ART MODERNE DIAMOND AND GOLD ESCALIER BRACELET BY CARTIER, PARIS, CIRCA 1938

SOLD

A bracelet composed of sculptural gold “steps” faced set with round diamonds; mounted in yellow gold and platinum

  • 260 round diamonds, total weighing approximately 19 carats
  • Signed Cartier, Paris, no. 04323, with maker’s mark
  • Measurements: 7 × 3/4 inches

Additional cataloguing

Biography

Cartier was founded in Paris in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier. His three grandsons, Louis, Pierre, and Jacques, built the house into a famous international jewelry empire serving royalty, Hollywood stars, and socialites. Cartier has created some of the most important jewelry and objects of art of the twentieth century with many iconic designs such as mystery clocks, Tutti Frutti jewelry and the Panthère line. In 1983, The Cartier Collection was established with the objective of acquiring important pieces that trace the firm’s artistic evolution. Today, Cartier has 200 stores in 125 countries.

 

Significance

In the late 1930s, the technological advances changing modern life influenced art and design. Artists perceived machines as a combination of gears, cams, and axles that combined into beautiful and meaningful whole as exemplified by the Precisionist paintings of Charles Sheeler (who created exact depictions of motors, stacks, and parts) and the Futurist paintings of Joseph Stella (demonstrating the speed of modern industrial life). A new style evolved in architecture and the decorative arts called Art Moderne or Streamline Moderne, that celebrated the curving forms and long horizontal lines evocative of machines and speed. While Cartier was typically known for making jewelry with important gemstones, the company also created important and iconic pieces that reflected the artistic movements of the era, such as this bracelet.

Composed of two opposing lines of curved gold wedge forms set on one face with diamonds in platinum, this Cartier bracelet evokes a sense of fluidity and motion found in an escalator. While the first escalator had been shown at the 1900 Exposition Universelle, they didn’t become commonplace in department stores until the 1920s and 1930s. This relatively new invention was a spectacle that people traveled to see and ride. Cartier imagined the form of two escalators slipping past each other in sculptural planes of gold and diamonds, completely hinged to circle the wrist with ease.

Created during WWII, when platinum was difficult to find, the wartime use of gold felt like a reaction to the use of platinum during the Art Deco. In 1937, an article on Cartier in Femina was titled “Gold Jewelry Has Arrived.” The finest Cartier jewels from the late 1930s and 1940s are characterized by planes of polished gold, rolled or curved, with an architectural feel. In this bracelet the use of sculptural gold forms with minimal platinum for the diamond settings feels inventive. This magnificent bracelet is a work of art, as well as a striking arm ornament that is sure to be the center of attention when worn.

Charles Sheeler’s Ballet Mechanique, 1931, demonstrates the impact of technology and industry on the arts in the 1930s.

A 1936 magazine advertisement for escalators from the Otis Elevator Company. Escalier roulant translates to “rolling stair,” an apt description of the escalier bracelet.