Francesca Cartier Brickell's great-grandfather, Jacques Cartier, famously visited India extensively in the 1910s-1930s and counted many of the maharajas as clients and friends, and her late grandfather was the last of the family to manage and own a branch of the world-famous firm. Leaving behind a career in finance to focus on researching her family’s story, Cartier Brickell wrote the best-selling book The Cartiers: The Untold Story Of The Family Behind The Jewelry Empire (released this month in paperback) and during the global lockdown, was inspired to create a series of webinars (The-cartiers.com/webinars) that delves into the fascinating world of jewellery history. Ahead, we spoke to her about the series, and what's coming up for the expert.
Tell us about what inspired these webinars?
The series was born out of the pandemic. My book, The Cartiers, was published at the end of 2019, just before the world pressed pause. If there had been no lockdown, I would have set off on the second leg of my international book tour in the US, but suddenly, just after I had appeared at Jaipur Literature Festival, we were all stuck at home and I was receiving messages from people saying how disappointed they were to miss my lectures. So I decided to take the stories directly to people in their homes.
Episode 2: Francesca in conversation with Maharani Radhikaraje Gaekwad of Baroda
How do you choose the people you speak with?
They are all jewellery or historical experts with whom I have come into contact over the course of my decade-long research into the story of my ancestors, so they are all connected to the history of the Cartier brothers in some unique way and are able to share behind-the-scenes insights. When I was researching my book, I found that some of the history in books was repeating third or even fourth-hand what had been written previously (and in some cases, making the same mistakes or omissions), so I felt it was fun to try to go back to the original source material where possible—for example, to speak to the family of those involved and hear their stories first-hand—to try to break new ground ideally.
What would you like the audience to learn from your webinars?
The sessions are intended as a visual accompaniment to my book and they are free to all. I want to open different windows into the past, to give people a more personal insight into this incredible shared history, and I guess to also give a sense of the excitement of the historical research and discovery process as that’s something I love and enjoy sharing with others.
Francesca discussing the travels of Jacques Cartier to India and Sri Lanka, showing his diary and some ‘Tutti Frutti’ designs. Courtesy of Francesca Cartier Brickell
Is there anyone you are eager to have on that you haven't had a chance to yet?
All the speakers I have asked so far have agreed, which is great, but yes, there are so many topics I’d hope to cover. The story of the Cartiers encompasses over a century, and many jewels and styles of course, but also generations of clients and employees. So there are a lot of topics to choose from. For example, I might look at the Cartiers’ pearl trade in the Persian Gulf, or look at the lives of famous employees like Jeanne Toussaint, or examine the inspiration behind iconic Cartier pieces like the Indian-inspired Tutti Frutti jewels or speak to other descendants of royal Cartier clients about the human stories behind famous 1920s and 1930s commissions.
What has been your favourite webinar so far and why?
Oh, that’s an impossible question to answer! All have been fascinating for me in different ways. It’s been such fun learning more about the history behind the incredible jewels of Baroda with Maharani Radhikaraje Gaekwad of Baroda (@radhikaraje); exploring the long-standing connection between the Cartiers and the British Royal Family in more detail with Caroline de Guitaut, deputy surveyor of the Queen’s Works of Art (@caroline.de.g); learning personal stories behind the historic Romanov collection from a descendant of the family, Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia (@prince.dimitri); seeing so many of the Cartier clocks close up with Christie's specialist Marie-Cecile Cisamolo (@mariececilechristies); and zooming in on one of the most important Cartier clients of all time, Marjorie Merriweather Post with the curator of her collection at Hillwood Museum, Wilfried Zeisler (@wzeisler).
Episode 7: Caroline de Guitaut, deputy surveyor of the Queen’s Works of Art, speaking with Francesca about the Royal Collection. © Royal Collection Trust
Tell us about your upcoming webinars? What are you most excited about?
For the next episodes (8 and 9), I’m doing a two-part lecture about the famous Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala (watch it here). He and his family had not only been among the most well-known Cartier clients of the early 20th century, but also friends with the Cartier brothers. Just before the pandemic, I was lucky enough to follow in the footsteps of my great-grandfather around India, and in Kapurthala, a window to the past was opened as I heard about the legendary maharaja from someone who knew him better than most, his grandson, the current maharaja, Brigadier HH Sukhjit Singh. My children and I were enraptured as we listened to the real-life tales about the man behind the myth: everything from his close friendship with Queen Victoria and the reason he became known as the King of Emeralds, to his gentle love of animals and family stories about the iconic Kapurthala jewels, like his incredible Cartier turban ornament. So I am excited to share a new perspective on this history in a special charity webinar with His Highness and the house historian Cynthia Meera Frederick.
Episode 8: The Maharaja of Kapurthala wearing his emerald turban ornament by Cartier
How can people be a part of these webinars? Any plans for a documentary?
Maybe one day there will be a chance to turn them into a documentary, but for now you can access all the webinars via my book website. The next one will take place in two sessions:In Part I on Thursday June 17, we'll discover how a child prince from a relatively small state in the north of India would, by the Roaring ’20s, have become an almost mythical figure all over the world.Part II (two weeks later on July 1st) will pick up where Part I finishes, in the late 1920s, with even more emeralds and untold stories about the Maharaja and his family's links with the Cartiers.
The Cartiers: The Untold Story Of The Family Behind The Jewelry Empire