The Pearls that Built Cartier

Pierre Cartier 1910

Pierre Cartier 1910

By 1912 Pierre Cartier had established himself among the elite of New York through the buying and selling of some of the world's most awe inspiring gems, including the 45.52 carat Hope Diamond. But Pierre was not satisfied with his New York salon. He wanted more for Cartier. He wanted a grander building that could both be a beacon for the city's elite and be on par with Rue de la Paix, the store's flagship in Paris. Then one day fate stepped in and offered Cartier an opportunity in the form of a 5th avenue mansion, a multimillionaire's wife and a double strand of pearls.

The Plants

The original owner of the 5th avenue mansion that this story revolves around was an American businessman named Morton F. Plant. Morton was the son of Henry Bradley Plant, who had built an enormous railroad and steamship network across the South that came to be known as the Plant System. He was not, however, well loved by his father. Even though Morton had been working as the president of his father's company Henry had, in a cold move, attempted to cut Morton completely out of his will and leave his fortune to his grandson. Morton and Henry's wife contested the will and eventually won back the fortune that Henry had attempted to deny them. 

Morton went on to capitalize on his father's existing business and continued to grow it further. In 1887 Morton married his first wife Nellie, but she died in 1913, at the age of 50.  In 1914, ten months after his first wife's death 61 year old Morton married 31 year old Mae Caldwell Manwaring (or Maisie, as she was nicknamed). Maisie was married to a hotel owner named Selden Manwaring at the time she and Plant met and engaged in a whirlwind romance. Some stories surrounding the couple's courtship state that Morton Plant was so head over heels for Maisie that he paid Selden Manwaring $8 million for an uncontested divorce! 

After their marriage Morton moved Maisie into his 5th avenue mansion in New York City. The Morton Plant House was part of a group of mansions built on Fifth Avenue, known as "Millionaire's Row", that were home to the Vanderbilts, the Astors, and other notable wealthy New Yorkers; however, at the time that Maisie was moving in, homes like the Plant's opulent six story Italian Renaissance style home with limestone and marble accents (like the others of Millionaire's Row) were a dying breed. For a number of years commercial progress had been changing the face of the area. Hotels such as the Waldorf and the Astoria had led the change a number of years earlier, and now storefronts were moving in across from the stately homes.   


 Claudia Munro Kerr's interpretation of a portrait of Maisie, originally painted by the portraitist Alphonse Jungers

 Claudia Munro Kerr's interpretation of a portrait of Maisie, originally painted by the portraitist Alphonse Jungers

Pierre Cartier arrived in New York in 1909. The French jeweler's first residence in New York was 712 Fifth Avenue. He established the Cartier boutique in this area of New York City as a direct response to rival jeweler Dreicer, who was located at 560 Fifth Avenue. Dreicer was creating and selling knocking off Cartier designs because he could create them faster than authentic pieces could be imported from Paris so it was imperative to Pierre that he establish workshops in New York, with his own workforce. By cutting delivery time and through his highly publicized acquisition and sale of rare gems (such as the Hope Diamond) Pierre was able to further push Cartier into the spotlight and the business's profile continued to rise among the elite of New York. 

The Necklace

Meanwhile the Plants had begun construction on a new larger home on 86th and 5th avenue. By 1917 many of the families that had called Millionaire's Row home had left for new residences to the north and the businesses that had been seeking centralized locations continued their encroachment into the neighborhood.  It was around this time that Maisie Plant fell head over heels for a natural pearl necklace in Pierre's New York City salon. The necklace was a double strand of natural South Sea pearls. The smaller strand consisted of 55 pearls and the larger, of 73. The 128 pearls that made up the necklace had taken years to assemble. Each one having been collected by hand by a diver. The pearls were then matched in color and size to create perfect graduated strands. Because of the rarity of natural pearls (cultured pearls had not yet reached the commercial markets) were a symbol of wealth and status among New York's social elite. Pierre sensed an opportunity and proposed a trade. 

Mrs. Plant wanted the pearls, and Pierre wanted the prestigious address so a deal was made. 'The Real Estate Record And Guide' reported on the transaction in its July 21, 1917 issue (the pearls would have been the "other valuable considerations"):

The 5th avenue Mansion in 1920

The 5th avenue Mansion in 1920

"The Morton F. Plant dwelling at the southeast corner of Fifth avenue and 52nd street, has been sold to Louis J. Cartier, of Paris, and Pierre C. Cartier, of New York, jewelers, who several months ago leased the property for their business. Ownership was transferred last Saturday for $100 and other valuable considerations. The option to purchase was given to the tenants in their lease, and they have availed themselves of this opportunity. The dwelling is being altered for trade purposes and will soon be ready for occupancy by the firm, which is now located in upper Fifth avenue. The Plant dwelling is one of the best known on Fifth avenue; it is opposite to the Vanderbilt houses, and helps to serve as a barrier to the northward movement of trade on Fifth avenue. Mr. Plant was approached many times with offers to sell or lease his house, but would not consider any proposition until several months ago, when he decided that his stand against the trade was useless."

According to the New York Times the necklace was valued at $1 million and the building was valued at $925,000.

Morton passed away on November 4, 1918 (less than a year and a half after the mansion sale) leaving his wife Maisie his fortune. Maisie married twice more, before passing away at the age of 75 in July of 1957. 

The auction of her estate, was reported in Time magazine's "At The End Of An Avenue."

"This week her Manhattan house, the last of the fabulous Fifth Avenue mansions to be fully occupied, will go on the block. Just to tabulate her possessions, the Manhattan auction house, Parke-Bernet, has published a 313-page illustrated catalogue. Sale of the 1021 listed items will take two weeks, and is expected to bring over $1,000,000, not counting the 167 lots of jewelry. Among the jewels are two of the most famous Oriental pearl necklaces ever assembled, a strand of 55 and another of 73 matched and graduated pearls, which in 1916 Mrs. Rovensky (then Mrs. Plant) received from her multimillionaire husband. Commodore Plant had taken them as payment of $1,000,000 for their house at 52nd Street and Fifth Avenue."

Maisie Plant Salon, Cartier Mansion, 2016

Maisie Plant Salon, Cartier Mansion, 2016

The pearl strands sold for a paltry $181,000. Pearl sales had in fact dropped markedly not long after the Plants completed the trade. This was due to the introduction of cultured pearls by Kokichi Mikimoto. The Plant's palatial house on East 86th Street was torn down in 1960, and replaced by an apartment building. The only remnants of the home that remain are marble columns and a marble fountain.

The Cartier Mansion's story has a somewhat happier ending. As part of the deal Pierre agreed that he would not alter the exterior of the building in any way. Interestingly even after the mansion's conversion to a commercial entity the interior was also mostly untouched until the renovation in the 2000's. The building has since undergone two refurbishments, one in 2000-2001 and another in 2016. The building currently has landmark status in New York City.

As for the famous pearls, after the were sold at auction they were never seen again. 

Cartier pearl necklace, 2016, created to celebrate the re-opening of the 653 Fifth Avenue Mansion.

Cartier pearl necklace, 2016, created to celebrate the re-opening of the 653 Fifth Avenue Mansion.

The Crown of Empress Farah Pahlavi

The Empress Crown: part of the coronation regalia used by the only Empress of Iran, Farah Pahlavi.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had already ruled Iran for two decades when he married Farah Dina in 1959, but he not yet had his official coronation. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi put off his coronation saying that he believed he could only be crowned when he truly felt he deserved it. That time came in 1967; the coronation would take place in October of that year and it was set to break with tradition.

For centuries the wives of monarchs were not crowned; only the male ruler had that honor. This changed with Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. In a nod to the White Revolution's mandate on the emancipation of women, Emperor Pahlavi was determined to also have his consort crowned; however, there was a slight problem: since it had been centuries since an Iranian empress had been crowned, there was no appropriate crown available. The honorable task of making the new crown would fall to Van Cleef and Arpels. As was dictated by tradition, the gems used in the crown and coronation jewelry were selected from loose stones already in the Imperial treasury. None of the items that were part of the Imperial treasury were allowed to leave Iran so Van Cleef & Arpels had to send a team of jewelers to Tehran in order to construct the crown. While there, the team, Farah, and other important people in the Iranian government were consulted on the design aspects so that the finished product would be perfect. The crown ended up taking six months to complete. 

The crown itself is made from white gold and green velvet, covered with diamonds, pearls, emeralds, rubies, and spinels. 

By early 1978, the rising discontent in Iran had started to become more evident, eventually leading to demonstrations against the monarchy. The Empress recalled in her memoirs that "there was an increasingly palpable sense of unease".  By the year's end riots and political unrest had reached a head and martial law was put into effect. The country was on the verge of open revolution.
On January 16, 1979 both the Emperor and Empress decided to leave the country and begin a life in exile. Empress Farah would be the first and the last Empress to wear the magnificent crown.

When the Iranian revolution occurred it was thought that the Iranian crown jewels might have been lost. Miraculously, most of the collection remained intact and the jewels were put on public display under the presidency of Hashemi Rafsanjani in the 1990s at the Central Bank in Tehran.

To read more about the Empress and her life I suggest checking out her memoir An Enduring Love: My Life with the Shah: A Memoir

Mary Todd Lincoln's Tiffany Seed Pearl Parure

Mary Todd Lincoln wearing the seed pearl jewelry suite. Photo taken in the studio of Mathew Brady

In 1861 president Lincoln purchased a demi-parure of seed pearl jewelry, from Tiffany &Co., for his wife and first lady Mary Todd Lincoln to wear to the President's inaugural ball. The complete parure (suite) of seed pearl jewelry would have consists of a collar necklace, a pair of bracelets, a pair of earrings, one or possibly two brooches, and a corsage brooch and cost around $1,000. President Lincoln, however opted to purchase a less expensive demi-parure consisting of a necklace and a pair of bracelets only, which cost $530.

During a time when the nation was standing on the precipice of war many of Lincoln's political adversaries criticized the money that was spent on the First Lady's jewelry and gown ( her gown cost an astounding $2,000). 

The Baden Palmette Tiara

This romantic tiara is an heirloom with a long history. 
The tiara is originally German. It was made in the 19th century by Koch. It was a wedding gift from King Wilhelm of Prussia to his daughter, Princess Louise, for her marriage to Grand Duke Frederick of Baden in 1856.
The tiara then migrated to Stockholm when Frederick and Louise's daughter, Victoria, married King Gustaf V of Sweden in 1881. On Victoria's death in 1930, her granddaughter, Princess Ingrid, inherited the tiara. When Ingrid married Frederik IX of Denmark five years later, the tiara moved with her to Denmark.
When Queen Ingrid died in 2000, her vast jewel collection passed into the royal families of Denmark, Greece, and Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg. 
Queen Margrethe was the lucky duck who inherited the lovely petite tiara. 
The tiara itself is sweet and romantic. It features hearts shaped palmette motifs with small diamond flowers with yellow-toned centers in-between the hearts. 
The romantic feel makes the tiara perfect for weddings. It's also smaller (and more comfortable) than most of the show stopping tiaras owned by the queen, so it makes frequent appearances. 


The Luxembourg Empire Tiara

Have you ever looked at tiaras and thought “well that’s nice, but it’s just not big enough!” Well then this is the tiara for you!

The Luxembourg Empire Tiara dates from the 1800’s the tiara is covered in diamonds. The tiara is over 4 inches tall and contains numerous motifs, such as: geometric, anthemion, and scroll designs.
The history of the tiara is a bit murky. Previous theories attempted to trace it back to Romanov Russia (with the look of the tiara it isn’t hard to imagine). However, the current thought is that the tiara was possibly acquired as a wedding gift for Pauline of Württemberg, who married Wilhelm, Duke of Nassau, in 1829. The German dukes of Nassau became the rulers of the grand duchy of Luxembourg in 1890, when law prevented Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands from ruling.
We have visual evidence of the tiara’s public debut on the head of reigning Grand Duchess Charlotte when she married Prince Felix of Bourbon-Parma in 1919. One of Charlotte’s sisters (Hilda), wore it for her wedding too.
On her abdication Charlotte passed the grand tiara to her daughter-in-law Joséphine-Charlotte, the new grand duchess. Joséphine-Charlotte’s husband abdicated in favor of his son Henri in 2001, however her daughter-in-law Maria Teresa did not wear it publicly until after Joséphine-Charlotte’s death. 
Grand Duchess Maria Teresa has worn the tiara on many state occasions and to weddings (notably Crown Princess Victoria’s wedding in 2010).

The Olive Wreath Tiara

The olive wreath tiara was commissioned from Cartier by Princess Marie Bonaparte on the occasion of her marriage to Prince George of Greece and Denmark in 1907. 
Marie was both a princess and an heiress. She was descended from French royalty by way of Lucien Bonapart (a younger brother of Napoleon) as well as being the granddaughter of François Blanc (a real estate developer whose casino projects included the famous Monte Carlo Casino in Monaco). Prince George of Greece and Denmark was one of the sons of King George I of the Hellenes.
The tiara, designed by Cartier, was a nod to Marie’s imperial heritage. Diamond olive leaves with eleven diamond “olives", which could be swapped out for other stones at will. Apparently the original “olives” were emeralds which Marie switched out in favor of rubies occasionally. 
In the center of the already magnificent tiara was a jaw dropping enormous pear-shaped diamond set en tremblant. 
Princess Marie died in 1962. Approximately thirty years later the tiara went up for auction without the central diamond or the emerald and ruby stones. The tiara was purchased in 1999 by the Albion Art Institute and the central diamond was replaced. 
The marriage between Marie and George was…complicated (for lack of a better term). Suffice to say as a result of her marriage she became a devout follower of Sigmund Freud. I won’t go into the sordid details here but, if you’re curious take a minute to google them.


Iron Clad Patriotism: Berlin Iron


Berlin iron's roots start with the establishment of the Königliche Eisengiesserei bei Berlin or Royal Berlin Foundry in 1804. The Royal Berlin Foundry initially began with the production of iron goods such as vases, knife stands, candelabra, bowls, plaques and medallions, as well as more commercial articles such as fences, bridges and garden furniture. The first jewelry items were produced in 1806 and consisted of mostly long chains with cast links. Later, more elaborate necklaces with medallions joined with links and wire work mesh were manufactured.

Iron jewelry reached its peak in both production and artistic expression between 1813 and 1815 when war fanned  the flames of the iron forges.  To aid in the uprising against Napoleon during the War of Liberation the Prussian royal family urged all citizens to contribute their gold and silver jewelry. In return the people were given iron jewelry often with the inscription Gold gab ich für Eisen (I gave gold for iron), or Für das Wohl des Vaterlands (For the welfare of our country / fatherland) or with a portrait of Frederick William III of Prussia on the back. 

The numbers of pieces produced started declining after 1850, but still continued to be manufactured until the end of the century. Towards it's decline there appears to have also been a shift in design favoring a more Gothic style. 

An attempt to emulate the previous Prussian example was made be the Austro-Hungarian's and German's during the 1900's (First World War). This was done again by exchanging gold jewelry for an iron, much of which was inscribed with some variation of the words: Gold gab ich zur Wehr, Eisen nahm ich zur Ehr (I give gold towards our defence effort and I take iron for honor). This attempt, however, was not as successful.


Engraved iron finger ring given as replacement for gold jewelry offered as gift to the war funds of the Austro-Hungarian empire during the First World War.  inscribed 'Gold gab ich fur Eisen 1914' Coutesy of the Imperial War Museums © Crown Copyright: IWM

Today Berlin Iron Jewelry pieces are considered collector's items. Because iron is a very brittle material and also susceptible to rust, comparatively few examples have survived. The best and most authentic pieces are usually found in museums or private collections. Replicas are widely manufactured today and buyers should be well informed before purchasing.  



Photos courtesy of: The V&A Museum, The Birmingham Museum or Art, The Imperial War Museums

Remember Me When I am Gone: Memento Mori


Prince of Orange René of Châlon died in 1544 at age 25. His widow commissioned sculptor Ligier Richier to represent him offering his heart to God, set against the painted splendour of his former worldly estate. Church of Saint-Étienne, Bar-le-Duc.

Human's have always had an obsession with death. It is the final act of being human and there is a distinct mystery and sometimes fear that surrounds death. 
Memento mori from the Latin: "remember [that you have] to die" is a medieval philosophy based on the reflection on mortality. In the Christian church it was used a means of encouraging a congregation to consider their vanity as well as the temporary nature of all earthly goods and pursuits. Memento mori essentially used the fear of dying and judgement of not only their maker but also of society to stress the importance of perfecting one’s character in the eyes of the church (usually in the form of supporting the church monetarily). Even as the churches preached the notion of detachment from earthly goods, the idea spread into the material world through art. Fear of judgement coupled with a long held human fear of being forgotten by the world led to elaborate memorials being erected by the wealthy. They demonstrated "piety" while also serving as reminders to viewers. As with most trends that start with the upper classes, memento mori reached down to middle and lower classes where they were imitated to a more modest effect that is evident in the choice of grave markers and funerary art from that time period. 

The memento mori philosophy also stretched beyond churches and funerary memorials becoming popular objects d'art and jewelry during the sixteenth through eighteenth century. Common imagery consisted of skulls, skeletons and coffins mostly in gold, black, and white. Text expressing thoughts on mortality, remembrance and religion in the languages of Latin, French or English were either engraved or enameled somewhere on the piece or even on the inside or back (viewable only by the intended recipient).  Jewelry especially served as a daily reminder of the wearer's pending mortality.

Rings were the most popular form of memento mori jewelry though there are also many examples of lockets, watches, pendants and brooches. There is evidence that many individuals willed money specifically for the purpose of creating jewelry to be worn by a specified list of mourners. This would ensure that the deceased would not be forgotten as their memory could literally be held by those they wished to do so.
By the mid seventeenth century, memento mori jewelry shifted away from the singular dominating theme of impending death and merged with remembrance or memorial jewelry. Hair of the departed person, along with important dates and initials were now placed alongside skulls, coffin symbols and messages, personalizing the jewelry further. The tradition truly flourished in the eighteenth century as the name of the individual being memorialized became more prominent, mourning motifs became less gruesome and were replaced with more intricate hairwork and elaborate metaphorical images such as urns.

This enamelled gold mourning ring commemorates the death of Samuel Nicholets of Hertfordshire who died on 7th July 1661, as is recorded in the inscription inside the ring. The ring is hollow, and a lock of hair curls around within it, visible through the openwork of the enamelled decoration of skulls and coats of arms.


Death is an equalizer among humans. We all must die and we know this. To remember that we are all mortal has driven us as humans to strive diligently to create a legacy, to not be lost in time and forgotten. Some of the greatest works of art from the great pyramids to the smallest rings have been driven by our need to be remembered. Art and in particular jewelry can be a time traveler, a window into the lives of the people who created it, who owned it, who inspired it. We are what we leave behind. 

Photos courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum and Loupe Antiques

Goodbye September

Dutch Tiara

I think this is a beautiful way to start saying goodbye to September. The Dutch Sapphire Tiara: 655 South African diamonds, now set in platinum accented by 33 luxurious sapphires nestled at the bottom of the diadem. Some of the stones are en tremblant maximizing the sparkle factor. 
The history: The tiara was purchased in 1881 by King Willem III of the Netherlands for his wife, Queen Emma. It was next worn by Emma’s granddaughter Queen Juliana. Today it is worn by Juliana’s daughter, Queen Beatrix. In the course of its history, the tiara has gained some pieces to make up a parure: a necklace, two enormous bracelets, and a brooch. The necklace has been turned into a smaller sapphire tiara which was been spotted on Princesses Margriet and Máxima. 
This tiara was chosen by Queen Máxima to wear to King Willem-Alexander’s inauguration, April 30. 2013. (Seen in the photo)

Antique Tiara Adoration

Photo from  Christies

Photo from Christies

An antique sapphire and diamond tiara/necklace.
This piece is very special.
The tiara as a whole is composed of a central floral and foliate spray, featuring cushion shaped foil backed sapphire and old-cut diamonds, raised stems and scrolling leaves lead to a series of graduated diamond fleur-de-lys panels.
The magic happens when you realize that the central spray detaches to form a brooch and the fleur-de-lys panels form the necklace! It's three stunning pieces in one. Made circa 1890 and was sold by Christie's in 2014.

Bagration Tiara


If you follow along on my Instagram you'll know it's Tiara Tuesday again! The Bagration tiara - diamonds and pink spinels. The tiara dates to about 1810. Attributed to Fossin & Fils, a predecessor of the French jeweler Chaumet. It was purchased by the Russian Princess Katharine Bagration, heiress to Prince Potemkin and listed in the 1836 inventory of her jewels. Bought by the current Duke of Westminster for his bride to wear at their wedding in 1978.

Mizpah Jewelry: a history of affection


Mizpah is Hebrew for “watchtower.” As mentioned in the Bible, it marked an agreement between two men, with God as their witness. Since that time, the mizpah has come to connote an emotional bond between people who are separated (either physically or by death). 
Common Mizpah jewelry contains the phrase “The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another,” which immediately follows the mention of Mizpah in the book of Genesis.
Mizpah jewelry first became popular in the earlier part of the Victorian era, symbolizing a bond of affection between two people.
During the formal Victorian era strict rules for courtship were observed, and gifts of jewelry between men and women could suggest impropriety. However Mizpah pieces could safely be exchanged as sentimental tokens of affection, some of which even containing a verse from the Bible. 
Mizpah jewelry dropped in popularity after World War I, but there it could be said that it was the precursor to the sweetheart jewelry that became common during the Second World War.

Kathleen Marino M.A, G.G., AJP, NAJA