A First Look at the Cartier Mansion

Cartier - H - 2016
Courtesy of Cartier

Hollywood glamour takes center stage at the jeweler's refurbished Fifth Avenue flagship.

Two and a half years have passed since Cartier closed the doors of its legendary Fifth Avenue mansion for much-needed renovations. And when those doors reopened for a media tour on Tuesday afternoon, editors couldn’t help but wonder: Would it be worth the wait?

In a word, absolutely. Cartier’s refurbished mansion is a celebration of the famed jeweler’s heritage, and its Hollywood connections. It's also a museum-like space with salons dedicated to some of the brand's most famous clients — and is worth visiting even if you're not going to shell out big bucks for a diamond bracelet.

The mansion's history goes all the way back to 1917, when Pierre Cartier struck a deal with Morton Plant (son of railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant) and wife Maisie, to buy their New York residence at 653 Fifth Avenue. In one of the better anecdotes of jewelry lore, they traded the mansion for a $1 million double-row strand of Cartier pearls Maisie had been eyeing (in the days before cultured pearls, natural pearls were considered more valuable than diamonds).

A reproduction of a portrait of Maisie — wearing her pearls, naturally — greets visitors entering the store.
ON THE GROUND FLOOR: The Maisie Plant salon. (Photo: Courtesy)

On the practical side, the renovated flagship solves various problems of its predecessor. Where a disjointed series of small, wonky rooms once resided, you now find grand spaces and clean sight lines. 

Architect Thierry Despont, who also oversaw the renovation of the Ritz Hotel in Paris, supervised the mansion's four-story redesign, which focuses on a series of salons. A rooftop terrace also has been created for special events (it will be inaugurated at a splashy, star-studded party Wednesday evening).
INSIDE THE MANSION: The grand staircase, left, and panther hall. (Photos: Courtesy)

A central design theme is the relationship between the iconic jeweler and Hollywood. An oversized photograph of Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard adorns a wall of the staircase between the first and second floors, while a high-jewelry interpretation of the Cartier rock-crystal bracelet she wears in that photo is installed in a glass case just a few feet away.

On the third floor, across from a women’s watch salon highlighting the house’s iconic Tank watch (look for the 100th anniversary of that piece to be celebrated throughout 2017), the Gary Cooper salon showcases men’s timepieces, and features a black-and-white portrait of the actor wearing his own Cartier Tank.

On the second-floor landing, the Elizabeth Taylor salon matches the jewelry with oversized stills of the famed 1957 home movie of Mike Todd giving Taylor a Cartier suite of ruby and diamond earrings, bracelet and bib necklace.
HOLLYWOOD-APPROVED: The Elizabeth Taylor salon. (Photo: Courtesy)

But the mansion's most spectacular experience may be the Princess Grace of Monaco salon, another homage to one of Cartier’s most renowned clients. The oval-shaped salon features several portraits of the former Grace Kelly in her Cartier diamonds — a ruby and diamond set seen in one photo is meant to conjure thoughts of Monaco’s red and white flag — while the principality’s coat of arms also adorns each wall of the salon, the first time Monaco has approved its use in a boutique.

To celebrate the opening, throughout the month of September, a selection of Princess Grace’s jewels will be on display, including her platinum engagement ring, featuring a 10.48 emerald-cut diamond, flanked by two baguette cut diamonds. Perhaps you remember the newly engaged Grace Kelly wearing the ring in 1956's High Society? Here it is in person, on loan from the Palace of Monaco.

And that’s when the lump forms in your throat, as you think about the history celebrated throughout this pristine, new-meets-old Cartier mansion. The space glistens with newly constructed walls and freshly installed carpets, yet Cartier’s loving refurbishment always seems mindful of the romantic stories it has helped to create over the past 100 years, from a Victorian-era husband-and-wife to a genuine princess, and everything in between. "It’s OK," says a tour guide as we stand in the Princess Grace of Monaco salon on Tuesday afternoon. "I’ve shed a few tears over the last couple of days. You go ahead."