An exclusive look at the woman behind the house’s famous panther
by Mille Team
September 27, 2019
If there’s one name to know when it comes to Cartier history, it’s Jeanne Toussaint. The trailblazer, who is the force behind making the panther Cartier’s icon, left a permanent mark on the French jewellery house. So much so, they’re paying tribute to her in the first chapter of a new film series, entitled L’Odysée de Cartier: the Digital Series.
“A woman who revolutionized contemporary jewellery” is how Cartier describes Toussaint in the film. Afterall, what is now Cartier’s most famous symbol, was once Toussaint’s nickname, one that she earned through a reputation that she had built in Paris’s social circles for her wit and determination (and the famed full-length panther-fur coat she always wore).
Fascinated by her, Louis Cartier declared her his muse. And in 1919 he gifted her a black and gold vanity case featuring a panther. This, unbeknown to both of them at the time, would go on to be a symbol synonymous with the house.
It was only a matter of time before Cartier hired Toussaint as the head of their silver department. Within just a few years, she rose up in the ranks, becoming the brand’s Creative Director at their Rue de la Paix studio in 1933 – making her the first woman to ever hold such a position in the jewellery industry.
It was from that point on that the panther’s position within the house was solidified. Toussaint famously designed (along with designer Pierre Lemarchand) the first panther brooch: a piece that would go on to become one of the 20th century’s most iconic accessories.
By 1948, the Duke of Windsor commissioned Toussaint a Panthere brooch as a gift for the Duchess, and the rest is history. The sapphire Panthere brooch followed, and Toussaint was declared a revolutionary when it came to the art of jewellery.
Four decades since her death, Cartier continues to celebrate Toussaint’s legacy. In the next three episodes, the Maison will dive deep into its influences and foundations, with the second chapter exploring the relationship of the house and the UK, the third diving into the influence of Russian, and the fourth covering Louis Cartier’s discovery of Islamic art.
How Cartier's Jeanne Toussaint Inspired and Popularised its Iconic "Panthère"
By Sarah Jordan
The story behind Cartier's famous big cat symbol, that features in the upcoming Signed Jewels Online auction.
When tracing the history of Cartier’s iconic jewelry design style, there is one name that continually emerges as the ultimate tastemaker: Jeanne Toussaint. Born in Belgium in 1887, Toussaint survived a challenging childhood and later found herself drawn to the intoxicating streets of Paris, where art, design and societal connections were currency. As a young woman Toussaint became known as a stylish and creative ingénue. It was this charisma that attracted infamous fashion designer, Coco Chanel, illustrator George Barbier, and most crucially, Louis Cartier, one of three brothers managing his late grandfather’s company, Cartier.
In 1913, Louis Cartier commissioned Barbier to draw an advertising campaign to reflect a modern, worldly and alluring woman. The resulting image - Dame à la Panthère - reflects the shift towards Art Deco styling, with an elegant model, adorned with long sautoir necklaces and pearls with a sleek black cat at her feet. It is this drawing that is thought to be the first connection between Cartier and its iconic animal: the panther.
According to some, Louis chose the panther in tribute to Toussaint, who he called his ‘Petite Pantheré (she also famously wore a full-length coat made of panther fur). By the close of 1913, Toussaint had been hired by Cartier to be its director of bags, accessories and objects.
The working relationship between Louis Cartier and Toussaint continued, with Cartier imparting his knowledge of gemstones, diamonds, settings and technique, and Toussaint bringing her joie de vivre, relentless creativity and eye for contemporary fashions, especially the graphic and geometric Art Deco movement. In 1933, Toussaint was named director of Cartier’s luxury jewelry department, signaling one of the most recognisable and collectible eras in the house’s history.
Toussaint stepped away from Art Deco and entered the 1940s with a passion for sculptural and three-dimensional panther creations, typically set with white and yellow diamonds, emeralds and onyx. The first La Pantheré jewel – a gold and enamel panther brooch set with a cabochon emerald – was crafted for the Duchess of Windsor, Wallace Simpson, in 1948. The success of this piece set off a chain reaction, making La Pantheré rings, drop earrings and pendants hugely desirable among European and American elite.
When she wasn’t creating a menagerie of jewels, Toussaint pursued her fascination with India and revealed pieces evocative of Indian Mughal jewelry and ancient Maharajas. Artfully carved rubies, emeralds, diamonds and sapphires led to a revival of ‘Tutti Frutti’ jewellery under Toussaint’s meticulous direction in the late 1950s.
By the time she retired from Cartier in 1970, Toussaint had established her legacy as an artistic visionary; always experimenting, exploring and creating jewels for those with a worldly outlook and an eye on the future. Her professional fixation with exotic big cats, especially the panther, resulted in the animal becoming a recognisable symbol of Cartier, both then and now.
This Cartier Pantheré ring features in the upcoming Signed Jewels online auction. Find out more about Cartier, here.