels.

The Taj Mahal Diamond caught Liz’s eye, and Richard bought it on the spot, supposedly an early birthday present. Records do not indicate whether the jewel they saw was in its original condition or whether Cartier had already refashioned the new mounting for it. Some report that the Taylor-Burton’s requested the addition of the golden lariat, while others make no comment.

Given that Elizabeth was said to have worn the jewel before her birthday celebration several months later, it is somewhat safe to assume it was already housed in its new mounting and they purchased it on spec. Without further details from Cartier, this remains pure speculation.

The Taj Mahal Diamond’s New Mounting

This new designer mounting is perhaps among the most exquisite modern settings created for an historic diamond. In 1972, Cartier fashioned an elaborate heart-shaped case from gold in latticework enamel style. Into this beautiful case they set the original jadeite and diamond gem.

The gem was originally outfitted with large gold loops through which Cartier strung the terminating ends of an exquisite golden rope fashioned to resemble the jewel’s original silk cord. On each side, the golden rope’s tiny ends flair out in miniature golden tassels capped with a single cabochon ruby.

The neckchain is unadorned all the way up both sides to form a golden lariat which terms in a gorgeous golden tassel emerging from a floret of gold, rubies, and diamonds. A sphere of gold, decorated with perhaps a dozen cabochon rubies, serves as an adjustable band allowing the pendant to be displayed at varying lengths.

The individual strands of gold that form the larger tassel are each capped with a single cabochon ruby. The overall effect is Mughal splendor with a modern twist.

True to form, Cartier effectively drew upon their extensive knowledge of Indian and Persian style to create an entirely new jewel. This new treasure represented perfectly the splendor and majesty of the Mughal courts of old while perfectly accessorizing America’s reigning queen of fashion throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The Taj Mahal Diamond was yet again a jewel fit for a queen.

Richard Burton Holds a Press Conference

Though she is rumored to have worn the Taj Mahal Diamond several times prior to her birthday, Elizabeth Taylor officially received the jewel as the crowning gift of her 40th birthday celebration. This birthday celebration represented more to the couple than just a mere passing of time.

Having endured a long bout of rumors of his infidelities, Richard decided a public display of affection was in order. He invited Elizabeth to plan an elaborate party at the Duma Hotel in Budapest on February 27, 1972 {4}. During the party they planned to renew their vows.

Beforehand, Richard hosted a press conference during which he offered a close-up view of the Taj Mahal Diamond necklace. In several of the photographs, he wears the jewel draped across his forehead. In the remaining images, it hangs upon the neck of a young Hungarian boy who passed by during the public event.

The Birthday Bash Benefits UNICEF

According to author Kitty Kelley, another public announcement was made during the party. This does not appear to have taken place during the press conference. Instead, it seems to have been incited by the young son of one of party guests.

According to Ms. Kelley, Emlyn Williams’ son called Elizabeth Taylor a “beautiful doughnut covered in diamonds and paint,” accusing her of not caring about the Hungarian Revolution raging at the time. Richard, after consoling his crying wife, announced at that moment that Elizabeth Taylor would write a check to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The amount of the check was to match the amount spent on her party.

Four months later, on July 8, 1972, Richard handed UNICEF’s representative Peter Ustinov a check in the amount of $45,000. During the party, Elizabeth Taylor’s Taj Mahal Diamond hung regally around her neck, accompanied by her Krupp diamond which she wore mounted in a ring. Liz Taylor was a vision in white, wearing a Grecian gown and white cyclamen blossoms in her hair {4}.

An Auction at Christie’s

The Taj Mahal Diamond remained one of Elizabeth Taylor’s favorite jewels. She wore it on many occasions, often at its longest length. Even after she and Richard Burton split for good, she treasured the jewel he purchased for her.

It remained in her collection until shortly after her death on March 23, 2011. That December, Elizabeth Taylor’s Taj Mahal Diamond went under the hammer at Christie’s evening event called The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor: The Legendary Jewels. The sale took place on December 13, 2011, drawing a large crowd of collectors, designers, and spectators.

As is customary, the renowned auction house set an estimated price based on the jewel’s material value. This estimate of between $300,000 and $500,000 was eclipsed by a fierce bidding war which drove the price into the millions. By the time the hammer fell, the realized price for the gem was a staggering $8,818,500.

Writing for The New York Times, Charles Isherwood reported that at least one man (surely more) walked away sorely disappointed. Mr. Isherwood writes that a representative from the Islamic Arts Museum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, had flown to New York for the sole purpose of purchasing the Taj Mahal Diamond for the museum’s collection. According to his report, the man “put his paddle down well before that number had been reached” and left defeated but possibly relieved, as well.

Today, Elizabeth Taylor’s Taj Mahal Diamond has slipped into what I’m sure is a well-documented, but closely guarded segment of its history. I wonder when it will surface again.

~by Angela Magnotti Andrews, Staff Writer

*Press photos of this gem are no longer widely available. As such, this writer has created a Pinterest board with a number of photos of the Taj Mahal Diamond for your viewing pleasure.


  1. Christie’s. “The Taj Mahal, An Indian Diamond and Jade Pendant Necklace, Ruby and Gold Chain, by Cartier.” Sale date: December 13, 2011.
  2. Internet Stones. “The Taj Mahal/Nur Jahan Diamond.” Accessed January 10, 2015.
  3. Isherwood, Charles. “Once a Star, Always a Star,” The New York Times, December 16, 2011.
  4. Kashner, Sam and Nancy Schoenberger. Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor * Richard Burton The Marriage of the Century. London: Aurum Press, 2013.
  5. Kelley, Kitty. Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star. USA: Simon & Schuster, 1981.
  6. Walters, Rob. Rogue Males: Richard Burton, Howard Marks, and Sir Richard Burton. England: Satin, 2010.

The Taj Mahal Diamond

Western View of the Taj Mahal. This is the view Shah Jahan would have had from Agra Fort. Photo taken by Muhammad Mahdi Karim, 2012. Used with permission.
Western View of the Taj Mahal. This is the view Shah Jahan would have had from Agra Fort. Photo taken by Muhammad Mahdi Karim, 2012. Used with permission.

Tracing the Taj Mahal Diamond through history is a fascinating endeavor. It was created by Mughal court jewelers for Emperor Jahangir Shah and his beloved wife, Nur Jahan. After his death, the emperor’s son, Shah Jahan, ascended the throne and took possession of the heart-shaped pendant.

This gorgeous jewel* features a table-cut white diamond of unknown size carved into the shape of a heart. Inscribed upon the face of the diamond, in Persian, is a declaration of Nur Jahan’s position as Lady of the Master. The numbers inscribed on the6 stone mark the final year of her claim to that title.

Shortly after the diamond was created, Nur Jahan’s husband died. Her stepson Shah Jahan seized the throne by force.  The jewel became his possession, and it is rumored that he passed it along to his most beloved wife, Mumtal-I-Mahal.

Mumtal-I-Mahal’s Death

Here begins Act II of the Taj Mahal Diamond’s history. (Read Act I here.) Three years after becoming empress of the Mughal Empire, in the year 1631, Mumtal-I-Mahal died in childbirth.  The court chroniclers recorded the death of their queen soon after she gave birth to a daughter:

When she brought out the last single pearl,
She emptied her body like an oyster. 
{5, p. 1}

Diana Preston, in her book Taj Mahal: Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Moghul Empire, details the legendary story:
“In a dusty fortress on the hot, airless plateau of the Deccan in central India…a severe pain gripped [Mumtal-I-Mahaz’s] abdomen. Doctors were hastily summoned, but despite their efforts, the 38-year-old mother’s fourteenth pregnancy was going severely wrong. Weak through loss of blood, she whispered to her distraught husband of their everlasting love and begged him not to marry again. Her final request was that he should build her a mausoleum resembling paradise on earth, just as she had seen in her dreams” {p. 1}.

Shah Jahan would do as she asked, but not before he locked himself away in his rooms, refusing food for eight days {1}. Even after he agreed to take food, he remained in seclusion for two years {5}. She writes that his hair turned completely white in one night and that he turned his back on riches and pleasures. He donned a simple white mourning costume and devoted the next 20 years of his life to fulfilling his wife’s deathbed wish {5}.

The Taj Mahal

Unesco calls the Taj Mahal “the jewel of Muslim art in India” {6}. Diana Preston calls it “the world’s most famous memorial to love” {p. 1}. A fusion of Persian, Muslim, and India design elements, the Taj Mahal casts a spell on all who gaze upon it.

Eleanor Roosevelt, who saw its magnificent just after the sun went down, wrote, “I held my breath unable to speak in the face of so much beauty…this is a beauty that enters the soul” {5, p. 3}.

With the treasury of the entire Mughal Empire at his disposal, Shah Jahan poured every ounce of his grief and passion into ensuring the intricate beauty of his wife’s resting place. Made entirely of white marble and rose sandstone, the Taj Mahal features exquisite mosaic work in precious and semi-precious stones. The History Channel relates that the colorful display was fashioned out of jade, lapis lazuli, turquoise, amethyst, and other crystals in the pietra dura technique.

An Empire in Decline

Having thrown everything into the creation of this paradise on earth, Shah Jahan, indifferent to his kingly duties, depleted the kingdom’s stores. After 22 years of neglect, the empire was heading toward decline.

In 1653, the remains of Mumtal-I-Mahal were finally interred in her final resting place. Four years later, Shah Jahan fell ill, and his son Dara, the favored son of Mumtal-I-Mahal, took over his father’s duties. Dara’s three brothers, Aurangzeb, Shuja, and Murad, amassed an army which defeated Dara’s military delegation.

They declared their father incompetent to rule, and Aurangzeb took to the throne. He ordered his father’s arrest and had him detained in Agra Fort. From here, the former ruler had a pristine view of the western face of the Taj Mahal. It is said that he spent most of his time staring at it until he died in 1666 {7}.

The Taj Mahal Diamond

During this time, the Taj Mahal Diamond remained in the Mughal treasury. It was passed from ruler to ruler until 1739. In May of that year, Nadir Shah, ruler of Persia, swept in and defeated the Mughal armies.

The treasury of India’s Mughal emperors, worth an estimated value of 700 million rupees {3}, was handed over to Nadir Shah. Chests of gemstones, including some of the world’s most famous diamonds (Koh-i-Noor and Darya-i-Noor), the Peackock throne of Shah Jahan, and likely the Nur Jahan Pendant (now called the Taj Majal Diamond), were carried into Persia.

In 1749, Nadir Shah was assassinated by those who were charged to protect him, and the Persian treasury was dispersed among these former bodyguards {3}. During this chaotic time, the whereabouts of the Taj Mahal Diamond are undocumented.

One theory suggests the possibility that the diamond was not among the jewels taken by Nadir Shah {3}. Another poses the possibility that the jewel was recovered through acts of torture perpetrated by Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar. Still others propose that the jewel may have been recovered in an attack on Nadir Shah’s convoy as it made its way through Indian lands.

While it’s method of recovery remains a mystery, the Taj Mahal Diamond was returned at some point to the Mughals, having been documented in the city of Delhi as part of the collection belonging to the Mughal Empire’s final ruler, Bahadur Zafar Shah II.

The Taj Mahal Diamond in Britain

In 1857, British forces captured the city of Delhi. The emperor was placed under arrest, and the jewels of the Mughal treasury were cataloged for transport to England. Since the Taj Mahal Diamond did not find its way into the official registry, it’s believed that the stone was pilfered by one of the British soldiers, who smuggled the jewel into Britain for his own purposes {3}.

At some point, Cartier acquired the Mughal relic and fashioned for it a beautiful new setting of gold and rubies. In their book, Furious Love, Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger detail the story of how Elizabeth Taylor fell in love with the Taj Mahal Diamond necklace:
“…during a layover at Kennedy Airport. Cartier accommodated the Burtons by bringing a king’s ransom of jewelry to the airport for them to consider while they waited for the next plane. The Taj Mahal necklace was among the selections” {p. 31}.

Burton purchased the glorious jewel as an early birthday gift for Elizabeth. She was overjoyed and wore it many times throughout her life. Thus begins Act III of the Taj Mahal Diamond’s history.

Read More…

*Press photos of this gem are no longer widely available. As such, this writer has created a Pinterest board with a number of photos of the Taj Mahal Diamond for your viewing pleasure.


  1. Christie’s. “Lot 56: The Taj Mahal an Indian Diamond and Jade Pendant Necklace Ruby and Gold Chain, by Cartier.” Accessed January 4, 2015.
  2. “Deconstructing History: Taj Mahal.” Accessed January 4, 2015.
  3. Internet Stones. “The Taj Mahal/Nur Jahan Diamond.” Accessed January 4, 2015.
  4. Kashner, Sam and Nancy Schoenberger. Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor * Richard Burton, the Marriage of the Century. London: JR Books, 2010.
  5. Preston, Diana. Taj Mahal: Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Moghul Empire. New York: Walker Publishing Company, 2007.
  6. Savion Travel Services. “Shah Jahan,” Taj Mahal. Accessed January 4, 2015.
  7. Unesco. “Taj Mahal.” Accessed January 4, 2015.

Amy Adams’ Engagement Ring

Capture the Essence! of Amy Adams' Engagement Ring with this 1.15-Carat Diamond Halo Engagement Ring in Platinum. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.
Capture the Essence! of Amy Adams’ Engagement Ring with this 1.15-Carat Diamond Halo Engagement Ring in Platinum. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.

Amy Adams’ engagement ring is a stunning designer creation by Jean Dousset, of Cartier descent. According to InStyle, her now-husband, Darren Legallo, an actor and rally driver, wrapped the ring box in wrapping paper that the actress decided to keep. According to sources, the central stone is a 1-carat brilliant-cut diamond.

Ms. Adams’ engagement ring is a study in perfection, designed specifically with Amy in mind. While the intimate details of her ring belong to the actress and those closest to her, we are privy to some general details.

For one, Mr. Dousset confirms on his website that Ms. Adams’ engagement ring, featured in Us Magazine’s Celebrity Sparkler Quiz on May 13, 2013, is patterned after his EVA design.  Handcrafted in his “seamless halo” design, the central diamond is 1 carat and surrounded by hand-cut diamonds that seamlessly flow around the girdle of the stone. This leaves the crown and the pavilion of the stone visible to the eye from nearly every angle.

Set in this way, the center stone is held snugly without the use of prongs, a unique characteristic of Jean Dousset Diamonds. Mr. Dousset states, “The diamond center stone should always be the focus of an engagement ring, and the metal should only play a supporting role.” By creating seamless, prongless houses for his diamonds, he gives center stage to the beautiful hand-selected stones.

For Ms. Adams’ ring, the supporting metal is platinum. The solid band is paved midway with rare colorless melee. One final intimate detail is known only because it represents one of Mr. Dousset’s key signatures. Beneath the crown, cradled in a ring of platinum, rests a colored gemstone.

It’s impossible to know which stone she would have chosen, but it could be her birthstone (peridot or sardonyx), or it could be one of the royal trio (sapphire, emerald, ruby), or it could be a semi-precious stone of significance to her alone.

Today, she wears the beautiful diamond nestled against three thin platinum wedding bands paved in diamonds. The one she wears nearest to her heart is rimmed with tiny yellow diamonds (or sapphires). The other two are the same size and weight, paved in white diamonds. She wears them between the yellow-stone band and her Jean Dousset engagement ring.

Which mystery stone do you think Ms. Adams’ engagement ring features?

Nicole Kidman Wears a Three-Stone Diamond Engagement Ring

Capture the Essence! of Nicole Kidman's Engagement Ring with this 1930s Antique Three-Stone Engagement Ring. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.
Capture the Essence! of Nicole Kidman’s Engagement Ring with this 1930s Antique Three-Stone Engagement Ring. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.

In November 2005, the gossip mill went wild with rumors of an engagement between ethereal beauty Nicole Kidman and country music artist Keith Urban. She was caught on camera wearing a diamond ring on that finger, though mum remained the word for another six months. Their reps confirmed nothing, and everyone was left to wonder until Nicole settled the matter with People the following, when she corrected their use of the word boyfriend.

“…he’s actually my fiance,” she said, adding, “He’s very good to me” {cited}.

After keeping everyone in suspense for half a year, the actress finally dazzled her paparazzi with excellent shots of the ring. Of the many photos now available on the web, we feel this one captures the ring best. The platinum or white gold band almost appears lost behind the dazzling sparkle of the three diamonds set antique-style side by side.

Rumors abound that the ring was purchased from Cartier, a reasonable assumption based on the actress’s keen affection for the legendary diamantaires. However, these remain unsubstantiated to date.

Many also report that the ring is an antique. It is most definitely vintage in appearance, though its actual origins are not easily confirmed. Therefore, this tidbit remains hearsay.

Nicole wears most wears the engagement ring with a beautiful diamond-studded wedding band.

Grace Kelly’s ‘Sweet Diamond’ Engagement Ring

MGM Head Shot Prior to Her Wedding in 1956. Photo is in the Public Domain.
MGM Head Shot Prior to Her Wedding in 1956. Photo is in the Public Domain.

Rumors have circulated since 1956 about Grace Kelly’s engagement ring(s) from Prince Rainier III of Monaco. Some speak of her diamond and ruby eternity band, while others speak of what has been hailed the second most-famous engagement ring in history, a stunning 10.47-carat emerald-cut diamond ring with a baguette diamond set horizontally onto each of its platinum shoulders.

Most sources claim that the Prince initially proposed with the eternity ring, only to realize his error in American etiquette after visiting Hollywood for the first time. Others give the Prince a little more credit and claim he gave Ms. Kelly the eternity band as a ring of promise while the more elaborate diamond ring was fashioned in the workshops at Cartier.

As reported in Life Magazine on January 16, 1956, Ms. Kelly wore the diamond and ruby ring on her first visit home after her engagement. In that issue, a photograph shows Ms. Kelly seated next to Prince Rainier between her parents on their couch. She holds her left hand extended toward her mother. We cannot see the ring, but the caption reads, “In the Kellys’ living room Grace’s mother examines daughter’s diamond and ruby engagement ring as Prince and father Kelly proudly look on.”

When she returned to the set at MGM for filming of High Society, Ms. Kelly asked the director if she could wear her real engagement ring in lieu of costume jewelry for the appropriate scenes in the movie.

While Cartier on their website claim that on set Ms. Kelly wore the magnificent diamond and platinum engagement ring, James Spada, who wrote a biography on Grace Kelly called Grace: The Secret Lives of a Princess, claims that the ring she dazzled her coworkers with was “an enormous, spectacularly beautiful ring: intertwined diamonds and rubies (to represent Monaco’s official colors) set with Grimaldi family heirloom jewels” {p. 170-71}.

Unfortunately, Mr. Spada fails to credit his source for that piece of information. I suppose it’s possible she wore both while she was off screen, but on screen she clearly wears only one ring, and it is definitely not an eternity band. The rest of the story he tells about that moment in history is so charming, one hopes the only detail he got wrong is the description of the ring.

He writes that after she asked, her director quipped that he must of course examine the ring in order to ensure “it was good enough” {p. 170}. She dutifully obliged him the next day, and as her co-workers gasped and gaped, she demurely responded, “It is sweet, isn’t it?” {p. 171}. This understated response, Mr. Spada relates, elicited no small amount of teasing from her awestruck co-workers.

Certainly, gorgeous diamonds are sweet and then some!

Three-Stone Engagement Rings

Look Right Here! at this Antique 1930s Three-Stone Engagement Ring. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.
Look Right Here! at this Antique 1930s Three-Stone Engagement Ring. Photo ©2014 EraGem Jewelry.

This exquisite three-stone antique engagement ring was fashioned in the 1930s out of solid platinum. Intricate geometric engravings adorn the sides and shoulders, while the gallery features an exquisite scrolled openwork design. Three large Old Euro cut diamonds rest snugly beside each other in an ornate mounting, surrounded by artfully placed transitional-cut diamonds.

This antique ring is a remarkable example of the three-stone style. Also known as a trilogy ring, this arrangement of three diamonds is commonly thought to represent a couple’s past, present, and future. A deeper significance may be attributable to the style. As one source claims, a trilogy engagement ring declares: You are my past, my present, and my future {cited}.

The traditional arrangement sets three diamonds side by side, sometimes with the central diamond being slightly larger than its neighboring stones. However, many antique rings of this variety feature a combination of gemstones, most often a ruby, sapphire, and diamond, all of equal size. All of these scintillating beauties included an ornate settings with filigree flourishes, openwork designs, and intricate engravings along the band.

In recent years, three-stone engagement rings have enjoyed modest popularity, with a select number of celebrities choosing the vintage style. These unique rings seem to appeal most to women who appreciate a healthy relationship with history, women who aren’t afraid to bring their own interpretation to classic vintage style.

Madonna and Nicole Kidman, two such women, have both owned three-stone engagement rings. Madonna was among the first celebrities to wear the style, a Neil Neil Lane original she received at the onset of the millennium from ex-husband Guy Ritchie. With five carats of diamonds, her Edwardian style ring featured three large stones claw-set in relief against an intricate milgrain and diamond band encrusted with tiny white diamonds.

Six years later, Keith Urban chose a Cartier three-stone engagement ring for his lady love, Nicole Kidman. Her diamonds are larger and slightly chunkier, set fairly close together. She wears her engagement ring with a diamond and platinum eternity band, also rumored to have been crafted by Cartier. A stunning combination, indeed!

If you’re a woman in love with vintage elegance who exudes her own unique style, this authentic antique trilogy ring may be the perfect ring for you. Make an appointment to try it on, and bring your sweetheart along!

Is This Stunning Vintage Cartier Ring One and the Same As Mary-Kate Olsen’s Engagement Ring?

Vintage Cartier Ring. Copyright 2014 Sotheby's.
Vintage Cartier Ring. Copyright 2014 Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s Important Jewels sales occur several times a year, drawing from among the world’s most elite collectors. The most recent of these high-end sales took place on February 6, 2014, in New York City. Leading the sale was an exquisite pair of platinum and diamond pendant ear-clips by David Webb, which sold for $118,750.

Curators of the sale set out to present a sampling of the evolution of 20th century jewelry, which included offerings from the 1920s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, with an emphasis on signed pieces from renowned European and American jewelers. Among these precious offerings, Sotheby’s sold the pictured vintage diamond and sapphire ring, estimating a sales price of $40,000-60,000.

Crafted as a stylized flower made entirely of 18k gold, this gorgeous jewel was made in 1953 by Cartier. At the center rests a 4-carat Old Euro Cut diamond surrounded by 16 calibre-cut sapphires. The petals are etched in gold and set with approximately 1.50 carats of single-cut diamonds. This is just the kind of piece one would expect to see on the finger of the Duchess of Windsor in the 1950s.

Today, a similar ring graces Mary-Kate Olsen’s left ring finger. Several reporters speculate that this is the very ring that Ms. Olsen wears to symbolize her commitment to marry her lover, Olivier Sarkozy. The timing certainly works out. Sotheby’s sold this Cartier beauty on February 6, 2014, for $81,500, and Ms. Olsen was seen wearing her bold engagement ring for the first time on March 3, 2014, during Fashion Week in New York.

However, Sotheby’s is not about to confirm or deny such a fantastic story. Therefore, it is extreme speculation to pair these two important jewelry events together.

How cool would that be, though? To have Mary-Kate Olsen sporting a bonafide vintage engagement ring from 1950s Cartier purchased as an estate piece?

How Movies Have Shaped Engagement Ring Trends for 2014

Get the Art Deco Look! with this Art Deco Diamond and Platinum Engagement Ring. Photo © 2014 EraGem Jewelry.
Look Right Here! at this Art Deco Diamond and Platinum Engagement Ring. Photo © 2014 EraGem Jewelry.

In 2013, several films have had a huge impact on engagement ring trends. Since movies influence trends in the months before and after their release, these movies will continue to impact the industry for many moons to come.

One example is last year’s release of The Great Gatsby. Previews for this movie began influencing jewelry trends early on in 2013. The film emphasized Tiffany jewels, diamonds and platinum, and the glitz and glam of the Roaring Twenties.

It is no wonder, then, that those in the market for engagement rings are turning to the decadent styles of the Art Deco period. This trend has increased demand for the pairing of diamonds and platinum, with an emphasis on geometric settings.

Harvey Weinstein highlighted the 1950s/1960s with his productions of Madonna’s W.E., based on the love story between the former king of England and his American dilettante Wallis Simpson, as well as My Week With Marilyn, about Marilyn Monroe.

Wedding jewelry trends following the retro 1950s include cushion-cut emeralds paired with diamonds, in the style of classic Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Tiffany.

Engagement rings inspired by these 1950s films include cocktail-style rings with lots of diamonds or diamonds paired with emerald or ruby accents. For a simpler, more classic look, 1950s enthusiasts are choosing a square-set or square-cut diamond flanked by baguette diamond shoulder accents.

The 1960s have also garnered much attention in the last few years, most recently with the release of the Diana Vreeland biography, The Eye Has to Travel, and the casting of Lindsey Lohan in the TV movie, Liz & Dick.

These films and others like them have introduced an emphasis on elegant sautoirs, strings of pearls, and turquoise or garnet necklaces and even brooches. Sixties-inspired engagement rings have sleeker lines, with princess cut or round brilliant stones set in halo settings or in five-stone or three-stone rings.

Given the continuing popularity of these films, we will likely see more Deco- and Retro-inspired films in 2014. This guarantees that these trends are here to stay, at least for the five years.

If you’re in the market for retro-inspired rings, we invite you to browse our beautiful selection of authentic retro engagement rings.

Christie’s Geneva Presents “Magnificent Jewels” on November 12, 2013

Photo © 2013 EraGem
Photo © 2013 EraGem

Nothing will prepare you for the scrumptious decadence found on the pages of Christie’s Geneva Magnificent Jewels catalog. Cover to cover, exquisite jewels created by top designers, such as JAR, Bulgari, Cartier, and VC&A, grace the pages. Exclusive pieces from the collection of Mrs. Vera Espirito Santo, including several sautoirs by Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, lay nestled among distinguished Art Deco pieces previously owned by “A Lady” and the gorgeous antique jewels which once adorned members of the Royal Family of Savoy.

Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires decorate nearly every page, and they are merely the savory appetizers offered during the afternoon session of the Geneva sale, which takes place at 2:00pm November 12, 2013. As evening falls, a lavish array of riches from HRH The Duchess of Genova, from HRH Princess Faiza of Egypt, from Simón Inturri Patiño, and from the beautiful Madame Helène Rochas will be served in high style.

From HRH The Duchess of Genova, Christie’s features Royal Pearls: A pair of antique baroque natural pearl earrings, each with a diamond-set cap, suspended from a diamond line and double hoop top {Lot 203}; an antique natural pearl and diamond bar brooch “designed as a line of old-cut diamond collets with natural drop-shaped pearl terminals” {Lot 204}; and a double-strand necklace comprised of 8 cultured pearls, 7 freshwater natural pearls, and 120 natural saltwater pearls {Lot 205}.

From the incomparable collection of a private collector, Christie’s offers an emerald and diamond necklace which once graced the neck of HRH Princess Faiza of Egypt. Made by Van Cleef & Arpels, this stunning jewel survived the dismantling of the Egyptian Crown Jewels which followed the exile of the Egyptian royal family. Purchased in 1947, this necklace is both “imposing” and “graceful,” set with gorgeous emerald cabochon drops suspended from “diamond motives” that exude the geometric essence of Art Deco {cited}. The pendant clasp features an elaborate geometric pattern set entirely in diamonds, with a single drop-shaped emerald terminal.

If that’s not enough glamour for you, next comes three superior pieces once owned by Bolivian tycoon Simón Itturi Patiño. Sr. Patiño made his fortune in the Andes Mountains when with his wife “he discovered one of the greatest tin deposits ever known” {cited}. He invested his fortunes in tin deposits in Malaysia and Canada and opened a bank in Bolivia. By the late 1930s, his foundries processed more than 60% of the world’s tin {cited}.

So successful was his enterprise, that Sr. Patiño became one of the 5 wealthiest men in the world. Besides reinvesting his fortunes in his business interests, the King of Tin amassed a collection of “fabulous gemstones and jewels” in the ’30s and ’40s, “one of the greatest periods of jewellery design” {cited}.

The first of the Patiño jewels was designed by Cartier in honor of a rare gem, ‘The Andean cross,’ which the Maison had acquired from Queen Eugenia of Spain. To form the necklace, Cartier chose 15 of the best Colombian emeralds to create an exquisite diamond and emerald necklace from which the cross could hang. In January 1938, Sr. Patiño fell under the spell of this beautiful necklace and purchased it for his wife. A few years later, the family approved an alteration. The necklace was shortened by two emeralds in order to facilitate the design of a pair of matching diamond and emerald earrings. These will also be offered for sale in Geneva.

In addition to the magnificent necklace and earrings, Christie’s offers a diamond ring by Chaumet set with a cushion-shaped diamond of approximately 32.65 carats. At one time, this exceptional diamond was incorporated into a “spectacular diamond rivière necklace owned by Mrs Albina Patiño” {cited}.

Though it is hard to determine a true headliner for the Geneva sale, it is a safe assumption that the 18 lots from The Property of Madame Helène Rochas may just steal the show. A jeweled evening bag and Cartier vanity case lie in state among a pair of gemstone earrings and a mother-of-pearl bracelet by Marina B. Next, we feast our eyes on several luxurious jewels studded with pearls, diamonds, and sapphires, followed by a mystery-set ruby and diamond ‘Magnolia’ brooch and a pair of ruby and diamond earrings made by Van Cleef & Arpels.

The final lots from Madame Rochas’s estate include an aquamarine, pink topaz and diamond bangle by Verdura, as well as five delicious pieces made by René Boivin: A trio of flexible bombé bands “with honeycomb-shaped scales set with rubies, sapphires, and diamonds”; an articulated yellow gold ‘Fish’ pendant with moonstone eyes and a head scaled in peridot and citrines; a pair of ‘Algues’ ear clips, one set with a white cultured pearl and the other with a grey cultured pearl, both surmounted by diamond-set leaves; a tapered platinum ‘Tranche’ bangle “with an oval-shaped pavé-set diamond panel; and a crouching ‘Tiger’ shoulder brooch set with pavé-set yellow and orange diamond stripes, emerald eyes, and black enamel detail on its head.

Christie’s Geneva Magnificent Jewels sale will be among the most glamorous and important sales of this fall’s jewelry auction season. For more information on the upcoming sale, we invite you to visit Christie’s website.

‘La Panthère': Cartier’s Enduring Panther Motif

Wallis Simpson's Panthère Clip-Brooch by Cartier. Photo credit: Gemological Insurance Appraisers.
Wallis Simpson’s Panthère Clip-Brooch by Cartier. Photo credit: Gemological Insurance Appraisers.

by Angela Magnotti Andrews

The story of Cartier’s La Panthère encompasses not only the reign of this alluring and luxurious cat as an enduring symbol of the Maison for nearly 100 years, but also the influence of the mysterious and indomitable women who inspired and engineered these bold and magnificent jewels, now collectively referred to as the ‘Big Cats’.

The sleek black panther, a symbol of elegant femininity, bold courage, and the allure of danger, actually emerged on the European art scene several years prior to her debut in high jewelry. According to Hans Nadelhoffer, right at the turn of the 20th century the medieval Lady with a Unicorn was being replaced by the “bold image of the Lady with a Panther” {Nadelhoffer, p. 229}.

Unlike her virginal counterpart, the sleekly-clad, sinuously curved lady with her big black cats came to represent the darker side of feminine wiles. By 1919, with Fernand Knopff’s La Caresse, the stage was set for La Panthère to make her entrance onto the high jewelry scene.

Onyx, Diamonds, Emeralds

Riding on the heels of the heightened eroticism surrounding the lithe and sensuous beauties of the Art Nouveau movement, as well as the supremely powerful Art Deco women, La Panthère stalked onto the jewelry scene, subtly at first, with the bold involvement of Mme. Jeanne Toussaint at Cartier Paris.

Mme. Toussaint became the first woman to head the design team at a prestigious jewelry firm. Her way was assertive and independent, her imagination was rich and bold, and her eye was keen and discerning.

Her fascination with the big black cats of Africa is reported to have begun (culminated at the least) on the arm of her ‘discreet’ friend, Louis Cartier, who was took her to Africa on a business trip. Upon catching her first glimpse of the magnificent black cats, she is reported to have exclaimed, “Onyx, Diamonds, Emeralds–A brooch!” {3}

All Things Panther

It is unclear in the literature precisely when, or even if, this fated exclamation dripped from Mme. Toussaint’s lips, but it is obvious that a fantastic encounter with at least one of these rarefied beasts left an indelible impression upon her.

By the early 1900s, Mme. Toussaint’s fascination was bordering on the obsessive with all things panther. She decorated her apartments with their luxurious furs, she wore their spotted skins as coats {cited: jewelryloupe}, and she favored personal accessories decorated in their likeness.

She is reported to have been the first to own one of Cartier’s Pantera vanity cases, made around 1917 {Nadelhoffer, p. 229}. The vanity is a wonder in miniature, featuring a life-like diamond panther with onyx or sapphire spots slinking along a ruby and diamond road between two jeweled cypress trees against an all-black background.

One could easily assume that it was her otherworldly crush on the fantastic creatures which led her friend/lover, Louis Cartier, to nickname her La Panthère, it would make just as much sense to assume it was this nickname and his recognition of her very panther-like characteristics which inspired her to develop such an iconic association with these beautiful creatures.

Regardless, by the writing of this account, the two have become synonymous, and La Panthère would, with her astounding obsession, effectively launch one of high jewelry’s boldest and most luxurious motifs.

On Display at Cartier

The documented history of Cartier’s ‘Big Cats’ begins in 1914, when, looking to capitalize on the emerging trend of black panthers as representative of the emerging powerful female, M. Cartier commissioned the fashionable and flamboyant French illustrator, George Barbier to design a display card with his own rendition of A Lady with a Panther.

In his very Art Deco depiction, a tall, barefoot woman stands between two red columns, wearing a fashionable Poiret dress. Her image evokes Egyptian hieroglyphics, with her erect and symmetrical pose, her high beehive hairdo, and her painted face.

Her arms are held in almost ritualistic pose, and through her fingers drapes an elegantly long strand of pearls. Behind her feet, in feline crouching repose, lies a svelte black panther. Its ears are back, its slanted eyes appear blue to match its high-brow blue collar. Again, the cat lends an Egyptian flair to the overall image.

Coaxing the Panther to Life

This advertisement held wide appeal for Cartier’s elite clientele at the time, among them famed actress Sarah Bernhardt, who is reported to have greeted guests while casually holding two panthers on leashes, a quintessential Art Deco pose. With the panther making such a sensation in high society, it was just a matter of time before La Panthère herself would coax the panther to life in Cartier jewels.

Sometime between 1910 and 1918, Jeanne Toussaint was appointed creative director of the silver department at Cartier Paris. The first of the ‘Big Cat’ jewels were inspired by the panther’s coat–panther-spotted wrist- and brooch-watches. These progressed to vanity cases released in the early 1920s, which were the first Cartier pieces to feature the cat in all her glory.

In 1927, Louis Cartier “borrowed” from his brother at Cartier London, the creative genius, Peter Lemarchand. Having spent hours observing them at the Vincennes Zoo in Paris, Monsieur Lemarchand drew countless naturalistic sketches of the lithe  felines, bringing them to life on the page. With these sketches in hand, Mme. Toussaint came to believe that her onyx, diamond, and emerald panthers would soon become a reality.

Indeed, that very year the first of many Cartier brooches featuring “a reclining panther in onyx and diamonds on platinum” {20}. For more than 20 years, the embers of the Big Cat jewels would smolder quietly in the Cartier vaults. According to Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s current head of design, style, and heritage, explained that Cartier’s most daring jewels were reserved in stock for just the right adventurous soul to claim them or spark off of them to inspire a stunning commission {2}.

The Spark Finally Ignites

In 1933, Louis Cartier had grown increasingly aware of Jeanne Toussaint’s extravagant taste, her dynamic influence, and her visionary intelligence. In a move that must have appeared absolutely radical for the time, perhaps even foolhardy to some narrow-minded naysayers, Monsieur Cartier promoted his mistress from to the position of Director of Haute Joaillerie, a position she would hold for 35 years.

As the sun set on the 1940s, that spark finally ignited into flame when another adventurous, clever, and inimitable woman came on the Cartier scene. Though it is unclear just how the scene played out, it is well known that in 1948, Wallis Simpson, the famed Duchess of Windsor, opened a Cartier box to discover the first golden cat brooch made in concert between Jeanne Toussaint, Peter Lemarchand, and the celebrated Cartier goldsmiths and gem-setters.

Some historians relate that the brooch was chosen from the stock of jewels languishing in Cartier’s vaults, while others report that the Duchess commissioned the stunning jewel herself. This writer favors the account that places the Duke of Windsor beside La Panthère in her first-floor office in the Rue de la Paix. Laid out on the table in front of them were Peter Lemarchand’s drawings, the stock panther brooches, and several obscenely large gemstones.

A Trend is Established

Whatever the case may be, after one to two years of revisions, modifications, approvals, and painstaking handwork, the Duchess of Windsor was gloriously surprised to find inside her Cartier box the ferocious gold-and-black enamel panther rising up from its perch atop a gargantuan cabochon emerald, weighing in at 116.74 carats.

The next year, the Windsors ordered another panther clip brooch. This one features a platinum, white gold, and diamond panther with blue sapphire cabochon spots, fiercely guarding a 152.35-carat Kashmir cabochon star sapphire. It’s marquise-shaped yellow diamond eyes glow fiercely as it protects its prize.

In 1950, the trend was further established when Mrs. Daisy Fellowes (1890-1962), the Paris editor of America’s Harper’s Bazaar, followed suit and ordered an exquisite diamond, emerald, and sapphire panther brooch clip. The wounded animal hangs suspended from a diamond baguette, it’s limp body articulated to capture the muscled form of its depleted body. The true genius of this vintage brooch lies in its likeness to the ram which once hung suspended from the Wittelsbach Blue diamond on the Order of the Golden Fleece.

A Trend Endures

In 1952, the trend endures with the Duchess of Windsor adding to her collection the articulated panther bracelet which remains the pièce de résistance of the Cartier Big Cats. The panther bracelet “is set with calibre-cut black onyx and diamonds and is so finely articulated that it wraps around the wrist like fabric” {2}. This bracelet holds the world record for most expensive bracelet ever sold at auction.

In 1954, the Duchess placed a special order with Cartier for a Tiger Lorgnette (opera glasses). The handle features a regally marching tiger made of gold and black Champlevé enamel two navette-shaped emerald eyes {4}.

In 1957, Barbara Woolworth Hutton, billionaire heiress to the Woolworth fortune, likely inspired by the Duchess’s Tiger Lorgnette, commissioned Cartier to create a golden tiger brooch with matching earrings. Reminiscent of Mrs. Fellowes’ and Wallis Simpson’s tiger jewels, the brooch and matching earrings depict a limp tiger flecked in diamonds with emerald eyes {cited: DesignGuy} and black onyx stripes {cited: fsommers}. Of her choice in cats, Ms. Hutton is reported to have remarked that the tiger is the “only animal that possess[es] no fine feelings” {cited: Tretiack}.

The following year, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan commissioned a stunning suite of Cartier panther jewels for his then wife, Princess Nina Aga Khan. According to the folks at Worthpoint, Cartier fashioned for the princess “a blouse pin, an articulated panther brooch, a ring, an open bracelet with panther heads, and a gold fluted bracelet with panther heads that can be worn as earrings while it becomes the handle of one of Cartier’s convertible evening bags! Paved with brilliant-cut diamonds and spotted with sapphires, these pieces are among the most spectacular naturalist creations ever made in three dimensions.”

A Continuing Revival

From this point on, while the panther occasionally appears to have lurked between the pages of history, never would the illustrious cat become extinct in the annals of Cartier.

The 1960s saw a revival of the motif, with famed Mexican actress, Maria Felix adding a golden bracelet featuring the head and front paws of two panthers meeting in a ferocious battle. In 1983, Cartier launched the Panthère watch which quickly became “one of the most successful examples of watchmaking creativity in the 1980s” {20}. In the late 1980s, Cartier introduced panthers slinking through “jewelled bamboo and eucalyptus foliage” {20}, crouching tiger necklaces, and jeweled perfume bottle featuring two carved white or black panthers stalking up the sides of the bottle.

In 1987, Cartier repurchased two of the original commissions they made for the Duchess of Windsor, the Tiger Lorgnette (c. 1954) and the panther guarding the Kashmir sapphire (c. 1949). These two stunning Big Cats now belong to the esteemed Cartier Collection.

In the 1990s, Cartier begins promoting signature collections. The panther reappears, this time sleek in yellow gold and black lacquer {20}. The millennium panthers debut in retrospect to their original Art Deco form: platinum, diamonds, and onyx. As the years marched on, the panther took on a modern edge “in yellow gold and diamonds, with sharp corners, a streamlined profile and gaping jaw” {20}. The snow leopard returns in diamonds and onyx, with innovative techniques lending the animal’s coat realistic texture {20}.

In 2012, Cartier released L’Odyssee de Cartier, the journey of the fabled panther through exotic lands. The jeweled snow leopard sheds its jeweled skin and comes to life, ready to embark on a grand adventure through the exotic lands of Cartier’s greatest inspirations. Beginning in Russia, the big cat races across the snow toward the mighty mountains, on its way to China.

Meeting with danger, the cat presses onward into a menagerie replete with living jewels. Continuing on, it crests the back of an elephant, finding itself in India, where it catches a ride aboard another unexpected and historic vessel. Alighting in Paris, it makes its way into a magnificent mansion, where it finds a beautiful woman dressed in an exquisite red Yiqing Yinwith gown, dripping with Cartier ice. And all of this takes place inside the signature red Cartier box.

In January of 2013, Cartier revealed the latest version of the panther, a granulated version of a panther’s head in 22k yellow gold as the face of a 42mm Rotonde de Cartier watch case. The Panthere Divine watch emerged in January, as well; a lone diamond and onyx leopard turns back to gaze at the watch hands on a platinum Cartier watch face. Sleek yellow and white golden cats also emerged, some playful, others fierce, many of which feature tsavorite garnet eyes in ethereal green.

In 2014, Cartier will celebrate 100 years of the panther’s glorious reign over their Parisian atelier. There is no doubt in this writer’s mind that even now the great house is preparing for La Panthère‘s centennial celebration. Hopefully, they will include an exhibition of the greatest of their Big Cats. Perhaps they will even successfully coax the new owner of Wallis Simpson’s articulated panther bracelet to lend it to them for the show.


1. Alexander Palace Forum. “King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson (Duke and Duchess of Windsor, 92/286.” Accessed July 13, 2013.;wap2.
2. Anderson, Geneva. “Happy Valentine’s Day! Big Girls Need Big Diamonds…’Cartier and America’ exhibition at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Delivers.” ART Hound Blog, February 14, 2010.
3. Auguste, Gilles and Michel Gutsatz. Luxury Talent Management: Leading and Managing a Luxury Brand. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
4. “Best of Eras + Trends: Tiger and Panther Jewellery and Accessories.” Best of Dress Blog, December 22, 2011.
5. “Cartier.” Antique Jewelry University. Accessed July 13, 2013.
6. “Cartier Presents Spectacular Jewellery Timepieces Collection at SIHH 2013 in Geneva.” CPP-Luxury, January 21, 2013.
7. “Golden Globes: Rotonde de Cartier Panthere Granulation 2013.” Luxury InsiderJanuary 18, 2013.
8. Gutsatz, Michel. “A Walk Around Place Vendome–Cartier.” BrandWatch par Michel Gutsatz, July 23, 2011.
9. Holleville, Clemence. “Cartier: le joaillier virtuose a 160 ans.” Journal des Femmes, June 4, 2007.
10. “Jeanne Toussaint…Cartier’s…Magnificent ‘Panther’.” Lettre de Paris, March 11, 2012.
11. “Jeanne Toussaint, La Panthere de Cartier.” Oboro, July 11, 2012.
12. Las Joyas, Amaras. “Mademoiselle Jeanne Toussaint. La Pantera.” Amaras Las Joyas Blog, December 27, 2010.
13. Mallard, Anne-Sophie. “A Celebration of Jewelry, 6/11.” Paris Vogue Online, accessed August 9, 2013.!diamond-emerald-and-sapphire-panther-pin-cartier-circa-1950-from-the-collection-of-daisy-fellowes-celebrating-jewellery.
14. McCarthy, Cathleen. “Women Who Paved the Way: Jeanne Toussaint of Cartier.” The Jewelry Loupe, October 20, 2010.
15. Misiorowski, Elise B. “Top Cat.” Professional Jeweler Magazine Archives, March 1998.
16. Nadelhoffer, Hans. Cartier. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2007.
17. “Panther: Jeanne Toussaint, The.” Nowness, June 27, 2010.
18. “Part II of III: Cartier and America Show, San Francisco.” Design Guy Blog, January 23, 2010.
19. Rogers, Lisa Waller. “Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor.” Lisa’s History Room Blog, September 29, 2009.
20. Sherling, Natasha. “Upcoming Events: A Prominent Predator–The Cartier Panthere.” Worthpoint. Accessed July 13, 2013.
21. Sommers, F. “Toussaint’s ‘Panthers’–A Fierce Legacy.” Professional Pearl & Bead Stringing. Accessed July 13, 2013.
22. Tretiack, Philippe. Cartier. New York: Universe, 1997.
23. Vargas, Whitney. “The Sublime Cats of Cartier.” The Wall Street Journal, August 25, 2011.
24. White, Belinda. “Cartier Debut Short Film L’Odyssee de Cartier to Celebrate Their Rich History.” Telegraph, March 5, 2012.
25. Wikipedia. “Daisy Fellowes.” Accessed August 10, 2013.