Being a jeweller can sometimes lead to unusual encounters. One of the best stories is that of Mexican movie star María Félix, who visited the Cartier store in Paris one day in 1975, carrying a bag in which there were two live baby crocodiles. She said, "I love them so much, I want you to create a necklace for me that looks like these two crocodiles." The man at the store said, "But we will need to keep these crocodiles so that we can see what they look like and make exact copies of them." She said, "Yes, that's alright, you can keep them for a while, but you'd better hurry, because they're growing very fast!"
The resulting piece can be seen at the exhibition 'The Art of Cartier' in Madrid from 23 October 2012 to 17 February 2013. The Crocodile Necklace includes over 1,000 brilliant-cut fancy intense yellow diamonds for a total of 60 carats, two emerald eyes on one croc and two rubies on the other. The piece is entirely articulated, and the crocodiles can be worn separately as brooches or together as a necklace.
María Félix had a particular penchant for reptiles both in the flesh and as pieces of jewellery. Seven years before the Crocodile necklace, she had commissioned a snake necklace, in platinum, white gold and yellow gold, with 2,473 diamonds, two emeralds for the eyes, and green, red and black enamel.
The show, at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, is one of the largest exhibitions of pieces from the Cartier Collection, with a total of over 400 historic gems on show. They illustrate the various stylistic periods of the Maison, such as the early 20th century 'Garland' style, Art Deco in the 1930s and 40s, international inspirations from the Cartier brothers' travels, and of course the creativity triggered by one-off commissions.
Another Cartier habituée was Elizabeth Taylor,whose diamond and ruby necklace will be on show for the first time. Consisting of round, baguette and fancy-cut diamonds, and cushion-shaped and oval faceted rubies, in a setting of platinum and gold, it was made in 1951.
Edward VII referred to Cartier as 'King of Jewellers and Jewellers to Kings,' and his grand-daughter-in-law Wallis Warfield, the Duchess of Windsor, was one of the Maison's greatest fans, as well as a personal friend of Jeanne Toussaint. Jeanne designed some masterpieces for her, such as the Panther clip brooch in the show, an amazing piece dating to 1949 in which the animal is seated on a 152-carat Kashmir sapphire cabochon.
The exhibition coincides with the Museum's 20th anniversary. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection has become one of the most important cultural institutions in Spain, with a permanent collection that includes Van Eyck, Carpaccio, Lucas Cranach, Dürer, Caravaggio, Rubens, Frans Hals, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Kirchner, Mondrian, Klee, Hopper, Rauschenberg and many others. Almost 1,000 artworks are on display, dating from the 13th century to the late 20th century, and they include work not included in Madrid's state-owned collections, such as Impressionism, and experimental 20th-century avantgarde styles. It also has an important collection of 19th century American painting, probably the best of Europe's museums. The collection in part reflects the tastes of the two collectors who amassed the core set of works, Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, and Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza. Both preferred portraits and landscapes rather than religious and historical paintings, and it is this that makes this museum so different from others in Madrid and Spain.
Info on the Museum:
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collections are open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m., Mondays closed. In the museum there is a restaurant-café, and a shop & bookstore. The ticket for the permanent collection and the temporary exhibitions generally costs €15. Unless you were born in 1992 (making you 20 this year, like the museum), in which case entry to the permanent collection is free of charge. Bring proof of age with you.
Palacio de Villahermosa, Paseo del Prado 8
Madrid, 28014 Spain
(+34) 902 760 511