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Shine Bright Like a Diamond: A Cartier Christmas at Grand Palais

(Paris.) To start with a crucial information: Being a man, you don’t run a risk of ruining yourself when you bring your wife or girlfriend, or both, to the Cartier exhibition at Grand Palais. None of the jewels are on sale! The gift shop is (comparatively) harmless with only a bundle of catalogues. This said, you certainly risk losing your wife – or girlfriend, or both – for several hours (days) in Grand Palais, and might have to go home alone.

This is quite understandable, as skilfully treated Element 79/Au and metastable allotropes of carbon exert an almost irresistible fascination on the human eye. The bling bling in here really blings that much, you will seriously regret not to have brought your sunglasses (for style's sake, too).

If you lift your dazzled eyes up to the ceiling, you may admire a spectacular light show. It’s a pity that most people won’t even notice it.

To prove this is more than just another showroom, the exhibition focuses on “historic” jewellery; “historic” meaning from around 1900 to the 1960s.

Diadems and chains are joined by preparatory sketches, order books and photographs to add some background information. Visitors may admire the personal belongings of deceased bluebloods and other VIPs. Necklaces from a Maharaja (not his Maharani!) prove that rappers are not the only guys with a taste for big a-- chains. Western celebrities range from nobles (Wally Simpson) to movie stars (Elisabeth Taylor), and both in one (Grace Kelly/of Monaco). Certainly these are the kind of people you’d picture carrying Cartier (and nothing else). But alas!, too often reality proves the half-life period of human bodies to be a lot less long than that of a diamond. Thanks god, it’s dark in Grand Palais, and you, dear readeress, may slowly slumber away with that princess dream, an enraptured smile on your face. Is this highly condensed presentation of all your precious longings not a bit too pornographic? Probably not. Just avoid to faint in here, nobody would care to pay attention.

The scarce visitors with only one X-chromosome are more fascinated with the Cartier watches, clocks, and cigar cases (that look astonishingly much like whisky flasks). There also is a magnificent miniature of a historic camera. For the animal lovers Cartier created pigs, crocodiles, French Bulldogs, and else – a Cartier chick is not necessarily what you'd think it is!

Not to forget: You know you’ve made it big in life when you change your 1:18 die-cast sports car model for its Cartier counterpart. And – nothing beats an astronaut - here comes a golden replica of the Eagle, the Lunar Excursion Module, that dropped Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon. It was ordered by a French newspaper (the newspaper of choice for the Rich and Famous in France) and presented to the very astronauts in 1969. Cartier still possesses the one reserved for Michael Collins; maybe he declined as he was not allowed to leave Apollo 11 and set his feet in the eagle/on the moon together with his colleagues? Remember: He was the first man who could, but would not, walk on the moon.

Most of the exhibits are really, really, beautiful. And if you’re a hardcore anti consumerist art lover criticising the Grand Palais for selling out to an incentive shortly before Christmas, just relax and think back some centuries. Today, Benvenuto Cellini would work for Cartier. So why exactly should a necklace not be a work of art?

Given the situation on the art market, jewellery is by far cheaper than works from superstar artists - and with Cartier you won’t need to get down on your knees before the dealer to be granted a place on the buyers’ waiting list. On the other hand… It’s kind of cruel to say, but: To fly to Paris, see the Cartier exhibition and do some shopping at Place Vendôme probably means you cannot afford Art Basel Miami.

Once here, you might also visit the Raymond Depardon exhibition in the side wing of the immense event centre. I won’t say, Raymond Depardon is a bad photographer; he is just as good a photographer as you and I. And each and everyone else who travels to a foreign land with a compact camera and the will to experience the “authentic” life there, and to document how the local population “really” lives. The big lottery that is life makes some of these photographers publish books and have exhibitions at Grand Palais, while others work for National Geographic, and still others present Wednesday night slide shows at community centres. Not all of them will find Cartier pieces under their Christmas tree. But whoever said life is fair?

Cartier. Le style et l’histoire, Grand Palais Paris, December 2013 – 16 February 2014



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