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Last night, Cartier debuted its new film, "The Cartier Odyssey," at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Cartier being Cartier, no expense was spared. Even ascending the steps was no small deal, as a band of umbrella-bearing porters escorted moviegoers to the doors. We wondered: Who are these young men and what's in their job description? Are they simply on-call in case of inclement whether? This may have been just the beginning of a night of mystery (don't even get us started on how they made chocolate bon-bons that small), but it's safe to say Cartier can even turn cold New York rain into something enchanting.
Enchanting can also describe the short film (about three and half minutes long), which will be televised on Sunday before heading to Cartier's Facebook page and YouTube. But the truly captivating part of the evening wasn't the chocolate flutes or the candle-adorned reflecting pool in the Met's Temple of Dendur, but the glimpses into the annals of Cartier. We investigated three of the more baffling tales mentioned throughout the night, and found that the strangeness accompanying the jeweler's history also lends it a glimmer of mystery. That's one way to keep a 165-year-old company interesting. Whether the legends are true or embellished more elaborately than Grace Kelley's 10.47-carat emerald cut diamond ring, in every good story, the important part is the moral.
1. The Story: In 1904, friend of Louis Cartier, Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont was perfecting the practicality of his dirigible, known to laypeople as a blimp. He felt it might be handy to know how long he'd been careening through open sky on a primitive air-borne contraption without having to locate, take out, and read a pocket watch—a rather cumbersome endeavor when all that's keeping you from free fall to fiery death is at least one hand on the control levers. And so Louis Cartier designed what you now know (or might have seen on trendier women this season) as the men's wristwatch.
The Moral: It's good to have friends in the upper echelons of the jewelry biz when you're a punctual operator of air-borne machinery.
2. The Story: In 1915, American heiress Maisie Plant wanted two things in life: To move from her 52nd and Fifth Avenue mansion to "the country" (85th Street and Fifth) and to own the double strand of natural pearls displayed in the window of Cartier's modest salon two blocks down the road from her. But her usually doting husband wouldn't buy the pearls, which were the world's most expensive yet at an asking price of $1.2 million (marital travesty!). So, taking matters into her own hands, she killed the Mother Goose of all birds with one stone and made the trade: Cartier's future headquarters for $100 cash and the pearls (Girl power! Or close enough. Sort of).
The Moral: New York real estate has and will always be a bizarre world.
3. The Story: In 1975, Mexican actress María Félix commissioned Cartier to make exact replicas of her two new pet crocodiles in an interlocking necklace. To aid the design team, she brought the crocodiles to the Rue de la Paix boutique and generously allowed them to live there while the piece was completed. The design team worked against the biological clock to duplicate the reptiles using 1,023 yellow diamonds and 1,060 circular cut emeralds before they grew to an unmanageable (read: lethal) size.
The Moral: Jewelry design is a lot more like zoology than we ever could have imagined.