Sunday, September 15, 2019

Dazzling creations across time

Jun 11. 2019
An Empress’s champagne-coloured robe with flower and phoenix motifs from the Qing Dynasty’s Qianlong reign is among the highlights of the Chinese Inspirations zone. Photo courtesy of Cartier
An Empress’s champagne-coloured robe with flower and phoenix motifs from the Qing Dynasty’s Qianlong reign is among the highlights of the Chinese Inspirations zone. Photo courtesy of Cartier
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By Phatarawadee Phataranawik
The Nation

10,731 Viewed

Fabulous jewellery and timepieces by Cartier are paired with Chinese treasures in a new exhibition in Beijing

Some of Cartier’s most dazzling tiaras and other jewelled items made for monarchs around the globe, among them King Rama V, are on show alongside striking timepieces and Chinese treasures in a new exhibition at Beijing’s Palace Museum.

The show, “Beyond Boundaries: Cartier and The Palace Museum Craftsmanship and Restoration”, further cements the bonds between the two institutions that was forged some 30 years and is being held at the newly renovated Mandarin Gate Gallery. Cartier held its “Cartier Treasures: Jeweller to Kings, King of Jewellers” exhibition in the same venue in 2009. 

This latest show curates a journey through time and space, arriving at a shared appreciation for cultural connections and treasures of the East and the West. 

More than 800 pieces dating from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the French jewellery house’s archives along with items from the collections of several of the world’s leading museums are displayed in the three large halls spread over nearly 2,780 square metres. 

Some of them are on loan from leading art institutions including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Australia’s National Gallery in Canberra, the Qatar Museum and the Musee International d’Horlogerie, La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland, as well as from members of royal families. 

“On the cultural level, I think the exhibition shows quite clearly the impact that China has had not only on Cartier, but also on the whole world,” says Pascale Lepeu, curator of the Cartier Collection, which was started in 1983 and now has about 1,600 pieces. 

Inspired by the calligrapher’s brush stroke, French scenographer Nathalie Criniere uses multimedia and animation to give the historical halls a contemporary look. 

Criniere is known for her exhibition “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” at London’s V&A Museum and she also designed the last Cartier exhibition in Australia. 

“Beyond Boundaries” features three distinctive themes: Chinese Inspirations, Symbols of Power and Time Memories.

“This exhibition shows there are no boundaries in terms of geography, culture and value,” says Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s Image and Heritage director.

Visitors entering the dimly lit hall of the “Chinese Inspirations” zone are greeted by a moving image on a silkscreen before their eyes settle on Cartier’s diamond bird brooch set against the backdrop of a neatly embroidered phoenix on the empress’s champagne-coloured robe with flower and phoenix motifs that dates back to the Qing Dinasty.

China’s influence on Cartier creations comes boldly into the spotlight in this section. The motifs of dragon, phoenix and carp in lacquer, coral, and jade show how Cartier’s designers created dreamlike shapes inspired by Chinese symbols. 

The carp clock from 1925 was made of a piece of carved jade depicting two fish swimming in the waves. In China, the carp is appreciated for its courage and tenacity, allowing it to swim upstream and change into a dragon.

Louis Cartier’s interest in China stemmed from his own personal passion for all things Oriental. 

A knowledgeable man fascinated by far-off cultures, he put together a collection of Persian miniatures and antiquities, as well as a library of benchmark works on arts throughout the world that he made available to the Maison’s designers. An ancient screen decorated with birds can also be found amongst Louis Cartier’s Chinese collection, 

The “Symbols of Power” exhibit is a sparkling feast for the eyes with plenty of tiaras, bracelets, necklaces and other items of jewellery owned by royals and celebrities from all over Europe, Asia and North America.

Highlights include some 30 tiaras Cartier created for royalty in England, Belgium, Russia and India including a 1902 garland-style scroll tiara made for Adele Capell, Countess of Essex, and the 1947 diamond bib necklace, accented with amethysts and turquoise, produced for Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor.

Among the highlights in the Symbols of Power segment of the “Beyond Boundaries” exhibition is a diamond necklace and bowknot brooches bought by King Rama V from Maison Cartier in Paris between 1906 and 1910, which are now part of Cartier collection. Photo courtesy of Cartier

Visitors can also sigh over a diamond necklace and bow-knot brooches that King Rama V brought from Maison Cartier in Paris between 1906 and 1910. The King brought them for his consort, Queen Savang Vadhana.

“Although Cartier is known for producing jewellery for kings, Chinese emperors had no Cartier jewellery. So this exhibition also dwells on the sense of ‘beyond boundary’,” says Wang Yuegong, the Palace Museum’s Palace Department director.

The exhibition displays another symbol of power, a court robe of the Qing dynasty from the Palace Museum’s collections. This robe includes a certain number of the distinctive signs found on Manchurian folk costumes and evokes the arts of cavalry and archery, which dominated during the first part of the Manchu period. There’s also an imperial seal and its richly decorated case, specifically destined for transmission and to ensure the continuity of the Emperor’s task.

The “Time Memories” section is, as the name implies, devoted to timepieces and boasts an animation of clocks moving around from the dim-lit room. The show highlights a recent collaboration: From 2014 to 2017, the museum and Cartier’s watch factory in La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland, restored six 18th- and 19th-century watch and clock movements from the Forbidden City’s collection. 

A 1910 gravity clock from Cartier: The clocks measure time via a cylinder that rolls down an inclined base over eight days.


On display are Cartier watches, clocks and some of the museum’s masterpieces including 19th century-gravity clocks that measure time via a cylinder that rolls down an inclined base over eight days.

Among the highlights is the series of Cartier’s signature “mystery clocks” in which the hands appear to float on transparent dials without any apparent connection to the movement. Elements of Chinese inspiration were also used in the decoration of these timepieces.

The mystery clock is among Cartier’s signature timepieces. Photo courtesy of Cartier

And for those who want to learn more about the movement of time, watch experts from Cartier and the Palace Museum’s Conservation Department are on hand to demonstrate how they conserved the timepieces at the exhibition. 

Also of interest is a video that explains the history and legacy of the French house and Sino-French relationship. 


- “Beyond Boundaries: Cartier and the Palace Museum Craftsmanship and Restoration” runs through July 31 at the Palace Museum’s Mandarin Gate Gallery. Admission to the show is free, but visitors are required to buy tickets to enter the museum.

- Tickets are priced at 60 RMB (Bt270) with those over the age of 60 paying half. There’s free admission for children under 1.2 metres in height.

- Tickets can be booked in advance at

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