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Panthère de Cartier: Behind the Icon

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Words by GRACE CAIN

A swish of a diamond-encrusted tail, a gleam of emerald eyes... Exuding confidence, power and an irresistible magnetism, Panthère de Cartier sits at the intersection of creativity and technical prowess. From instantly recognisable wristwatches to covetable rings, individual pieces are undoubtedly beautiful; but it’s the collection’s spirit, and the woman who made it part of history, that has given Panthère de Cartier its enduring charm.

Cartier jewellery

Ajak wears Cartier Panthère de Cartier fine jewellery

Cartier’s relationship with the big cat can be traced back to 1914, when the creature first appeared in an Art Deco-style advertisement, Dame à la Panthère by George Barbier, as well as an exceptional wristwatch – now part of the Cartier Collection. However, the tale of Panthère de Cartier didn’t become legend until it was intertwined with the life of the charismatic Jeanne Toussaint. Perhaps it was her wit, intelligence and social standing in the Parisian creative scene, or perhaps it was because she was said to wear a panther-fur coat, but by the time Louis Cartier invited her to work alongside him, Toussaint had already earned the nickname ‘The Panther’.

Although she was initially charged with handbags and accessories, it was only a few years before Toussaint was expanding her role; and by 1933, she was running the entire High Jewellery operation as creative director in its Rue de la Paix studio, an exceptionally prominent position for a woman at the time.

Toussaint’s promotion coincided with a general shift towards a more naturalistic, sculptural style of jewellery, and she soon realised the full potential of her favourite feline. However, after war broke out across Europe, she found other more pressing matters to contend with – such as making a stand in the face of the occupation. Always defiant, Toussaint displayed her famous ‘L’Oiseau en Cage’ brooch in the window of Cartier’s Paris boutique. Featuring a caged nightingale in red, white and blue, it was a provocative political statement, albeit a beautifully bejewelled one. And a few years later, in 1944, the design would be updated (it was now ‘L’Oiseau Libéré’) to show the cage doors flung open and the bird, now in red, white and blue, about to take flight.

Cartier Jewellery

In the decades since it first stalked into our collective cultural consciousness, Panthère de Cartier has been the subject of constant reinvention. Twenty-first-century iterations are bold and contemporary, brought to life in campaigns by strong female figures like Ella Balinska and Annabelle Wallis – but still retain the same elegant, sensual power that has resonated with wearers for generations. Take its striking geometric choker-style necklace, or – launching exclusively at Harrods – a pair of 18kt-white-gold and diamond earrings, flecked with onyx (both pictured below). This may be a new chapter in Panthère de Cartier’s tale, but there’s one thing that will never change: the pioneering spirit of the woman who made it all possible.

Cartier Jewellery

Ajak wears Cartier Panthère de Cartier fine jewellery

Cartier jewellery
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