Felines have fascinated artists for centuries. Archaic depictions of catlike animals can be traced back to cave walls, and influential painters like Paul Jouve and Henri Rousseau found inspiration in the panther’s allure and strength. The panther found its way not only into art, but also fashion. Ancient royals like Cleopatra would integrate panther motifs into their personal wardrobes, and today we see feline elements beloved by a new wave of “royalty”—Vogue’s former editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland once famously carpeted her office with animal prints.
The panther was portrayed in jewellery, too. In the beginning of the 20th century, Cartier designers began to sketch images of felines, which of course included the panther. In 1914, Cartier released a wristwatch that was elegantly dotted with black onyx panther spots—the first of many pieces that the brand would produce with the jungle cat as its inspiration. The panther quickly became a symbol for the new, liberated ideal of femininity—one that conveyed strength, power and independence.
Four years later, designer Jeanne Toussaint joined Cartier, bringing with her a fresh perspective on the symbol. In 1948, she created a three-dimensional panther brooch for the Duchess of Windsor, launching the motif even further into the mainstream market.
Every panther accessory created by Cartier is constructed with careful hands. Each intricate spot—a finely cut black onyx or cabochon sapphire—is uniquely shaped and sized. This year the panther motif receives its very own biography celebrating its role in the Cartier brand. “No other creature has achieved such iconic status at Cartier, or indeed in the entire lexicon [of] 20th-century jewellery design,” writes jewellery historian Vivienne Becker in Cartier Panthère (Assouline).
The glossy 300-page book is sectioned into thematic chapters and each of four authors offers a personal take on the Cartier panther’s history. Art historian Bérénice Geoffroy-Schneiter traces the panther’s presence in traditional and modern artwork while jewellery historian Vivienne Becker details the panther’s arrival and growth in Cartier’s repertoire. Jewellery expert Joanna Hardy investigates the technical side of creating a Cartier panther, and famed fashion editor André Leon Talley explores the panther’s significance as a cultural icon.
To purchase the book, or learn more, visit assouline.com.